LaVerne L. Butler (January 28, 1926 – December 16, 2010) was a prominent Southern Baptist pastor and college president in Kentucky who was a leader in the "Conservative Resurgence" in his denomination during the 1970s and 1980s.
Born in Henderson County in western Kentucky, Butler was a son of Willis Butler and the former Linda Cosby. He attended Georgetown College, a Baptist-affiliated institution in Georgetown, Kentucky, and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He was pastor for more than a half century at churches in Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, and Illinois. He served full-time at seven congregations and on an interim basis at three others.
His last major pastorate was from 1969 to 1988 at the large Ninth & O Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Under his ministry there, the church grew from 2,800 to 4,600 members and baptized 2,823 confessed believers. Ninth & O began a radio ministry that featured his preaching in 1970 and a daily television program beginning in 1972. Ninth & O began seven new churches under Butler's tenure. It also operated a school. Sunday morning services were televised on a Louisville station.
Under Butler, Ninth & O was one of only two or three conservative congregations within the Southern Baptist denomination in the Louisville metropolitan area. Physically close to the Southern Seminary, Butler challenged the modernist and liberal theology then being taught there. He encouraged conservative students during the height of the Conservative Resurgence movement that began in the late 1970s. He criticized seminary professor Dale Moody for Moody's claim that a Christian believer could fall from grace and lose his salvation. When Moody appeared at Ninth & O one Sunday to confront Butler, the latter remained calm and gracious. Butler was involved in wider Southern Baptist life too through a network of conservative pastors who supported the resurgence and known as the Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship.
Butler left Ninth and O to become president of Mid-Continent University, a theologically conservative institution in Mayfield in Graves County in western Kentucky. Founded in 1949 and formerly known as Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College, Mid-Continent gained accreditation under Butler's stewardship in 1992. He worked to expand the university curriculum and served there until his retirement in 1997. While in Mayfield, he attended the Northside Baptist Church.
During the Conservative Resurgence movement, Butler acquired national attention through the Southern Baptist Convention with his repeated sermon, "Will the Real Southern Baptist Please Stand Up," a call for biblical orthodoxy and the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Paul Pressler, a retired judge in Houston, Texas, and one of the key leaders in the Conservative Resurgence, in his book A Hill on Which to Die, calls Butler one of the "heroes of the resurgence". Pressler further describes Butler's "soul-winning evangelistic ministry" as having been "well-known and respected, not only in Kentucky, but . . . throughout the SBC."
David Alan Butler (born 1952), older son of LaVerne Butler and the lead pastor of CenterPoint Church in Concord, New Hampshire, recalls that his father worked many years to help the resurgence succeed. "The theme for his life, and I think this captures him more than anything else, is . . . Ephesians 4:15: Speaking the truth in love. That's the caption that goes across Dad's life. There was a not a mean spirit in him, but he never compromised his positions. He was synonymous with taking a stand but always speaking the truth in love. That is the big headline of his life."
Death and legacy
Services for Butler were held on December 20 at the Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, where he had retired and formerly twice served in an interim capacity. He is interred at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville. Butler was twice married. On the death of Lillian Kiser Butler, his wife of fifty-seven years and mother of his three children, he wed the former Shirley Patton (born 1929), who survives him. His other children are Sandra B. Hodge (born 1949) of Princeton in Caldwell County in western Kentucky and Richard C. Butler (born 1958), a minister in West Lafayette, Indiana. He had ten grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren, and two stepchildren.
Mid-Continent University has plans to build a 500-seat chapel to be named the "LaVerne Butler Memorial Chapel." In 2008, Butler was honored for a "lifetime of sacrificial service" with the unveiling of his portrait at the Ashland Avenue Baptist Church.
Randy Sweazy of Bardstown, Kentucky, wrote in Butler's guest book: "He was always so happy and full of life. Who can forget the orange sports coat at Halloween, or the yellow one at Easter? His legacy lives on in all that went to school at 9th & 0."