“The Baptist General Convention of Texas is a “moderate” convention.”

I’ve been hearing that for about 25 years or so, ever since Southern Baptists began distinguishing between “fundamentalists” and “conservatives,” “moderates” and “liberals.”  These are words that carry a lot of different meanings, mostly depending on how you interpret them.  It was amusing to me that the Baptist media used the terms “fundamental-conservative” and “moderate-conservative” for a while, during the time when the Conservative Resurgence was solidifying its position to control the trustee boards.  But I think the Baptist General Convention of Texas really was a “moderate-conservative” convention.   In my lifetime, in terms of churches where I’ve been a member, or served on staff, I’ve been an “Arizona Southern Baptist,” a Missouri Baptist,” a “Kentucky Baptist,” and for a total of about 20 years, a “Texas Baptist.”  For most of my ministry career, I’ve belonged to a church that was uniquely aligned with the BGCT. 

This is going to sound somewhat idealistic, but having grown up in Arizona, where there are fewer than 400 Southern Baptist churches, I always looked with awe upon the gigantic BGCT, which seemed to me to be the ideal state Baptist convention. 

From a theological perspective, I believe most churches in the BGCT are conservative, in the classical sense of the word.  They believe in the authority and sufficiency of the scripture.  Some individuals may not like to go beyond the Bible’s own terminology to describe itself in terms of inerrancy and infallibility, but I think the vast majority of BGCT folks believe the Bible is inerrant and infallible.  I do. 

It wasn’t surprising, though, that the majority of Texas Baptists backed away from the Conservative Resurgence when it began to dominate the SBC.  Texas is a big place, and it is very diverse.  The churches of the BGCT have been at the forefront of Baptist efforts to reach out beyond cultural, social and racial boundaries to win the lost and make disciples.  This required a high level of acceptance of differences in order to involve and include people not only as participants, but as leaders in the life of the convention.  The BGCT has never compromised the essential message of the gospel, but it has always been willing to extend the hand of Baptist fellowship and cooperation to churches that may hold differing views on interpreting passages of scripture.  Even when local associations disfellowshipped churches for various doctrinal disagreements they couldn’t resolve, the churches have been welcome to remain in the BGCT under the broader umbrella of cooperation, and the affirmation of the independence and autonomy of the local church.

The picture that comes to my mind of the BGCT as a “moderate” convention is one of extending this hand of fellowship and cooperation to as many Baptists as can fit under the umbrella without compromising the essential doctrines of the faith.  As long as churches can affirm the BGCT’s basic doctrinal statement, the BFM 1963, they can cooperate and be included in leadership.  This includes fundamentalists and those Baptists on the right who supported, and continue to support, the Conservative Resurgence, as well as those who have joined up with the CBF, Mainstream Baptists, or Baptists Committed.  It includes those who want to be part of the Baptist World Alliance, and those who don’t.  It includes those who support the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  It includes those who want to commit half of their mission dollars to the SBC, and those who don’t want to commit any dollars to the SBC.  At least, that’s what I thought.

Here’s a quote from David Currie, executive director of Texas Baptists Committed:

“Finally, I got to thinking about the decisions that preachers make to play it safe.  Many have not wanted to identify with TBC or CBF, because they were afraid it would cost them a call to a ‘good’ church.  Well, I know for a fact that a lot of churches have decided not to call a particular pastor because that pastor refused to show leadership by standing up to fundamentalism and also refused to be part of TBC.”

Isn’t this what BGCT leaders vocally objected to during the Conservative Resurgence?   The fact that those who wanted to be included in SBC leadership had to pledge their loyalty to the leadership of the Conservative Resurgence, in addition to being a conservative and an inerrantist, was the main objection of BGCT leaders.  It is a fairly well known fact that Texas Baptists Committed has named the officers for the BGCT for several years now.  Is this statement saying that a prerequisite for leadership in the BGCT is loyalty to TBC in addition to not being a fundamentalist? 

I’m not a fundamentalist.  I’m opposed to fundamentalists dominating the leadership of the SBC via the Conservative Resurgence because they have excluded the majority of Southern Baptists who are not fundamentalist, and are now in the process of singling out Baptists who hold differing, but still Biblically supported, beliefs.  But in principle, I’m also opposed to excluding them.  Since we all have in common a belief in the grace through faith in Christ that saved us, I’m also opposed to any other exclusive group dominating convention life, whether it be the BGCT or the SBC, and whether they are conservative, moderate or liberal.  What’s the difference between a fundamentalist dominated convention that excludes non-fundamentalists, or a moderate dominated convention that excludes non-moderates?

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

7 responses

  1. Tim Dahl says:

    Brother, I love ya…and at the same time I believe that you’re misrepresenting what Curry is trying to say.

    I got the same little letter, I read the same paragraph, and I didn’t come back with that at all.

    This is how I understood it: There are churches out there that were so hurt by the fundamentalist takeover, that they now refuse to hire pastors that aren’t overtly against it. Part of that, in TX – in some churches, is being affiliated with the TBC.

    Also, I believe he used that whole thing as an illustration, to help him make his point that sometimes what some pastors do to “play it safe” isn’t very safe at all.

    Again, this is all with the backdrop of people being extremely hurt during the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. Pain makes us do weird things, say weird things, and think weird things.

    I didn’t ever read anything in Curry’s words that spoke about churches not being allowed to partner/participate in the BGCT. I believe that is an unfounded extrapolation, first made by Montoya and now made by you.

    Lee, I love ya man. I’m not trying to be mean. I just think you’re wrong.

    My experience with the TBC, is that pretty much everyone is invited to their meetings. Again, if there is one that you wanna go to, let me know the time and date, and I’ll meet you there. If it is up here, my wife and I have an extra bedroom that you can use! No one is excluded.

    Tim

  2. Tim Dahl says:

    Oh, I forgot to mention…

    You may have to share the bedroom with one of the cats.

    O.O

    =)

    Tim

  3. lees1975 says:

    First of all, I appreciate the spirit in which your comment was made. If we had more of that, in both the SBC and the BGCT, there wouldn’t be a reason to pay attention to the fighting.

    I endured some directly inflicted pain as a result of the fundamentalist takeover in the SBC. I wasn’t trying to get involved one way or the other but wound up in the crossfire in a church I was serving, without options. The wounds took a long time to heal, the resentment and bitterness put me on a 14 year hiatus from a ministry career that had been my calling and the desire of my heart, and I’m still, literally, “paying” for the experience.

    I think it is precisely because of that painful experience that I have difficulty with this. The opposite of what happened shouldn’t be a mirror image of it. I’m finally back doing what I should have been doing all along, and being fulfilled by the experience. I wouldn’t want to deny that experience to anyone else.

    The fundamentalist bid to control the BGCT more or less ended in 1992. Part of the reason for their failure was that the leadership of the BGCT had bent over backward to be fair to them, and many very conservative Texas Baptists knew and trusted the state leadership rather than the national leaders.

    I know there are those who believe that TBC’s continued presence, and watchful eye on those officer positions, have been the element that has kept the BGCT away from fundamentalist control. On the other hand, I wonder if the departure of the SBTC could have been prevented if, after a reasonable period of time, that tight watchfulness had been relaxed a bit, and an effort at reconciliation been made. Sure, there are fundamentalists who wouldn’t reconcile. But I think the face we Baptists turn to the world has another black eye as a result of what has transpired. We’re Christians, but we can’t even work together on basic, simple things. What message does that send?

    There’s no longer any danger of a fundamentalist takeover in the BGCT. I think we need to attempt to rebuild some burned bridges.

    I’ll admit that my perspective on Currie’s piece may be off target. TBC has named the nominees for office in the BGCT for a while, now. They’ve all been TBC supporters. Would they consider naming someone outside of their circle?

  4. Tim Dahl says:

    I just don’t see the TBC functioning in the manner that some say that it is.

    Yes, most of the people, that I refer to as “power players” are affiliated with the TBC. These are all people that fought very hard against the Takeover, back in the day. They all networked together, kept in clost contact, and become good friends. It makes sense: They all loved the BGCT and wanted it to remain free.

    It doesn’t suprise me one bit that these people communicate together, and discuss possible candidates. It doesn’t suprise me one bit that one of them stands up and says, “hey, I’ll nominate ‘so and so.'” That happens in churches all over America.

    The difference is that the TBC has meetings where everyone can attend. The question is asked of all who attend, “what do you think about ‘so and so?'” And people candidly answer the question.

    It also makes sense that when it comes out that TBC is behind one candidate or another, people sit up and take note. Remember, these were the men and women that actively participated in the battle against the Fundamentalists.

    Some of these people lost their jobs, got their reputations trashed by the Patterson-Presller crowd. As you know, there is some intense pain, even if one’s damage is collateral, when they were trying to stay out of it.

    It is no wonder that people in West Texas, and East Texas, and South Texas trust what they hear about the candidates when it is articulated from the TBC. TBC has earned the honor of being trusted. If people would actually come to the meetings, they will see that it isn’t all back-room politics. It is very open and baptistic…even with the mini-conflicts when people but heads in the meeting.

    In the end, everyone leaves knowing that other people care as much about the convention as they do.

    About Fundamentalism and the BGCT. I don’t know if the BGCT is out of the woods yet or not. People tend to have short memories. They also tend to be apathetic. Maybe the P-P crowd won’t ever win the day, but that doesn’t mean that another group won’t come in and try. I think that it is a misscharacterization to label Wade and his supporters as Fundies. You can call him incompetent and them blind, but not Fundies. Though as always, I could be wrong.

    And to answer your last question about them naming someone out of their circle: As far as I know, the 2nd Vice Pres is not a member of the TBC. I don’t even think he had ever made a meeting before he was elected. Now, that may have changed by now. You would have to ask him.

    Tim Dahl

  5. Tim Dahl says:

    ok, that post was waaay to long. Plus, the misspellings! Ugh!

    I’m sorry.

  6. lees1975 says:

    We had a plaque hanging in our entryway for about 12 years that read, “A spoiled rotten cat lives here.” Guests were welcome to sleep in her room, provided they realized she’d probably join them.

    I may have said it somewhere else before, and it may be borrowed from someone, but I think the BGCT faces a bigger danger from apathy than it does from fundamentalism. The battle now is convincing a smaller, younger generation of leaders that a state convention isn’t some kind of religious dinosaur while at the same time dealing with a crisis involving the misappropriation of millions of dollars given sacrificially, out of the trust and confidence of Texas Baptists in the BGCT leadership to be good stewards of it. That’s a tough prospect. I think the focus needs to change.

    In the middle of the crisis, Steve Vernon, BGCT President, and TBC insider, calls for a “Missions Exchange” at Truett Seminary in April. The purpose of the meeting is “to enhance the total mission efforts of the many facets of our Texas Baptist family. We are a rich blend of ethnicities, experiences, churches, associations, institutions, and convention staff with incredible potential to make a difference in our communities, state and the world.”However, this is a “by invitation only meeting.” Who picks the attendees and what criterion are they going to use?

    So why would someone who flies far underneath the radar screen like me feel that my presence in the BGCT is wanted or needed? It seems that a relatively small group of people have everything covered.

    I’m whining now, am I not?

  7. Tim Dahl says:

    Nah, you’re not whining.

    If you were, my ears would hurt and the hair on my neck would be sticking straight up!

    However, I don’t get worked up over “by invitation only” stuff anymore. Not that I ever have, now that I think about it.

    I believe that part of the reason is my understanding of focus groups, and the inability for big assemblies to get anything meaningful accomplished. The smaller, more intimate the meeting, the more meaningful the meeting.

    There has to be some way to limit the number, so that there will be greater participation by the attenders. (Hence, maybe our inability to deal with the “preempting” by the convention chair at the anual meeting!) There is such a thing as “to much” in my opinion.

    Also, I seriously doubt that Curry was at Vernon’s side saying, “invite this guy, but not this guy.” Curry may have gotten an invitation to come, because Vernon may like him, but that is probably all. I wouldn’t read to much into the “invitation only.”

    Heck, I feel lucky being invited to one early last year. It was put on by the Center of Ministerial Effectiveness at Baylor. Since I’m a Truett grad, I was on their mailing list. They sent out over 2000 surveys, and they only got 11 replys. Needless to say, these 11 were the ones invited to this “invitation only” event.

    I know that they’ve held similar events since then, but I’ve not been invited again. 🙂

    I think that some people want to make a big deal out of it, so that they can boalster their own arguments. But, in inflating the issue, they actually weaken their own argument in my opinion. Again Lee, not that big of a deal.

    Just so there is no mistaking, I’ve become a fan of the TBC. =)

    However, I’m disapointed that Dr. Wade hasn’t stepped down yet. I still feel that he is responsible for setting the “tone” of indiscretion at the Baptist Building. I continue to loose respect for him.

    Tim