“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?