Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will have a booth in the exhibit hall at the Baptist General Convention of Texas this year for the first time since 2003. Along with the SWBTS exhibit, Lifeway will be more prominently featured at this year’s convention. Both the BGCT’s committee on convention business and Southwestern have agreed to the arrangement.
The move to exclude Southwestern from exhibits at the BGCT coincided with the election of Dr. Paige Patterson as the eighth president of the seminary. It was the BGCT that notified the seminary it no longer qualified as an exhibitor. According to a May 28, 2004 story in The Baptist Standard, the adoption of the BFM 2000, and the SBC’s refusal to allow Buckner to exhibit at the 1997 SBC meeting in Dallas were the reasons given for the exclusion. John Petty (interesting last name), who was the chairman of the committee on convention business at the time said that it was the SBC’s theological statement, the BFM 2000, which was the primary reason for excluding Southwestern.
Ken Hall, who was president of the BGCT at the time, said the BGCT was in the midst of developing a “very clear statement as to who we are as Texas Baptists and how we are going to help churches and our institutions and we don’t want to be defined by the controversy anymore.”
I applaud the current committee’s decision to reverse this policy and find a way to come to an agreement with Southwestern whereby the seminary can have a presence in the exhibit hall. Excluding them didn’t accomplish the purpose of helping the BGCT avoid being defined by the controversy, it furthered that definition. Southwestern is inexorably and permanently linked to the BGCT, not only historically, but in the fact that so many BGCT congregations are served by Southwestern graduates and current students, and that will continue to be the case. It is a fact of geography. It is also a fact that the farther down the ladder you go from the inner circles of convention leadership into the communities of people in the churches, the fewer the differences and the less the interest in “the controversy.”
This is a small step in improving the relationship between the BGCT and the SBC, but it is a significant one. At the very least, it shows that there are those in BGCT leadership who are listening. This blog in particular has mentioned this specific step on more than one occasion. I am glad to see there are those who have responded.