FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The Baptist General Convention of Texas has taken steps to further distance itself from the Southern Baptist Convention.
In a letter to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary May 20, BGCT President Kenneth Hall and John Petty, vice chair of the BGCT’s committee on order of business, said Southwestern Seminary and other SBC seminaries would not be offered exhibit space at the annual BGCT meeting in San Antonio Nov. 8-9.
“Due to the disheartening changes that have occurred over the past few years and with the unsupportive direction of the Southern Baptist Convention toward the BGCT, we feel it is in the best interest of convention messengers to limit exhibitors to organizations and Baptists who are wholeheartedly supportive of the leadership and churches of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Therefore, we are unable to offer exhibit space to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the other Southern Baptist Convention seminaries,” the letter said.
Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson, in Korea for meetings with Baptist leaders there, said he regretted receiving the letter from the BGCT.
“Due to the efforts we have made to achieve cordial relationships with the BGCT, we were dumbfounded at the revelation that we would not be allowed to display at the convention. This is a clear signal to Southern Baptists in BGCT churches that the present leadership of the BGCT fully intends to sever all relationships with the Southern Baptist Convention and its [entities]. They apparently have decided to cut the dog’s tail off one joint at a time,” Patterson said.
In 2000, the BGCT withheld $4.3 million from the six SBC seminaries and redirected all but $10,000 of $1.1 million in funding away from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the SBC Executive Committee. While those monies are no longer specifically redirected, the BGCT has changed the formula multiple times for dividing money between state and national causes, reducing the amount for SBC causes from 63 percent BGCT/37 percent SBC in 1994 to 79 percent BGCT/ 21 percent SBC — or CBF — in 2004. Moreover, earlier this year, the BGCT ended a longstanding cooperative agreement with the SBC’s publisher, LifeWay Christian Resources.
The letter to Southwestern Seminary came one day after leaders of the BGCT’s Christian Education Coordinating Board announced that it wants Houston Baptist University to “rescind” a “fraternal relationship” it established last year with the conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The SBTC is supportive of the SBC’s mission and identity.
According to a report published on the Baptist Standard’s website, members of the board referred to the SBTC as a “competing state convention” and voted to escrow most BGCT funds directed to HBU June 1. The board said that funds set aside for student financial aid would not be affected. The BGCT budgeted $750,000 for the university this year. Roughly $170,000 of that amount was designated for aid to ministerial students, the report said.
The education committee issued a statement which claimed that HBU had become related to “a convention that has been publicly critical of the BGCT, that holds certain differing values and convictions from those expressed by the BGCT, and that has openly encouraged churches to divert Cooperative Program funds in ways that have negatively impacted ministries of the BGCT, including the affiliated and related institutions.”
HBU President Doug Hodo said he would not comment on the matter until he had received the report of the BGCT board in writing, according to the Baptist Standard.
Jack Terry, vice president of institutional advancement at Southwestern, said he did not understand the BGCT’s desire to exclude Southern Baptist seminaries from its convention. He noted that many of the students who graduate from Southwestern would serve in churches affiliated with the BGCT.
“I also do not understand it because Southwestern Seminary was received warmly in the exhibit area last year in Lubbock. The messengers were friendly. We had many wonderful conversations and students who showed an interest in studying at Southwestern,” Terry said.
Hall and Petty said in the letter that the BGCT was working to make the meeting in San Antonio “an encouraging resource for those churches committed to historic Baptist identity.” They also said the BGCT “would like to move confidently and positively into a future committed to the needs and desires of our member churches.”
But Dennis Teeters, pastor of First Baptist Church of Big Springs and president of Southwestern Seminary’s BGCT alumni association, said the move by the BGCT would likely create a negative climate rather than a positive one. “I don’t understand why they keep pushing the envelope on this thing. I am actually at a loss. Southwestern has had a long history with the BGCT and the history is still there,” Teeters said.
Teeter said he would be contacting BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade to seek further explanation.
SBTC spokesman Gary Ledbetter said the SBTC continues to be enthusiastic about its relationship with the six Southern Baptist seminaries. “We have confidence in their leadership and have been very happy in our experience with their graduates,” Ledbetter said. “Our current policy about exhibit space is to see the SBC seminaries as partners in ministry who are welcome to display their programs and have a presence at our convention.”