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Claims of Texas ‘slander committee’ draw challenge from SBC supporters

DALLAS (BP)–Conservatives in Texas have affirmed the Southern Baptist Convention’s right to communicate directly with Southern Baptists in their state despite criticism from a so-called “slander committee” formed by leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

A vote scheduled for the BGCT’s Oct. 30-31 annual meeting in Corpus Christi to virtually stop funding SBC seminaries and two SBC agencies prompted Southern Baptist leaders to tell their side of the story via a new Internet site, www.Baptist2Baptist.net, and by mailing a brochure, “The Truth About the SBC & Texas,” to pastors and lay leaders for distribution to congregations throughout the state.

The website and distribution of the brochure triggered a harsh reaction by the BGCT’s 15-member Committee on Baptist Integrity chaired by Lubbock businessman John Wilkerson, who also is the chairman of Baylor University board of regents.

The committee, formerly referred to by the Baptist Standard newsjournal in May 1999 as the “slander committee,” said the SBC website and mailing “smacks of desperation” and is “a biased attempt to influence BGCT votes and is indicative of the SBC’s willingness to crush any opposition,” according to an Oct. 9 story in the Baptist Standard.

Wilkerson, a member of First Baptist Church in Lubbock, declined to answer questions about the committee’s criticism of the SBC’s communications initiatives.

Claude Thomas, pastor of the 10,000-member First Baptist Church of Euless, said of the flap, “I know it is the intent of the SBC leadership to communicate accurately and clearly in their desire to continue to strengthen the cooperative relationships of Southern Baptist churches in Texas.

“I have been in Texas for a couple of decades and one of the things the Baptist Standard has said on more than one occasion is that we ought to ‘tell the truth and trust the people,'” said Thomas, who also chairs the SBC Executive Committee. “I wonder why there is such a reaction on the part of BGCT leaders to SBC leaders communicating good information with Texas Baptist churches. It would seem to me that good information has always been welcomed. Why this sudden change?”

An integrity committee, Thomas said, especially should welcome the free exchange of information. “The truth is the truth regardless of who is speaking. A committee or person should not fear accurate information communicated in a clear way,” Thomas said.

Two Texas lay leaders joined Thomas in defending SBC leaders’ right to communicate directly with Southern Baptists in Texas.

“The Committee on Baptist Integrity has a pattern of reacting with emotion but no substance,” said Bill Streich, head of the Texas Baptist Laymen’s Association.

He said the committee had made claims of slander because of information published and distributed by the TBLA linking approximately 20 BGCT leaders with the anti-SBC Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and various liberal secular organizations.

“Never once have they pointed out an error in the facts we have presented,” Streich said.

“When Southern Baptists in Texas receive factual information and learn that BGCT leaders do not represent their Baptist beliefs, the committee immediately responds but consistently fails to deal with the facts,” Streich said.

Jim Bolton, who chaired the Deacon-BGCT Study Committee at First Baptist Church of Dallas, produced a report earlier this year detailing the liberal direction BGCT leaders were taking the convention. That report led the church to reduce funding to the BGCT, dually align with the new more conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and threaten to completely withdraw from the BGCT if it continued to distance itself from the SBC.

“When our report first came out, we received the same kind of comments from the slander committee that SBC leaders are getting from them now,” Bolton said. “I wrote to the chairman of the committee [Wilkerson] and said, ‘[A]s brothers in Christ we have an obligation to be truthful and accurate in all of our statements. If there is an inaccuracy, half-truth or anything of that nature in our report, we have an obligation to correct it. So please let us know if you find any such items.’

“That was almost a year ago and I have not heard a word,” Bolton said.

While criticizing the SBC website and pamphlets for not being balanced in the Oct. 9 Baptist Standard article, Wilkerson declined to answer questions Oct. 23 as to whether a recent BGCT audiotape featuring BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade and an accompanying letter from former President Jimmy Carter was balanced or why the Baptist Standard did not offer SBC leaders a chance to respond in the Oct. 9 story.

Wilkerson, in the Baptist Standard article, accused the SBC of spending money for the website and pamphlets “that could have been spent reaching the lost rather than serving a political agenda.”

In response to Baptist Press, Wilkerson declined to say whether the BGCT had ever spent money for non-evangelistic purposes.

“If I used this SBC document alone to base my opinion without seeking out the history and reasoning for the proposed BGCT budgetary changes,” Wilkerson said in the Oct. 9 article, “I would be left with the impression that the only cause of these unfortunate events is that Texas has ‘anti-SBC leaders’ who are less than adequate doctrinally and theologically. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The BGCT executive board established the integrity committee in February 1999, with BGCT leaders consistently describing challenges to their views by dissenting Southern Baptists as “slanderous.”

“I’m tired of the misleading and slanderous attacks on our leaders,” said BGCT executive board member Dan Curry of Arlington when the committee was formed. “I believe it’s time to take a stand and defend our brothers and our state convention and say, ‘Enough is enough.'”

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  • Don Hinkle