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Conservative-moderate differences aired by competing groups’ reps

KANSAS CITY (BP)–As a leader of a “watchdog” group, Roger Moran, research director of the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, was warned by a student Oct. 11 at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to not be “a dog out of control.”
While the seminary student told Moran in an open forum that he believes in the value of dialogue and debate, he also said Moran should clarify particulars when he uses examples.
Despite Moran’s multiple references to the documentation provided for his research, the question of oversight of Moran’s work surfaced again later during the forum. Kerry Messer, president of the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, defended Moran’s research and said Moran is accountable to a five-member “Project 1000” board and more than 300 conservative pastors in Missouri.
The session at MBTS was part of a one-day class at the seminary focusing on state Baptist convention history and polity and, among other speakers, including Rob Marus, coordinator of the Baptist moderate organization, Missouri Mainstream Baptists.
Moran, from Winfield, Mo., and a member of the SBC Executive Committee, outlined goals for Project 1000, a campaign which succeeded in electing conservatives as convention officers during last fall’s MBC annual meeting. A second Project 1000 effort is under way for this year’s Oct. 25-27 annual meeting.
Moran, in his presentation, recounted key facets of the SBC controversy since 1979 and why he believes the Baptist moderates’ national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is using the Mainstream Missouri Baptists group as a forerunner in the midst of the kind of possible split weathered by both the Virginia and Texas state Baptist conventions.
“The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and pro-CBF moderates are attempting to take back on the state level what they lost on the national level — that’s what these controversies are ultimately about,” Moran said. “The state Baptist conventions in Virginia and Texas both have split — the conservatives in those states, when moderate factions had so locked it up that there was no winning, formed new state conventions.”
After winning only a sporadic number of Missouri convention presidencies in the 1990s, Moran said conservative pastors finally announced a meeting to begin the process of not supporting the MBC.
That’s when Moran said he began Project 1000.
“We told the pastors, ‘Until we have exhausted the process of correcting those things we perceive as wrong, we do not have the right or freedom to pull out of the MBC,'” Moran said.
Highlighting relationships between state convention personnel, the CBF and various groups which he considers supportive of homosexuality and other liberal influences, Moran said Project 1000’s thrust is electing conservative leaders at the MBC level.
The Mainstream Missouri Baptists group, whose representative, Marus, spoke prior to Moran, includes on its board of directors, according to Moran, three current or former members of the national CBF Coordinating Council; one Missouri CBF Coordinating Council member; and the president of MMB, Doyle Sager, who served as the host pastor of the 1998 Missouri CBF General Assembly.
The lines between the two Missouri groups were drawn in June, Moran said, when at the national CBF General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala., MMB announced it had already raised $40,000 toward a goal of $100,000 to fight Project 1000. Moran also said it was still not clear whether MMB had accepted a $25,000 grant the CBF had been awarding to fund start-ups in several different states.
“There are two very different and competing visions for the future of the MBC,” Moran said. “Project 1000 is about holiness. Holiness is rooted in sound doctrine. Holiness does not flow from falsehood and error — being sincere does doest miraculously convert falsehood and error into truth.”
Moran said he has never accused the leadership of the Missouri Baptist Convention of being liberal, as is often claimed, but instead has said, “We are concerned about the willingness of our convention leadership to open the doors of our convention to the liberal influences of the CBF.”
“Not everybody in CBF is liberal,” Moran said, “but liberalism has certainly found a comfortable home in CBF.”
With a focus on electing conservative leaders, Moran said Project 1000 hopes to move the MBC “back from a pro-SBC center-left to a pro-SBC center-right majority.”
“We believe the vast majority of Missouri Baptists are morally, socially and theologically conservative, and if Missouri Baptists knew what was going on behind the scenes, they would put a stop to it immediately,” Moran said.
Marus, in his presentation, said the question of what a person believes about social or moral issues is “extra-scriptural,” like the family amendment to the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement adopted in 1998.
Calling the amendment “completely unnecessary, unchristian and completely unbiblical,” and further labeling it a “creed” when seminary professors are required to sign it, Marus used the amendment as an example of what “fundamentalists with a capital F” do to make a “biblical issue out of interpretation.”
The reason Mainstream Missouri Baptists “has to exist in Missouri,” Marus said, should be framed with an understanding of his premise that “heresy can come from the right as well as the left.” The Mainstream group cares about specific Baptist principles he said are “under attack” in Missouri, after having been under attack at the national Southern Baptist Convention level.
The principles Marus cited include: 1) the authority vested in local congregations; 2) the authority of Scripture, which he said would not include creeds which bind conscience; 3) the priesthood of the believer; and 4) the separation of church and state.
Because some Missouri Baptists believe in the fundamentals of the faith, but do not add “extra-scriptural” ideas, Marus said they can be referred to as “fundamentalists with a small f.”
Marus said the beliefs of Missouri Baptists are threatened by the gains Project 1000 has made in placing conservatives in leadership at the state convention level. “The takeover in the SBC was a 20-year movement by people who disagreed with the SBC and with things going on in the six seminaries and re-made it in their own image. They were largely successful on the national level, and have not been successful on the state level,” Marus said.
In a later question-and-answer period, Marus acknowledged that Mainstream Missouri Baptists is a political organization and said, “It is unfortunate we have to exist as a political organization with secular political methodology.” He called Project 1000 a similar organization, and he added that the correlations Moran makes about the Mainstream group’s relationship to the CBF are far-reaching.
“The CBF has become a straw man Project 1000 uses to get at the Missouri Baptist Convention,” Marus said. He also charged Moran with making loose connections about those involved in Missouri denominational life also being a part of the CBF.
“It is a fallacious argument to say when you’re cooperating with the Baptist Joint Committee, you must have other involvements,” Marus said. “You’re not supporting the American Civil Liberties Union just because an ACLU member is on the BJC.”
“Roger says to move the board to the center-right majority from a center-left majority,” Marus said, “but I believe it’s a right-right majority of folks who run the SBC now — there is no center.”
Marus said he is uncomfortable about the efforts of Project 1000 to recruit messengers to attend the October annual meeting of the convention, and would have liked to instead focused this year’s convention on the “New Directions” plan for evangelism, church planting and missions in Missouri.
“The thing that scares me about the takeover attempt is that there’s a precedent for this,” said Marus, speaking about the SBC’s Bold Mission Thrust initiative begun in the late 1970s which some say was sidetracked by politics at the convention’s annual meeting.
“We got bogged down by esoteric debate,” Marus said, “and we continue to battle and are too busy hollering at each other about angels dancing on the head of a pin.”
In the open forum period after Marus’ talk, John Gaskin, a Midwestern student and an associate pastor of a Kansas church, said despite being told there was no such thing as a liberal Southern Baptist, he had encountered many as a young college student and was sidetracked for a decade while working out the question of Scripture’s absolute authority.
Mindful that his experience was also during Bold Mission Thrust, Gaskin said of the conservative resurgence, “I think it was worth it. There were real problems in our seminaries and in our schools. I am thankful it took place.” Gaskin continued, “I don’t like politics, but I believe the same thing that happened is still happening, and there are still people who disregard the fundamentals of the faith.
“I am offended you’ve tried to label it a political process,” Gaskin told Marus. “Real lives are being hurt.”
Questions about how funding is channeled to Mainstream Missouri Baptists were answered by Marus, who said that individuals and churches send their monies directly to the group from around the country.
Other questions centered around Marus’ or the Mainstream group’s definition of inerrancy. “The organization has nothing to say about inerrancy,” Marus said. “I think all Scripture is God-breathed, but inerrancy does not equal God-breathed — there are several different concepts.
“What I believe about inerrancy is not important,” Marus said. “We interpret Scripture through the Holy Spirit alone.”
If the view of Mainstream Missouri Baptists is not actually the view taken of the majority of the state’s Baptists, would the group change its name in order to not misrepresent others? asked one class participant.
“No one can prove who is mainstream,” Marus said. “I feel like we are mainstream. It all depends on who shows up at the convention.”

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  • Joni B. Hannigan