DALLAS (BP)–More than 40 percent of the churches in the Baptist General Convention of Texas are unhappy with its current direction, said Dallas-area pastor Jack Graham, predicting major changes are on the horizon as conservatives consider their relationship with the state Baptist convention.
Graham’s comments came following a Feb. 28 meeting of conservative Texas Baptist pastors in Dallas, where they discussed growing concerns about doctrinal issues and the possibility that the BGCT was planning on creating a national “shadow” Baptist convention. Graham is pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas.
The gathering comes three months after First Baptist Church of Dallas voted Nov. 17 to align with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, a conservative convention birthed in November 1998. The church voted at the same time to maintain a minimal relationship with the older Baptist General Convention of Texas.
The meeting, hosted by Graham, and fellow pastors Ed Young Sr. of Second Baptist Church, Houston, and Claude Thomas of First Baptist Church, Euless, was attended by about 30 pastors from across Texas.
“The one common thread that we have as pastors is that we are all supportive of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Graham told Baptist Press.
“I grew up a Texas Baptist and the BGCT is no longer the convention of T.A. Patterson, Fred Swank or W.A. Criswell,” Graham said. “There is a different kind of leadership and we just aren’t going to go where they are trying to take us. That’s just the way it is.
“They [BGCT] are distancing themselves from the SBC not only in terms of doctrinal viewpoints like the Baptist Faith and Message, but also philosophically and strategically on missions and world missions,” Graham said. “So we met together to counsel one another concerning our options on how we can work together as conservative Southern Baptists in Texas.”
While no official decision was made to break ties with the 2.7-million-member moderate-led BGCT, Graham acknowledged many of the pastors in attendance were considering the issue.
“That’s a spiritual decision that needs to be made by individual churches,” Graham said. “We had no desire to make pronouncements at the meeting.”
Graham confirmed that Prestonwood and its 16,000 members are studying the issue in committee. “We have a committee assigned to investigate and we invite all Baptist bodies to make presentations to our group. We plan to have a question-and-answer session and talk about the future.”
Graham said a number of churches across the state are already doing studies and some have already changed the way they distribute mission money. “Some, like us, are sending Cooperative Program giving directly to Nashville,” Graham said. “There were a few groups who were duly aligned with both conventions and some were escrowing funds until decisions are made.”
Many conservative churches have realigned with the more conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Graham said. “There seems to be a strong commitment to conservative doctrine, missions and a passionate, firey devotion to sharing the gospel,” Graham said of the new SBTC. “That’s very exciting.”
And while the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas welcomes churches into its fold, the conservative group doesn’t solicit new congregations.
Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, told Baptist Press Feb. 28: “The policy of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention toward churches has been one of responding when contacted. We have not, since constituting as a convention, solicited churches into affiliation. When invited, we respond to associations, churches and individuals.
“We provide an opportunity for Southern Baptist churches in Texas to partner with a statewide strategy for missions and ministry while retaining a strong historic relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Richards, who did not attend the Prestonwood gathering.
Graham said the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is less bureaucratic and fully committed to national SBC causes. “It is a lean organization that is committed to starting churches and doing missions and evangelism. It is a small staff with a big commitment to reaching Texas,” Graham said.
In a prepared statement released to the Dallas Morning News, BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade said BGCT leaders would like to have participated in the meeting but were not invited.
“We are open to discuss any matter of concern with any church affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and to address those concerns openly and honestly as possible,” Wade said. “We would, in fact, appreciate the opportunity to meet with and dialogue with churches, groups of churches, associations or alternate conventions.”
Beyond the action of First Baptist, Dallas, to affiliate with the new conservative convention, tensions in Texas heightened as a result of actions at last November’s BGCT annual meeting, including a repudiation of the family amendment to the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message adopted at the SBC annual meeting in Salt Lake City in 1998 and drawn from the New Testament’s words in Ephesians 5.
BGCT messengers voted instead to endorse the SBC’s 1963 Baptist Faith and Message which has no article focusing on the family.
Also in the works is an amendment to the BGCT constitution to allow membership by out-of-state churches. A two-thirds positive vote of BGCT messengers this November will enact the change.
BGCT President Clyde Glazener, pastor of Gambrell Street Baptist Church across the street from Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was quoted by the Dallas Morning News as repeating a variation of his frequent allegation, “The big thing is the Baptist General Convention of Texas won’t be controlled by the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Graham called that statement “ludicrous.”
“No one is trying to control the Baptist General Convention of Texas,” Graham said. “Nor do I know of another state convention that feels that the Southern Baptist Convention is trying to exert control.
“What concerns me is there is an openness and toleration of other viewpoints among the elected leadership that is not in the spirit of the Baptist Faith and Message,” Graham said. “Frankly, we’ve got a group of people in Texas who are going a different direction than the SBC and we are very concerned by the lack of [the BGCT’s] cooperation with the SBC.”
Graham said he would not speculate on how many churches may consider leaving the BGCT but he estimated that at least 40 percent of the churches are not happy with the current direction of the state convention.
“Every church will have to prayerfully consider their relationship with all Baptist bodies,” Graham said. “I would certainly think that half the churches are more than sympathetic, and it could be more than that, with the SBC.”
Regardless, Graham said 2000 will be a “marker year for our work as churches in Texas.”