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Dilday adds SBC ethics agency to possible Texas funding cuts

DALLAS (BP)–A fourth target for cuts in Texas Baptist funding of Southern Baptist agencies is the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Russell H. Dilday Jr. said in an interview in the Texas Baptist Standard Jan. 25.
Earlier Dilday, president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, had identified three Southern Baptist seminaries as potential targets for a $3 million cut in Texas Baptist funding, in comments to an Abilene newspaper Jan. 19. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., were the seminaries Dilday listed.
The ERLC and the three seminaries are those for which “some” Texas Baptists have the “strongest distaste” among agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dilday told the Baptist Standard.
Dilday, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth nearly 16 years until being fired by trustees in 1994, is the first BGCT leader to be publicly quoted as envisioning funding cuts for SBC agencies. He told the Standard he did not intend to give the impression he was advocating such cuts, but was answering a reporter’s question and was predicting what he believes is “inevitable” at the BGCT’s November annual meeting in El Paso.
Dilday, in Abilene, nevertheless declared that Texas Baptists are “not a farm club” of the SBC and the BGCT should be “more responsible stewards” in funding allocations to the SBC. Dilday also said the “Baptist image has been scarred and must be repaired,” as the newspaper put it, after the SBC’s vote to add a statement on the family to the convention’s historic Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement.
Responding to a question from Baptist Press Jan. 28 about specifics concerning the SBC entities facing possible funding cuts, Dilday said, “I would not be able to exactly share why these churches and people [and groups with whom he has met as BGCT president] feel like those are ones they do not feel comfortable supporting, except the general impression is some of the seminaries are moving in directions theologically that have not been, over the years, traditionally Baptist, and that would be true at the religious liberty group as well.”
Dilday also said the ERLC holds “a much weaker view of the separation of church and state” than the SBC’s former religious liberty agency, the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. And, at the seminaries, Dilday cited Calvinistic views held by some of their leaders.
Richard Land, president of the ERLC, asked by Baptist Press for a response to Dilday’s inclusion of the ERLC as a possible target for a Texas Baptist funding cut, said:
“If there are segments of the Texas convention who are unhappy with us or think they disagree with our positions, I believe they have a scriptural obligation to contact us and give us an opportunity to respond to their concerns before they reduce funding.
“They should at least allow us to come before the convention and explain our positions, which they so far have not allowed us to do,” Land said, noting he has asked for time on the BGCT program in recent years, but to no avail.
“I would be more than delighted to come and speak to the state convention and answer any questions that they want to ask for as long as they want to ask them,” Land said.
Concerning the ERLC’s basic direction, Land said:
“… the last thing we should ever want is government-sponsored religion. That’s like being hugged by a python. It squeezes all the life out of you, and you fall over dead. But like millions of Southern Baptists, we are extremely concerned by persistent attempts by powerful forces in this culture, as described by Stephen Carter in his book, ‘The Culture of Disbelief,’ to trivialize, marginalize and censure the religious convictions of individual citizens from serious public-policy discussions on such issues as abortion and euthanasia.
“To say that we do not have the right to bring our deeply held, religious convictions on these issues to bear on the nation’s public-policy debate is to mangle the original understanding of church-state separation beyond recognition and is both un-Baptistic and un-American,” Land said.
“I’m a sixth-generation Texan and a Texas Baptist,” Land added, “and the Texas Baptists I know are overwhelmingly positive in their support for and in agreement with the ministry of their Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.”
Land continued, “We get an overwhelmingly positive response to everything we do from Baptists in Texas — from orders for materials to observance of our various Sundays on the denominational calendar, like Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, Racial Reconciliation Sunday, Christian Citizenship Sunday. We get tremendous response in Texas to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. We had a booth at the convention meeting in Houston [in 1998]. We had one negative comment in three days, compared to about 200 positive comments. We had large crowds when we did our radio program from the booth. Our radio program [a 30-minute weekday broadcast, ‘For Faith & Family’] is on more radio stations in Texas than in any other state in our convention. Our single station with the best response is Dallas [KWRD-FM], where we’re on live from 11:30 to noon every weekday.”
An earlier salvo against the SBC in general and ERLC in particular was fired last year by David R. Currie, the salaried coordinator of Texas Baptists Committed, an organization promoting the goals of Baptist moderates. Currie also is treasurer of the moderates’ Cooperative Baptist Fellowship national organization.
Currie said in a speech last June, which was reprinted in a “National Edition” of TBC’s newsletter in November, that “Texas Baptists” during “the next few years” — in order to combat “fundamentalism” and advance their own work — “will vote on changing the entire budget process as it relates to the SBC.”
Currie cited upcoming initiatives in the BGCT to “start our own [Sunday school] literature program … expand our lay theological education programs and start a Bible college … [and] take Richard Land’s money that is being wasted in an attempt to destroy religious liberty in America and use it in ways to help families and protect religious freedom; or we will fail trying. I assure you we will try.
“And other states need to do the same,” Currie said, reflecting announced efforts by Texas Baptists Committed to form similar organizations in as many as 15 states.
In the Baptist General Convention of Texas, denomination-like steps indeed have been taken, with approval of recommendations from a “Effectiveness/Efficiency Committee” during the 1997 BGCT annual meeting in Austin. A funding committee currently is working on recommendations for funding the EE recommendations.
Of the SBC, Currie said in the Texas Baptists Committed newsletter, “The people in control of the SBC today are spirit brothers of the people Jesus called blind guides, blind fools and white-washed tomb.”
Currie was quoted earlier in the year as saying of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, “I would rather you drive down the street and throw your money out the window” than send funds to the North Carolina seminary “because it is more likely to be picked up and used to build the kingdom of God.” Southeastern’s president is Paige Patterson, elected as SBC president last June, who has called on Southern Baptists and their overseas partners to baptize 1 million people worldwide in the year 2000.
Dilday’s recent comments and Currie’s efforts to direct funding away from the SBC are among numerous evidences of Texas moderates seeking to chart an independent course for the BGCT of their own theological-philosophical liking.
Herbert Reynolds, Baylor University chancellor, has enunciated the most far-reaching vision yet for Texas Baptists, that they take a lead role in forming a new denomination, which he called the “Baptist Convention of the Americas.”
Currently, the BGCT allows churches the option of designating funds away from five specific entities and still be credited with participating in the Cooperative Program. The BGCT’s four funding plans also include one which allocates two-thirds to BGCT causes and one-third to SBC causes. Yet another plan provides funding for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship among its options.
Most Texas churches select the plan allocating one-third of their Cooperative Program gifts to SBC causes, Dilday acknowledged in his comments in Abilene.