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Layman’s materials, video on CBF prompt leader Vestal’s ‘

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Missouri Baptist layman has come under attack by the top official of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship over distributed materials linking the CBF with groups that support the homosexual lifestyle and abortion and are against school prayer, among a range of liberal stances.
Roger Moran, of Winfield, Mo., research director for the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association (MBLA) who was recently elected to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, is the target of a June 1999 “open letter” written by CBF coordinator Daniel Vestal. Moran, who also has caught the ire of leaders in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, is criticized for assertions made in the MBLA’s newsletter and a video detailing the association between approximately 30 CBF leaders and a variety of liberal groups.
The CBF is an organization formed in 1991 by moderate Southern Baptists in protest of the SBC leadership.
The issues raised by Moran in the MBLA materials prompted a sharp exchange of letters earlier this year between the layman and Vestal. Vestal asked Moran in a March 11 letter to stop making statements tying CBF leaders with liberal organizations that, among other things, tolerate the homosexual lifestyle. Moran responded with a letter April 30 in which he said, “Though we have never charged CBF as an institution with promoting a gay/lesbian agenda, we did raise several questions that we believe deserve an honest answer.” Moran then enumerated 15 instances in which CBF leaders/members were in some way associated with pro-homosexual forces.
Sandwiched between their exchange was an unusual letter from Vestal to Moran’s pastor, Gary Taylor, of First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, Mo., asking him to intervene in the escalating dispute.
But Moran remained undaunted, in his April 30 letter challenging Vestal to point out any inaccuracies on the part of MBLA.
“With all due respect, it is my personal opinion, Dr. Vestal, that your complaint is not with the MBLA, but with those CBF and CBF-related leaders whose activities and statements you apparently are unwilling to criticize and unable to defend,” Moran wrote. “I would call upon you, Dr. Vestal, to correct those things that are within your power that are clearly wrong in CBF.”
The dispute has spilled over into Texas as well. When Texas liberals and some moderates — who support the CBF– became miffed after discovering Moran’s material in some Texas churches, they formed what has been referred to in the Texas state newspaper, The Baptist Standard, as “the slander committee.” Bill Bruster, a network coordinator for the CBF, told members of Calder Baptist Church, Beaumont, Texas, April 18, that the MBLA and Moran prompted the formation of the “slander committee.”
“Depending on whether or not he [Moran] responds [to Vestal’s call for a public apology and retraction] depends on what we do,” Bruster said in comments taped by the church. “We’re keeping all options open as to what we will do. We don’t want to take him to court.”
Moran said such threats are meant to keep him from expressing his views and challenging CBF members on their views.
“I have not condemned anyone in the CBF,” Moran told Baptist Press after receiving a copy of Vestal’s “open letter” and in response to Vestal’s accusation that Moran is making inappropriate judgments against leaders in the CBF.
“All we have done is publicly repeat what CBF leaders have said and done publicly themselves. If anyone has condemned anyone, the CBF has condemned itself by virtue of the people and organizations they have chosen to associate themselves with and by the things their own leaders have said.”
Among the examples cited by Moran in his April 30 letter to Vestal is the tie between Richard Groves, pastor of the Wake Forest Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, N.C., and the CBF. Moran noted Groves served on the interim steering committee of the CBF and was on the CBF Coordinating Council from 1991-95. Moran asked Vestal in the April 30 letter if it is indeed true that the church has allowed its ministers to perform homosexual unions and has “openly allowed homosexual members serving on the deacon board, in the choir, and as Sunday School teachers?”
As another example, Moran quoted from a CBF AIDS packet published by the organization in 1994 which states, “We do not choose our sexual orientation, but rather we ‘awaken’ to it.” Moran noted no where in the packet does it declare homosexuality a sin.
Moran, in an interview, said the disagreement between the MBLA and Vestal is indicative of the intensifying battle that is bubbling to the surface in various state conventions between liberals and some moderates in the CBF and people loyal to the SBC.
“Neither I nor the MBLA are on a crusade against the CBF,” Moran said. “The CBF or those sympathetic to the CBF were rapidly taking control of the Missouri Baptist Convention to the point that conservative leaders of the MBC were beginning the process of pulling out of the state convention. We were on the same path as Virginia and Texas.”
Conservatives in Virginia split from the state convention in 1997 over what they viewed as a liberal drift, while conservatives in Texas formed their own convention in 1998 after the BGCT revamped the way it does mission work, distancing itself from the SBC.
“The CBF is attempting to take back on the state convention level what it lost on the national level,” Moran said. “They can’t get the churches to fund them directly. … They are trying to steer the state conventions toward the CBF and away from the SBC.” Many church members are not yet aware of what is taking place, Moran said, “and what is at stake.”
Conservatives were successful in stemming a liberal-to-moderate drift in Missouri by electing a full slate of conservative officers in last November’s state convention elections. But Moran said the CBF continues to work through a surrogate organization called Mainstream Missouri Baptists (MMB). MMB has denied any affiliation with CBF, but an MBLA “fact sheet” reports that the MMB board of directors demonstrates the ties between the MMB and CBF. For example, Doyle Sager, MMB president and pastor of the First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, Mo., served as host for the Missouri CBF General Assembly. The fact sheet mentions four other Missouri pastors and laymen who serve on the MMB board of directors who have served on either state or national CBF coordinating councils.
MMB, Moran said, may have received $25,000 in grant money from an organization called Texas Baptist Committed (TBC), a group of liberal and moderate Texans who are leading the charge for the BGCT to split from the SBC. Indeed, Texas Baptist Committed has offered moderates in every state no-interest loans up to $25,000 to help them form new groups. Texas Baptist Committed-type organizations have been formed in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and CBF supporters met in Nashville, Tenn., in March 1998 to discuss how such organizations can be established in at least a dozen other states. Representatives from Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia attended the meeting.
The TBC is headed by David Currie, a CBF supporter and former CBF coordinating council member who has been among the most vocal critics of the SBC leadership. It was Currie who said last year that rather than send money to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, “I would rather you drive down the street and throw your money out the window, because it is more likely to be picked up and used to build the Kingdom of God.” SBC President Paige Patterson is Southeastern Seminary’s president. The BGCT now gives Texan churches the option of no longer financially supporting the SBC’s seminaries — with the exception of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas — when they meet at their state convention later this year.
In the MBLA’s “Viewpoint” newsletter, April 1999, the MBLA details how strong the link has been between liberal and some moderate CBF leaders and liberal organizations like Americans United For Separation of Church and State (a key critic of prayer in public schools) and the Alliance of Baptists, which provided grants in 1997 to six pro-homosexual churches. Several CBF leaders have served on the governing boards of both organizations, the “Viewpoint” newsletter points out, quoting an Americans United editorial in 1998, saying, “You are known by the company you keep. … You can tell a lot about our organization by considering who stands with us … and who stands against us.” Several other CBF leaders are noted by the MBLA as associating with liberal groups that support issues ranging from abortion to women in senior pastorates. Each are well documented (the lead article in the issue of “Viewpoint” has 92 footnotes).
In his open letter to Moran, Vestal says, “You make a bold statement that liberalism has found a place within CBF … [and] that simply is not true. What is true is that there are Baptist Christians who have found a place of ministry and fellowship in CBF whom you [Moran] would call liberal.”
But Moran noted Vestal has failed to address any of the assertions made by the MBLA’s newsletter or its increasingly popular video now making the rounds in Baptist churches.
“For years we have been raising specific, documented concerns and they have failed and refused to respond,” Moran said, asking, “Will he [Vestal] say what these guys are doing is biblically correct? I have always spoken to them in respect, unlike Currie’s remarks about one of our outstanding SBC seminaries that is run by our SBC president.”
In his open letter, Vestal notes that within the CBF, beyond some who would be identified as “liberals,” “There are many others who have embraced our mission and joined our efforts for the sake of Christ whom you would call conservative. And still many others have found a home in CBF who fit somewhere else in the spectrum of political and theological labels. For you, this kind of diversity around a common mission is seen as a weakness. I see it as a God-given strength.”
Vestal also has produced a six-minute video addressing the growing rift with the MBLA, according told Associated Baptist Press, which receives funding from the CBF.
The issues raised by the MBLA create a dilemma, Vestal said.
“How much do you respond to the accusations, and how much do you engage those making the accusations, and how much do you ignore it?”
Concerning specifically homosexuality, Vestal responded to the issue in a question-and-answer session on the CBF’s Internet website.
The CBF’s approach to the issue, Vestal said, is “shared by well-known Christian groups like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the American Bible Society, the Willow Creek Association, the Salvation Army and many others. Neither we nor they make official pronouncements on these or many other issues.”
However, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association does address homosexuality on its official Internet site, calling it a sexual perversion and a sin. Then there is this: “While many people in our society and some churches today are engaging in sexual sins, this in no way changes God’s judgment on these practices. Those who engage in immorality or encourage others to do so will answer to God, even if they are ministers or leaders of the church. The fact that there are groups in the world that are accepting such behavior as normal, does not in any way mean that God accepts it. God loves those who engage in sexual immorality and perversion too much to leave them in their sin to face destruction. He longs to free them from their bondage if they will repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior.”
The Billy Graham Internet site also offers the phone number and address to Exodus International, a Christian organization that specializes in helping homosexuals leave their lifestyle.

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  • Don Hinkle