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‘Mainstream’ speakers link SBC with Islamic terrorists

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP)–Southern Baptist conservatives have more in common with Islamic terrorists than with Baptist “moderates,” charged speakers at the first annual meeting of the “Mainstream Baptist Network” Feb. 15-16 in Charlotte, N.C.

The “Mainstream” movement is made up of Baptists dissatisfied with the conservative direction of the Southern Baptist Convention. Most board members and leaders also are affiliated with the Baptist quasi-denomination, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF).

Phil Lineberger, pastor of Williams Trace Baptist Church in Sugar Land, Texas, and national co-chair of the Mainstream Network, compared the Southern Baptist Convention’s adoption of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs to radical Islam’s terrorist ideology.

“We’ve learned about the dangers of religious fanaticism lately,” Lineberger said, comparing secularist Muslim Salman Rushdie’s analysis of fundamentalist Islam with his own analysis of conservative Baptist confessionalism.

“Fundamentalists have more in common with each other than with their respective religious roots,” Lineberger said of conservative Baptists and Islamic extremists. “It doesn’t matter their god or their holy book. Fundamentalists are always oppressive and destructive in their behavior.”

Lineberger then compared the confessional commitments of the SBC’s six seminaries to extremist Islamic training schools in the Middle East.

“Islamic seminaries have drowned out all unacceptable stories,” he said. “There is just one acceptable story now.

“That’s why we’re creating new seminaries and this is why these seminaries are flourishing while [the SBC’s] seminaries are dying,” Lineberger said.

Enrollment at the SBC’s seminaries, however, has moved from 12,914 for the 1998-99 academic year to 13,591 for 1999-2000 and 14,185 for 2000-2001, using non-duplicating headcount statistics.

Of Lineberger’s characterizations of Southern Baptists, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press, “This kind of language is so irresponsible and incendiary that I find it hard to believe that any Christian leader could speak such things. This is a new low for those running further and further from the Southern Baptist Convention. To compare the Baptist Faith and Message to Islamic terrorism is so out of bounds that it needs no refutation. I can only look with grief to such an insult to Christian truth.”

Concerning seminary enrollment, Mohler said, “The various and sundry divinity schools established by the moderates have not impacted the enrollment of our SBC seminaries in any significant way. The total SBC enrollment is in a clear growth pattern with well over 14,000 students preparing for ministry in our seminaries.”

During the Mainstream meeting, Becky Matheny, executive director of the Baptist Heritage Council of Georgia, spoke of those individuals and groups who had had various “dreams” for the future, such as Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. There have been other, less benevolent, “dreams” articulated, however, she said.

“In 1978, two people had a dream to change what we knew as the Southern Baptist Convention,” Matheny said, in an apparent reference to conservative resurgence leaders Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler. “And in 2001, a group of people had a dream to destroy the United States of America,” apparently a reference to the terrorists who drove hijacked planes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.

Similarly, Mainstream Network leader David Currie called the International Mission Board’s move to ask missionaries to sign the Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs an “act of spiritual terrorism.”

David Flick, a former director of missions in Oklahoma, likewise gave a testimony in which he wrote that conservatives in Oklahoma were offended when he asserted on an Internet forum that conservative Southern Baptist attitudes and convictions were similar to those of fundamentalist Muslims.

Such comments represented an escalation of the already spirited anti-SBC rhetoric within the movement. Earlier in the week, the Biblical Recorder newspaper reported on a “straightforward” letter sent by Currie to North Carolina Baptists in which he referred to Southern Baptist leaders as “a bunch of Pharisees.” In the letter, Currie suggested that the SBC’s conservative leaders do not share the same gospel of Jesus Christ with moderates, but instead embrace a “perversion of the gospel” denounced by Jesus in the New Testament.

The Mainstream Baptist Network is a coalition of state groups working toward defeating conservative candidates for state convention offices. At the 2000 General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Orlando, Fla., a breakout session trained CBF activists on using the “Mainstream” groups to organize individuals uncomfortable with the CBF to elect “moderate” candidates to state convention office. Moderate-controlled state conventions could then direct funds away from the SBC. Months later, the moderate-controlled Baptist General Convention of Texas voted to divert funding from the six SBC seminaries, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Executive Committee.

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  • Russell D. Moore