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Missouri Baptists face ‘war,’ speakers tell anti-SBC rallies

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Laying out a battle plan in the shadow of Missouri’s capitol building, former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Russell Dilday urged Mainstream Missouri Baptists July 26 to fight against “fundamentalism” by voting for “authentic Baptists” at the Missouri Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in October.

Dilday ended his three-day sprint just a few blocks from the Baptist Building in Jefferson City — at First Baptist Church — where he rallied 200 participants in the eighth and final stop of a whistle-stop tour, with earlier appearances in St. Joseph, Lee’s Summit, Joplin, Springfield, Rolla, Farmington and St. Louis.

Dilday was dismissed from Southwestern in 1994 after 16 years at the seminary’s helm. Dilday first sounded his battle cry against conservatives at the 1984 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Kansas City, decrying the movement as having an “emerging … incipient, Orwellian mentality.”

E. Harlan Spurgeon, identified as Mainstream’s candidate for the MBC presidency at the initial rally in St. Joseph, and a “special consultant” to the group, urged attendees to be like the early signers of the Declaration of Independence who pledged “their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor” against the British government.

Spurgeon is a former staff member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a denomination-like organization of individuals and groups from current and former Southern Baptist churches disgruntled at the SBC’s conservative direction. Earlier, he was a vice president at the SBC Foreign Mission Board.

Traveling with Spurgeon, Dilday, the past president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, defended his political actions in Missouri. He described the unrest between factions in the SBC as “tragic” and “not what God intended.” Noting the spiritual weapons of “love, witness, prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit,” Dilday said Jesus never used military power or the power of the courts, and Missouri Baptists should not have to be involved in political activities.

Dilday conceded during a question-and-answer session in St. Louis that at least one positive result may have occurred as a result of what some refer to as the “conservative resurgence” in the SBC.

“Out of all this mess there have been some things that are good. … Our greater attention to the Bible, that may be good,” Dilday said. “I think Baptists have given attention to that and certainly now we know it’s important as we are back to the Word of God, and that’s crucial and we’re even more consistent in our testimony … .”

Citing “new programs, new schools [and] new ways of doing missions,” Dilday suggested in Jefferson City, “it is time to see a new way of being Baptists” with regional “full-service conventions” that will assist churches in doing the Great Commission.

“War is not God’s will,” Dilday said in St. Louis. “It is never God’s will. But there comes a time when you choose the lesser of two evils. While it’s evil to go to war, it may be more evil to stand by and let innocent people suffer.”

The battle for control of the Missouri Baptist Convention can be compared to World War II, said Spurgeon at the Lee’s Summit meeting. “You know in World War II we had to do a lot of things we didn’t want to.” A former missionary to Taiwan, Spurgeon resigned from the FMB’s home office staff in 1993, accusing the agency’s trustees of departing from the FMB’s global evangelism strategies.

“This is a war for our freedom as Missouri Baptists,” Spurgeon declared, amidst the loud applause of an aging crowd who could readily identify with the ravages of World War II. He described “Mainstream” Baptists as “conservative, passionate, historic Baptists who deplore the fundamentalists of the SBC and the impending takeover of the Missouri Baptist Convention.” Spurgeon hailed Mainstream Missouri Baptists as “a group of ordinary Bible-believing historic Baptists not leaning to the left, not leaning to the right.”

Dilday, who was the featured speaker at the CBF luncheon during the Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting in 1998, said he has little involvement with the CBF.

“Mainstream Missouri Baptists is like Mainstream Texas Baptists and has nothing to do with CBF — no connection, no relationship,” Dilday said.

The CBF, however, offered a workshop during its General Assembly this summer to provide information about how to engage in political activity in their state conventions through “Mainstream Baptists” and “Baptists Committed” networks. Participants were told such state-level movements could lead to partnerships between the CBF and state conventions and to the defunding of SBC agencies. It was suggested that these networks not be overtly identified with the CBF, an organization that has developed its own missions and education programs and has been criticized for its financial support of controversial organizations or causes.

Although Dilday continued during the rallies to accuse “fundamentalists” of “precinct secular political methodology” in turning the SBC to a more conservative course, he said getting out the votes in Missouri may be the only way to “overcome” the advances of conservatives within the state. In addition to the announcement of his candidacy for the Missouri convention’s presidency, Spurgeon declared Mainstream’s support of Drew Hill, pastor of First Baptist Church, Sedalia, Mo., for first vice president. Hill is the brother of Jim Hill, executive director of the Missouri convention.

The Mainstream organization, in its organizing efforts, has purchased full-page advertisements in the Word & Way, the Missouri convention’s newsjournal, to announce rallies promoting their cause. In the first ad, promoting a series of meetings featuring R. Keith Parks, Parks is identified as the “former president of the SBC Foreign Mission Board,” although his most recent job as CBF missions leader was omitted from the ad. In the second ad, the pejorative term “fundamentalist” is used three times under a banner, “Because we care … About integrity in Missouri Baptist life.”

Another facet of the Mainstream campaign, as evidenced in the recent rallies: distribution of “The Fundamentalist Takeover in the Southern Baptist Convention: A Brief History” by Rob James and Gary Leazer, produced in 1999 by Impact Media, Timisoara, Romania, a remake of an earlier book by the same title. Also available were copies of a monthly publication, The Baptist Voice. In the July 2000 issue, Spurgeon wrote an editorial titled, “Are Mainstream Baptists soft on sin? Of course not!”

In the editorial, Spurgeon wrote of his own personal stand on homosexuality and abortion, but he noted that “no one can presume to speak for all Baptists with regard to moral issues” and that these and other issues are “matters of conscience.”

Mainstream’s failure to identify a stand on moral issues is similar to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and such organizations as Baptist Women in Ministry whose purpose statements do not include a clear statement of beliefs in regard to such controversial social issues.

Both Dilday and Spurgeon referred to Project 1000, a five-year plan launched in 1998 by the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association to support conservative, pro-SBC candidates for election as state convention officers. The trend, if continued, will ensure conservative trustees’ direction of three of Missouri Baptists’ four colleges, a Missouri Baptist home for seniors and the Missouri Baptist Children’s Homes, among other ministries.

Project 1000 seeks to enlist at least 1,000 messengers for the state convention’s annual meeting, Spurgeon warned, exhorting listeners to make sure they have room reservations and are at the Lake of the Ozarks at precisely 11 a.m. on Halloween, Oct. 31, for the vote for president.

“We are facing a very crucial time,” Spurgeon said. “If they are able to elect a president … you will see happen in the MBC exactly what has happened in the SBC.”

Predicting an unhappy future if Missouri Baptist life is not restored to “normalcy,” Spurgeon said about the October vote: “It’s a matter of freedom, because when you lose the convention, you are going to lose your freedom.”

Describing his passion for the cause, Spurgeon said the first four examples from the dictionary definition of passion talk about anger. “I’m a little bit mad at what some of these [conservatives] have done to Baptists,” Spurgeon said. “I really am.”

In contrast, Dilday said he harbors no hard feelings about his displacement as seminary president, but said his sense of humor reflects his easy-going personality. He added, however, that his wife, Betty, does not share his view. “… My wife, she keeps score. If something happens to one of them, she’ll write it down,” Dilday said, laughing with the audience. “One of them dies [she writes it down] — I say, ‘Don’t do that.'”

While Dilday described trustees during the early years of his presidency at Southwestern as educated and competent laypersons and preachers who knew about education, academics and finances, he alleged that “another kind of trustee” began to appear in the early ’80s.

Labeling those trustees as “incompetent,” “mean-spirited” and “uneducated,” he said they were “used and abused” by the people who appointed them to look for signs of liberalism.

Dilday said these newer trustees were not there because of their competence or gifts; they knew little about Baptist church life, knew nothing about seminary experience, did not trust education, knew nothing about finance and couldn’t tell the difference between “a security and an equity.”

“There was not a drift into liberalism,” Dilday said of the SBC at large and of SWBTS. Like a pendulum that swings back and forth, he said if the convention got “too far left,” people would move it back. During his tenure at SWBTS, Dilday said there were five to nine seminary professors he asked to leave for immorality or doctrinal problems. Out of 400 seminary professors at the six Southern Baptist seminaries in the ’80s, Dilday said no more than a dozen legitimate complaints ever surfaced.

“If there were six to 10 or 20 raging liberals preaching anti-Christian doctrine, they wouldn’t have had an impact, they would have been disregarded — they would not have had nearly as much damage to what the Lord’s doing in our denomination — as the efforts to overcome [alleged liberalism],” Dilday maintained.
Expanded reporting on Dilday’s Missouri speaking tour can be seen on the Internet at www.homestead.com/morebaptistnews.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan