SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson expects to be preoccupied with a goal of a million people being baptized in the year 2000 through Southern Baptist evangelistic efforts at home and abroad. Patterson, among the most well-known leaders of the conservative resurgence, was elected by acclamation June 9 at the SBC annual meeting in Salt Lake City.
“We’ve had 20 years of controversy that I happen to believe was essential.
That’s all behind us now,” Patterson said. “What is before us now is to unify our hearts and minds on one objective — being faithful to that which Christ asks us to do.”
Whether the nearly 16 million members of the Southern Baptist Convention feel good about his election probably depends on whether they share his vision of leading a far greater number to faith in Christ, he reflected.
“If people are enthusiastic about missions and evangelism, they’re probably going to feel good about this,” Patterson said. “If not, then they’d probably rather have someone else.”
With the emphasis Patterson intends to place on worldwide evangelization, he said anyone who believes the Bible is true and is “deeply concerned about reaching the world with the message of Jesus Christ is going to be increasingly happy in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
As to whether there will be efforts to reach out to moderate Southern Baptists who have criticized the conservative resurgence, Patterson said, “Those with serious questions about the validity and veracity of certain portions of the Word and who do not have a deep commitment to missions are going to be less happy with the Southern Baptist Convention of the 21st century.”
On areas such as morality, sociopolitical justice or religious liberty, Patterson said he favors alliances with non-Christian groups such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who make up the majority of Salt Lake City’s population.
“My particular definition does not give a man the right to believe what he wants in isolation,” Patterson said, preferring an “open marketplace” in which religion is discussed.
“A person ought to have the right to change his or her mind if that is the dictate of conscience,” Patterson said.
He said he found Mormon leaders affirming that conviction in earlier meetings prior to the convention.
“While I’m grateful we can work with our Mormon friends in those kinds of ways, we are light years apart doctrinally,” Patterson said.
He expressed appreciation at Baptists and Mormons exhibiting “the American dream that people can co-mingle on the street and talk about things that are so serious that they matter for time and eternity, and yet not be angry, with many coming to faith in Christ.” Patterson said hopes for a day when Mormons understand only one revelation of God through the Old and New Testaments, and recognize “God is the changeless one, while Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
He explained that there “never was a time God was a man or a time when we are gods. I hope for a day when Mormon friends would say Jesus is the only way to be saved and by grace alone. But as my teacher, Dr. Criswell (W.A. Criswell, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas), said, that belongs to the imponderables of an almighty God.”
Even those who have felt themselves targeted by passage of a new article of the Baptist Faith and Message which offers a traditional definition of the family should recognize such convictions as “a reaffirmation of biblical truth,” Patterson said, referring to potential critics among feminist and homosexual camps.
“It was an effort to positively state what Southern Baptists have always believed,” Patterson said of the article.
“We have believed it a good many years before feminists even came into being.”
He rejected the argument of one messenger attempting to amend the article so that the husband and wife are expected to “equally submit” rather than stating a biblical mandate for the wife to submit to the servant leadership of her husband, paralleling the church’s submission to the headship of Christ.
Acknowledging that the New Testament Book of Ephesians teaches Christian spouses to submit to one another, Patterson said, “The proposed amendment would have missed what obviously follows after verse 21. Specific assignments are made to the husband and the wife, and the committee properly defended the statement as having all that is in Ephesians 5, rather than just part.” With Patterson’s wife, Dorothy, serving as a member of the Baptist Faith and Message study committee which proposed the article on the family, the new president was asked if his wife had consulted with him before offering input to the committee.
“She corrected me two or three times on matters,” he responded to an amused audience.
“She just finished her second doctorate with a dissertation on the theology of womanhood,” Patterson added, “so this is one area I discuss with great care because she knows a great deal more about this subject than I would even want to know.
I am grateful for the price she has paid to be informed on biblical issues.” Patterson said the article also sends a message that “the biblical position for the home is one man for one woman for life.” Adding that no Christian should be involved in “gay-bashing,” Patterson said he would want those involved in the homosexual community to know that “Southern Baptists love them and wish for them to know Christ and have whatever correction of lifestyle that needs to be made.”
He reminded those gathered for the news conference that “all of us have things that need to be corrected in our lives,” adding that the basis of such correction must be the Word of God.
As Southern Baptists seek to reach America’s cities with the gospel, Patterson said he is not overly concerned with the methods employed as long as they do not compromise the gospel. “Sometimes efforts put forth in the name of Christ compromise the basic holiness to which God calls us.”
Patterson declined to speak on several issues, including the proper relationship of Southern Baptist missionaries to ministry in China, as well as the need for the convention to speak about President Clinton’s moral leadership. “Most Southern Baptists are convinced the issue of character, integrity and truthfulness is a major issue for anyone serving in public office,” he said, while noting a lack of qualification to apply such a standard to individuals whose lives he does not know personally.
The highly publicized boycott of Disney enacted at the 1997 convention has been misunderstood, Patterson said.
“Southern Baptists were speaking as much to themselves as anybody else.
It was a reminder that we need to be very careful what we choose for entertainment and, for that matter, how much time we spend with entertainment, period,” he said. While many other organizations are “as deeply into sin as Disney,” Patterson said the entertainment mogul “claims to be an organization trying to make family life in America better.” He called it a basic integrity problem that needed to be addressed.