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Texas conservatives to form new convention

DALLAS (BP)–Southern Baptists of Texas, a conservative group disenchanted with recent actions by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, has begun the process of creating a new state convention.
The move was initiated by a unanimous vote of the SBT board of directors in Dallas Nov. 20. Directors authorized the SBT officers and the administrative director to begin immediately the process of transitioning the organization into a new state convention.
Messengers to the Baptist General Convention of Texas Nov. 10-11 annual meeting in Austin approved an “Effectiveness/Efficiency Committee” plan that conservatives fought. The E/E report must be adopted at next year’s BGCT meeting in Houston before it will take effect.
Among the plan’s recommendations was one that tied BGCT membership more closely into giving to the BGCT.
Conservative churches unhappy with the moderate lean of the BGCT had been exploring ways to bypass the state convention.
Dee Slocum, pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Amarillo, and vice president of the SBT, said the action was due to what the SBT perceives as “a broadening and distancing of BGCT from SBC.”
He said the vote elevated the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to “equal status with the SBC” and also elevated the BGCT to denominational status. The CBF is a group of moderate Baptists critical of SBC leadership.
“The CBF has always denied that it is a denomination, yet the E/E report elevated CBF to denomination status,” Slocum said.
The E/E report consisted of 19 different motions, 15 of which were effective immediately. These included supporting Texas theological schools, creating Texas Sunday school literature and expanding partnership missions to include the CBF.
The vote by Texas conservatives was the second such action this past year. In 1996, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia formed in a split with the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
“Texas declared itself as an independent Baptist convention,” Slocum said. “It is their intent to affiliate in a limited way with the SBC and to expand their cooperation with agencies of CBF. This is a radical departure of the BGCT from the SBC.
“This is denied by BGCT, but the evidence is to the contrary,” he said. “The E/E report established programs and ministries that are almost a mirror reflection of existing Southern Baptist ministries.”
BGCT Executive Director William Pinson and BGCT President Russell H. Dilday Jr. were unavailable for comment at Baptist Press’ deadline Monday, Nov. 24.
Bill Merrell, vice president for convention relations for the SBC Executive Committee, said he had no comment on the issue at this time.
Prior to the BGCT meeting, Slocum said the SBT board of directors had decided that, if the E/E report was adopted, it would begin forming a new convention.
The Nov. 20 meeting was a follow-up to that, he said.
“We considered the state of affairs of the BGCT,” he said. “We considered the condition of Southern Baptists in Texas. We have a desire to maintain a stronger relationship with the national Southern Baptist family.
“The Austin convention in and by itself is not the reason why our organization approved this,” he added. “It has been a collective process across the last four or five conventions. The triggering device was that it became apparent to everyone that this is an attempt by the leadership of BGCT to distance itself from the national SBC.”
An additional factor was outgoing BGCT President Charles Wade’s comments regarding the historical accuracy of Scripture, Slocum noted. In an interview with the Austin American-Statesman, Wade said Texas Baptists “will support Southern Baptist leaders if they focus on missions and evangelism instead of trying to force all Baptists to believe the Bible is factual and scientifically true.”
At the BGCT meeting, Wade also told messengers he supports ordaining women as senior pastors.
“That quote capsules why there is a breech of fellowship,” Slocum said. “The challenge is that, if we just back off and deny the accuracy of Scripture, we can all get along. That is not a concession we will back. The SBT will not make that concession.”
Slocum said Wade’s quotes helped the SBT.
“We have been trying for years to reveal the fact that at the core is a theological issue, not a political one,” he said. “The moderates, the liberals and the CBF have denied that there is a theological issue, until now.”
Since the E/E report first became public knowledge, SBT has received a great deal of interest from Baptists across Texas, Slocum said; after its passage, “we have been bombarded with telephone calls and faxes from across the state; the callers desire a new convention. They desire a stronger relationship with the SBC, not a weaker one. They want to move closer, not distance ourselves.”
Two groups already formed local chapters to affiliate with the SBT. Local chapters do not replace existing associations, he said.
“Loyal Southern Baptists in Texas are going to remain just that: loyal Southern Baptists in Texas,” Slocum said. “The BGCT has left us as Southern Baptists. It has done so under the auspices of autonomy.
“I don’t dispute that BGCT has the latitude to set its own direction, but we have a choice, too. The rest of us have to make a choice, to either be Texas Baptists or Southern Baptists.”

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  • Dave Parker