DALLAS (BP)–Television and radio advertisements are polishing the image of the Baptist General Convention of Texas before it votes on eliminating $4.3 million earmarked for Southern Baptist Convention seminaries and agencies.
The 30-second ads, focusing on the BGCT’s desire to help orphans and spread the love of Jesus, are running on KXAS television, the NBC affiliate in Dallas; on WBAP, a 50,000-watt AM station in Fort Worth; and at least two other radio stations in Texas, KLUV-FM in Dallas and KSCS-FM in Fort Worth. A Dallas advertising agency, Anderson Advertising and Marketing, produced the advertisements for the BGCT.
Up to $1 million in endowment income is being expended in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, BGCT spokesman Ken Camp said in response to a query from Baptist Press about BGCT executive board action in May. The Dallas-Fort Worth media buy is in addition to a statewide media effort entailing an expenditure of up to $600,000 in endowment income. The statewide media effort is an expansion of a pilot project in three test areas that was approved by the executive board in 1999, and funded with $450,000 in endowment income, Camp said. Camp noted that the statewide media effort was executed primarily through the Texas Radio Network.
The ads in the Dallas-Fort Worth area began airing shortly after the BGCT’s executive board approved Sept. 26 two separate proposals that will all but eliminate $4.3 million in funding to five of the SBC’s six seminaries, the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the SBC Executive Committee. Funding for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary would be reduced from $1.5 million annually to about $875,000.
The defunding proposals represent the most significant move yet by BGCT leaders to sever relations with the more conservative SBC. Various BGCT leaders, many with ties to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a denomination-like organization opposed to the SBC, have been attempting to move the state convention away from the SBC since conservatives won the convention’s presidency in 1979.
BGCT leaders’ opposition to the SBC seminaries and particularly toward the Executive Committee and the ERLC is well documented.
“The BGCT has been routinely criticized and critiqued” by the SBC Executive Committee and by Baptist Press, Wade was quoted as telling the BGCT executive board in an Associated Baptist Press article. “Texas Baptists have been slandered by both these groups,” he said. He went on to accuse the ERLC of being involved in “overt political campaigning,” an accusation the ERLC says is untrue in its advocacy on moral issues. The BGCT went so far as to establish what has come to be known as “the slander committee” to combat information circulating in Texas from a conservative perspective about the BGCT.
Perhaps the final straw came at the SBC annual meeting in June, when messengers overwhelmingly approved a revision of the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs. Various BGCT leaders opposed the revision and labeled it an un-Baptist creed, saying it would be used as an instrument of “doctrinal accountability” at seminaries. SBC leaders defended the changes, saying liberals have used the now-deleted phase, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ,” found in the 1963 BFM, as carte blanche to place their interpretation and personal experience above that of the Bible.
The BGCT’s television and radio advertisements are just the latest ingredients in what appears to be an increasingly aggressive campaign to gain favor for the BGCT’s proposals among Baptists in Texas and to enhance its image prior to its controversial and potentially explosive vote on its budget. It is also an attempt to counter vocal conservatives, particularly the Texas Baptist Laymen’s Association.
The TBLA has published several newsletters linking many BGCT leaders with anti-conservative groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State, The Interfaith Alliance and the pro-homosexual North American Baptist Peace Fellowship. TBLA has also documented the symbiosis of BGCT leaders and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the controversial Texas Baptists Committed political organization and other “Baptists Committed” and “Mainstream Baptists” groups in at least a dozen states. All of those groups cited by the Texas laymen’s group oppose the conservative direction of the SBC and are causing consternation among pastors more concerned with shepherding than politics and discomfort among congregations confused over the issues and politics involved.
Other actions taken by the BGCT and its supporters leading up to its convention include:
— Numerous anti-SBC articles and editorials in the Baptist Standard state newsjournal, which have included pejorative references to Baptist Press while the BGCT is at the same time aligning with the CBF-aligned Associated Baptist Press in authorizing its communications office to be named as an ABP “bureau.”
— Publishing a pamphlet for distribution to churches called “Why Should My Church Partner With the Baptist General Convention of Texas?”
— Mailing an “open letter” signed by 27 past and present BGCT leaders to thousands of churches, detailing the state convention’s views on a variety of issues ranging from homosexuality to abortion.
— Mailing 19,000 copies of a video to churches featuring Charles Wade, BGCT executive director, discussing the issues to be addressed at the forthcoming convention.
Other BGCT leaders — many with close ties to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Texas Baptist Committed — are traveling the state to hold “rallies” addressing the state convention controversy. It is not known how many “Focus on Jesus” rallies have been conducted. The first meeting was Oct. 2 at Williams Trace Baptist Church in the Houston suburb of Sugarland, while another featuring Wade as a speaker was held recently at Colonial Baptist Church in Wichita Falls.
About 40-50 pastors attended the afternoon session at Colonial in which Wade fielded questions on a variety of topics. Many of those in attendance expressed concern over the BGCT’s forthcoming budgetary action. One frustrated pastor indicated that the churches represented at the meeting did not have a problem, that the BGCT is the one with the problem, and that it is its responsibility to solve it. The exchange is indicative of the pressure felt by pastors and congregations in Texas to make a choice between the SBC and the BGCT.
Some observers believe that the BGCT’s action will ultimately lead to a new denomination, one perhaps merging with moderate and liberal churches already affiliated with the CBF. Messengers to this year’s BGCT convention will vote on whether to open the state convention to churches outside Texas. The measure passed at the 1999 convention and a final vote for passage is expected in Corpus Christi, thus making the BGCT a de facto national convention.
Meanwhile the CBF continues to take on the appearance of a national denomination. The CBF has set up its own seminaries and divinity schools, applied for admission to the Baptist World Alliance, funded its own overseas missionaries, and has established a “Church Benefits Board,” an annuity fund designed for the CBF, but backed by the Ministers’ and Missionaries’ Benefit Board of the American Baptist Churches in the USA.
CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal told Associated Baptist Press in August that he sensed “a great yearning” among CBF supporters “for us to define ourselves and separate more clearly from the Southern Baptist Convention.” He went to say that the CBF “is going to have to deal with that this year. I don’t think it’s something we can avoid.”
Yet others say it is yet unclear what will transpire — if anything — between the BGCT and the CBF.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” said David Currie, who had chaired the CBF finance committee in addition to leading Texas Baptists Committed. TBC is the brainchild of now-retired Texas pastor Winfred Moore and Houston millionaire John Baugh in the 1980s. (Ironically it was Baugh who recommended a committee be formed — that included Houston Judge Paul Pressler — to study the 1963 Ralph Elliott Broadman Commentary controversy. That controversy was the impetus for Pressler launching what has been called “the conservative resurgence” in the SBC). TBC has become a political mouthpiece for the CBF, trumpeting an anti-SBC message and offering $25,000 grants to states willing to form a similar organization sympathetic to the CBF.
BGCT leaders have been actively involved in the creation and maintenance of the CBF since its establishment in 1991. For example, Wade served on the CBF’s first Coordinating Council, was co-chair of the CBF General Assembly Steering Committee in 1992 (with another BGCT leader, Carolyn Bucy), and a frequent session leader and speaker at CBF General Assemblies. More than 20 BGCT leaders have been actively involved in the CBF since its creation.