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Baptist Seminaries Involved in Ongoing Controversy

Southern Baptist Convention and Baptist General Convention remain divided over many issues.
( [email protected] ) Jun 05, 2004 06:26 AM EDT

DALLAS –Conservatives and moderates of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, are still remaining in conflict over various theological issues.

Most recent controversy between the two groups happened at Baylor University in Waco and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

Baylor University’s controversy involved the president Robert Sloan, who faced harsh criticism over his 10-year reform plan that calls for moving the 14,000-student school into the top tier of American universities while strengthening its Christian mission. Sloan was recently appointed as the president of Baylor University last month.

Some faculty members criticized the way Sloan hired faculty members saying that qualifications to become a professor is threatening the university's academic reputation as he has stressed religious beliefs over qualifications, whereas Sloan denies imposing any creeds or religious oaths. But currently less than half of Baylor's 800 faculty members are Baptist.

The split over Sloan is clearly tied to the fight between conservative and moderate Baptists, said the Rev. Jack Graham, the Southern Baptist Convention's president and pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.

"He is viewed as someone who is theologically conservative," Graham said. "And I believe Robert Sloan is the best thing to happen to Baylor University in the last 30 years. I believe he is an outstanding man, a man of conviction. ... The spiritual condition and the Baptist future of Baylor is at stake with Robert Sloan."

But a regent involved in the debate disagreed of Graham’s viewpoint.

"That is so far from the truth, that doesn't even merit a response," said regent Toby Druin, a former longtime editor of the Baptist Standard, the Baptist General Convention of Texas newspaper.

The other controversy involves the General Convention’s decision to not offer exhibit space to Southwestern and other SBC-run seminaries at the annual state meeting Nov. 8-9 in San Antonio.

In a letter, President Kenneth Hall and convention official John Petty said the decision was made primarily because of the national denomination's "unsupportive direction" toward the Texas convention.

"We feel it is in the best interest of convention messengers to limit exhibitors to organizations and Baptists who are wholeheartedly supportive of the leadership and churches of the Baptist General Convention of Texas," Hall and Petty wrote.

However, the Rev. Paige Patterson, Southwestern Seminary president doesn’t think the same.

Since joining Southwestern last year, Patterson said he had made efforts to "achieve cordial relationships" with the Texas convention.

"This is a clear signal to Southern Baptists in BGCT churches that the present leadership of the BGCT intends to sever all relationships with the Southern Baptist Convention and its agencies," Patterson said in a statement. "They apparently have decided to cut off the dog's tail one joint at a time."

Last year, Southwestern banned distribution of the Baptist Standard on campus, after the inaccurate report on the reasons why former seminary President Ken Hemphill retired.

In recent years, the General Convention has cut millions of dollars in funding for SBC seminaries, and raised money to support Baptist missionaries forced to leave the mission field because they refused to sign the national denomination's 2000 Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement, which opposes women’s ordination and demands wives submitting to their husbands.

Earlier this year after SBC leaders accused of the international alliance’s liberal position which advocates “aberrant and dangerous theologies,” they defended the Baptist World Alliance - and pledged its monetary support.

Charles Wade, executive director of the Dallas-based Baptist General Convention of Texas, said the General Convention has moved beyond the conflict with Southern Baptist conservatives. Its mission, he said, "has everything to do with the future and not anything to do with what's happened over the last 25 years."

But on the other hand, Graham predicts the rival state convention will decrease in number at the General Convention's membership.

"Ultimately, there will be 2,000 to 3,000 churches in Texas that will support the Southern Baptists Convention of Texas," Graham said. "That will basically divide the Southern Baptist churches in half in the state of Texas."

Southern Baptists will decide on withdrawing funding of the alliance at their annual meeting June 15-16 in Indianapolis.