Moderate Baptists in North Carolina started to reconsider their participation - and funding to – the traditional state convention, because of a lack of representation in the body.
"The days of blindly giving to convention causes are numbered," said Winston-Salem pastor David Hughes, one of the organizers of the two-day meeting at First Baptist Church in Greensboro, which attracted an estimated 500 people, Jan. 23. But, he added, "it may take a while for us to discern" what direction God is leading moderate Baptists in the state.
While no action was taken at the conference to separate from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, in breakout sessions, participants heard about ways to fund and affiliate with Baptist organizations outside the state convention, such as the Baptist Joint Committee and American Baptist Churches U.S.A.
Participants assessed the state convention’s ability to server moderate churches. Some leaders argued that the recent convention decisions to exclude moderate churches showed leaders were not considering an extended greeting to moderates.
Jim Royston, the convention’s chief executive argued the convention was working increasingly hard to hear the position of the moderates.
Convention leaders are "in dialogue more fervently than before" about how to assist all churches, Royston said. "Any church that wants to work with us, we want to respond to."
Host pastor and co-organizer Ken Massey said his Greensboro congregation "is not going to leave" the state convention. "The members feel like they would leave [convention] employees and ministries hanging out to dry," he told the Greensboro News-Record. "There has to be another option without starting another bureaucracy."
In the opening session, keynote speaker Hughes said those moderates who are wondering whether or not to leave the state convention are asking the wrong question. "The number one question is, 'What would God have us to do in such a time as this?'" he said.
Hughes, an unsuccessful candidate for convention president last November, said moderates should not regret that they no longer live "in the good old days," but should follow God into the future. "The trick is to be discerning of what God is saying," he said.
Losing control of the state convention might prove to be a blessing, Hughes said. The "definitive defeat" in November forces moderates to step back, to ask new questions, and to think in new ways, he said.
While Baptist life can be messy, "I believe it's no accident that we live in turbulent times," he said. "We were created for such a time as this."
Moderate churches are not desperate to regain control of the state convention, he said, but are desperate for leaders who are passionate about Jesus Christ.
"Jesus didn't die on the cross so we could play political games at the state convention .… He wants us to raise our sights much higher than that. He wants us to take on the world in Christ's name," Hughes said.
David Horton, convention president who defeated Hughes in November, attended the meeting. He said he attended because he wants to be the president of all North Carolina Baptists. The state convention can stay together, he said. "I simply believe we can accomplish more together than separately."
Horton said he knew that he would hear things that he wouldn't agree with and that he would be the target of some criticism at the meeting. "That happened," he said. But Horton said he believes that dialogue is good. "I received a lot of positive affirmation," he said. "Overall, it's been a good experience."
Horton said he heard moderates at the meeting say they still want to work together. "People aren't really giving up," he said.