ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - The Southern Baptist pastor who found himself at the center of a controversy over speaking in tongues drew renewed support Tuesday from a group of pastors who want the denomination to re-examine policies governing the practice.
About 150 pastors and other church leaders from around the country participated in a roundtable discussion at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, home of the Rev. Dwight McKissic.
Trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth voted in October that they would not tolerate any promotion of "private prayer language" at the school. The vote came nearly two months after McKissic said during a chapel service that he sometimes speaks in tongues while praying.
Paige Patterson, seminary president, responded by not allowing the video of McKissic's sermon to be posted online or saved in the seminary's archives.
McKissic's group approved sending a letter to the seminary, International Mission Board and North American Mission Board asking that they reconsider policies regarding "the gifts of tongues and/or the use of a private prayer language."
Speaking in tongues is common among Pentecostals, whose more exuberant brand of Christianity is spreading in the United States and in countries where Southern Baptist missionaries work.
There are different understandings of the practice, which is believed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. It commonly sounds like a series of nonsense syllables strung together rapidly in a song or chant.
Critics of the denomination's tough stance say it divides Christians on an issue not central to the faith.
McKissic found a kindred spirit in the Rev. Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist in Enid, Okla., who helped conduct Tuesday's meeting.
"Our Southern Baptist Convention is stronger because of pastors like Dwight McKissic," said Burleson, a member of the International Mission Board. The board voted last year to ban missionaries from speaking in tongues in private. Previously, missionaries were discouraged from speaking in tongues publicly, but private prayer was not monitored.
Burleson was reprimanded by other board members for writing about the board's internal debates on his blog and threatened with removal. Burleson said that while he does not personally possess a private prayer language, he sees those who do as evangelical partners who should not be excluded from church posts.
The group encouraged the drafting of resolutions to present during the SBC's annual meeting in San Antonio next year. They also asked a denominational agency to study the views of Southern Baptists on speaking in tongues and set April 27-29 as the dates for a "Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit" at Cornerstone.
Leaders of the roundtable emphasized that they have no plans to leave the denomination.
"We're not here for a convention or convention-like entity," McKissic said. "In no way is it our desire to compete with the Southern Baptist Convention."
But some of the participants said their allegiance might not last forever. If the denomination continues to ignore concerns, his church may eventually decide it "won't continue to participate," said the Rev. Alan Cross, pastor of Gateway Baptist in Montgomery, Ala.
SBC executive committee spokesman John Revell did not immediately return a message left at his office Tuesday evening.
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