Adding onto the highly publicized debate between the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), SBC’s Paige Patterson released a thousand-word statement reiterating his view on the split between the two Baptist bodies. Patterson’s June 22 statement came in direct response to the statement released on June 21 by the BWA general secretary Denton Lotz, who asserted that Patterson had slandered and defamed the name of the BWA during the SBC’s annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.
During the Indianapolis meeting, Patterson urged SBC members to vote for the severance of membership and funding to the BWA. Speaking on behalf of the SBC’s executive committee, Patterson said the BWA had continued on a “leftward drift” and had continued to ignore the SBC leadership’s pleas to veer away from liberalism.
Patterson also explicitly pointed out one member of the BWA as being supportive of gay “marriage,” and said, “We can no longer afford in this particular day, when the press for 'gay marriage' is on, to be in an alliance of any kind with those denominations which support in any form or fashion “gay marriage”.”
The denomination he charged of being pro-gay – the American Baptist Church USA (ABCUSA) – immediately rebutted the accusation, and released several statements clarifying their stance on the issue.
Meanwhile, Denton Lotz – who also took offense to the charges – released a statement that elucidated the BWA’s stance on homosexuality, women pastors and other debated issues.
Patterson, meanwhile, acknowledged both the ABC and BWA’s rebuttals, but denied charges that he “slandered Baptists anywhere.”
“What we have said is exactly what Dr. Lotz has essentially admitted,” wrote Patterson. “Southern Baptists have not said that the BWA promotes gay marriage or homosexuality. We have said, based on a press release from one of those unions, that some unions now tolerate churches which welcome practitioners of homosexual behavior.”
Patterson also added that the ABCUSA never denied that the Evergreen Association was “gay-friendly.”
“Worthy of note is that there has been no denial from the American Baptist Convention about the Evergreen Association and its two ‘gay-friendly’ churches. Neither has the BWA denied the existence of these churches in good standing with the ABC, which in turn provides much of the leadership for the BWA,” wrote Patterson.
Ultimately, Patterson said he stands by his original charges, and expressed that he no longer wishes to engage in “any further tit for tat” with BWA leadership. Instead, he goaded the BWA to “reach for Christ” as Southern Baptists do.
“Southern Baptists have no intention of engaging in any further tit for tat with BWA leadership,” wrote Patterson. “That leadership knows through both written and oral sources exactly the nature of the problem. They apparently intend no change. That is their privilege. We in turn exercise our privilege as Americans and as free-churchmen to lend our name and resources only to what we can support with conviction. There is a world to reach for Christ. Southern Baptists shall now turn our attention to that. We would risk the suggestion that the BWA do the same.”
The following is the full text of Paige Patterson’s letter, as released by the Baptist Press:
“The Southern Baptist Convention is a convention of 40,000 plus churches, which, like most mainline denominations, began a leftward drift into liberal theology and neo-orthodoxy -- a less strident but more damaging form of liberalism. At great cost, the vast majority determined to return to the faith of the Bible and of our fathers as an act of gratitude to God and a stewardship of His mercies. As a part of this stewardship, the SBC determined that it would no longer lend its name or its resources to groups or alliances which to the best of our ability to discern, were not fully faithful to the Word of God.
“Over the past 15 years, Southern Baptist representatives have made repeated appeals to the BWA leadership to cease giving platforms to neo-orthodox and liberal leaders, Baptist or otherwise. Some leaders ignored our pleas while other promised imminent change which never materialized. These pleas were both oral and written, all to no avail.
“Southern Baptists believe that all should be free to practice their faith as they wish. We gratefully acknowledge that many, perhaps even most, participants in the BWA are godly, conservative, Christ-loving, Bible-honoring people. But, freedom of faith also includes the freedom to associate in ways which do not compromise cherished convictions. Freedom of faith recognizes the right, and, yes, even the necessity of a group or an individual to determine alliances or to choose not to affiliate with a group on the basis of conviction. This has always been a critical plank in the free-church history of convictional dissent.
“Under no circumstances do Southern Baptists seek to isolate themselves from the world, let alone from our Baptist brothers and sisters of common conviction throughout the world. We will continue to have co-operation and fellowship with any of these Baptist friends who so desire. We will simply elect to sustain this fellowship in a forum other than the BWA.
“Neither have we ‘slandered’ Baptists anywhere, including the BWA. What we have said is exactly what Dr. Lotz has essentially admitted. Liberal and neo-orthodox presenters such as Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Tony Campolo, Paul Fiddes, and Eric Geldbach, etc., are frequent speakers at BWA events. We are prepared to hazard our lives to protect their freedom to do so, but we are no longer desiring to lend our name and resources. The freedom to choose not to support what is to us unconscionable is just as important as the freedom of the BWA.
“Southern Baptists have not said that the BWA promotes gay marriage or homosexuality. We have said, based on a press release from one of those unions, that some unions now tolerate churches which welcome practitioners of homosexual behavior. We have also said that if the BWA tolerates a convention or union which is accepting of churches with this anti-biblical agenda, then we can no longer lend our name or resources to that alliance. Worthy of note is that there has been no denial from the American Baptist Convention about the Evergreen Association and its two ‘gay-friendly’ churches. Neither has the BWA denied the existence of these churches in good standing with the ABC, which in turn provides much of the leadership for the BWA.
“The BWA says that it does not advocate the role of female pastors. But neither does it call for a biblical position on the matter. In ways sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, some leadership in the BWA has, in fact, sanctioned such practices. Again, that is their right and privilege -- just as it is our right and mandate to hold to a biblical position and not lend name and resources to the promotion of views that we honestly view as antithetical to biblical truth. In the end, I suspect others will join us, but if not, we, like all our Baptist and Anabaptists forefathers, must stand true to our consciences.
“No charge has been made that the BWA is anti-American or anti-Southern Baptist. Those sentiments are not infrequently stated, but we are all big boys here and can handle criticism. That to which we have objected is that when these charges come, no effort has been made in those same forums for participants to hear the other side or receive an answer that might put matters in a different light.
“Finally, Dr. Lotz insists that the BWA is a ‘conservative, evangelical fellowship.’ Maybe so. Doubtless, many member bodies fit this description. But, are we expected simply to take his word for it, especially when our ears have repeatedly heard the contrary? If Dr. Lotz is right, where is the confession of faith? Even if such were minimal, surely the BWA could “officially declare” that people are saved only through conscious faith in Christ, that the church is a fellowship of twice-born individuals who have witnessed that faith by immersion, and that the Bible is the flawless and absolutely truthful Word of God!
“Dr. Lotz insists that the real issue is the admission of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into the BWA. While that was the smallest and least significant piece of the puzzle, there is something to be learned here. The CBF admits that it severed ties with the SBC because the CBF wished to have a “more moderate” -- read neo-orthodox -- position than the SBC. The CBF openly rejects the inerrancy of Scripture. Now, the SBC is criticized for leaving the BWA, but no word of criticism is offered by the BWA for the ‘schism,’ to use their favorite word, in Southern Baptist life brought about by the CBF departure. Not only does this strike us highly inconsistent, but also it makes crystal clear that whatever it is that Dr. Lotz means by “conservative evangelical,” it is clearly quite different from what is usually understood by the term.
“Southern Baptists have no intention of engaging in any further tit for tat with BWA leadership. That leadership knows through both written and oral sources exactly the nature of the problem. They apparently intend no change. That is their privilege. We in turn exercise our privilege as Americans and as free-churchmen to lend our name and resources only to what we can support with conviction. There is a world to reach for Christ. Southern Baptists shall now turn our attention to that. We would risk the suggestion that the BWA do the same.”