Leaders ponder BSC's future
December 28 2001 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

Leaders ponder BSC's future | Friday, Dec. 28, 2001

Friday, Dec. 28, 2001

Leaders ponder BSC's future

By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor The future of the Baptist State Convention (BSC) depends on one's perspective. A Southern Baptist leader believes that either conservatives or moderates will gain control of the BSC within the next decade, but well-known BSC leaders tend to believe that the uneasy truce between the two groups will hold.

Paige Patterson, the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest and one of the architects of the conservative surge in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), talked about the future of the BSC in a recent interview with the Recorder. He said he believes that within the next five to 10 years the BSC will either look like the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which has strong moderate leadership, or the state conventions in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, which have strong conservative leadership.

"What I'm getting at is, can two walk together except they be agreed?" he said. "The fact is they can't."

Some BSC leaders believe that BSC elected officers will ultimately determine if there's a fork in the BSC's path.

At the forefront of that discussion is BSC President Jerry Pereira. Pereira, a conservative who was elected in November, succeeds Mike Cummings, a conservative who is widely respected by moderates.

Pereira, pastor of First Baptist Church in Swannonoa, said he believes N.C. Baptists can work together for a common purpose.

"I believe we're going to work together and build on common ground under the lordship of Jesus Christ and share the gospel of Jesus Christ at home and abroad," he said. "People on both sides have passion for both."

Pereira said he shares BSC Executive Director-treasurer Jim Royston's goal to get all N.C. Baptists to work together.

Royston said he hopes N.C. Baptists can stay together and that he intends to work for that.

"I believe it is in the best interest of the kingdom's work and I honestly believe the majority of N.C. Baptists want to do that," he said.

Royston said he believes leaders who want to work together and be inclusive and have a strong focus on missions and ministry can keep N.C. Baptists together.

"We've seen a lot of movement to be inclusive, a lot of sharing of appointments," he said. "The desire of leaders I've worked with has been to do the things that are in the best interests of N.C. Baptists."

Dixon Free, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lincolnton, said in a written statement that he has seen inclusive leadership in his year of service as president of the BSC General Board.

"Probably the most important observation has related to the magic of actually sitting down with each other and talking," Free said. "Several times I have been amazed to see individuals, who are said to be poles apart in terms of convention politics, working together to solve thorny problems. I have listened to them compliment each other for their cooperative spirits. I have been amazed by such moments."

Free said he has "guarded optimism" for the BSC's future.

"We really aren't so different," he said. "We can love the Lord together. We can do missions and evangelism together.

"We can witness together. We can pray together. We can love each other. This is the hope of the future for us as North Carolina Baptists."

Free said he noted that Pereira has called for N.C. Baptists to work together under the banner of the lordship of Jesus.

"If we choose to focus on such a noble goal, we will be stronger and better five years from now," Free said. "It is a possibility. We can make it happen. I, for one, am praying to that end."

Two N.C. Baptist pastors who are widely credited with starting a model for shared leadership among conservatives and moderates both believe cooperation is still possible. When Greg Mathis, a conservative, was president of the BSC and Mike Queen, a moderate, was president of the BSC General Board, their efforts at reconciliation became known as "the Greg and Mike Show."

Mathis, pastor of Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville, said that even though an effort to obtain shared leadership through changes to the BSC constitution failed a few years ago, the BSC has shared leadership. He said he thinks the BSC General Board is becoming more balanced, but the General Board's Executive Committee is still weighted toward moderates by about a 70-30 margin.

"We are continuing with shared leadership," he said. "I hope we can continue to find ways to work together."

Mathis said that if conservatives ever gain control of the BSC, they would have to demonstrate that "everybody has a place at the table."

That hasn't happened in the SBC, where conservatives effectively shut out moderates.

"I hope there will be voices that continue to say let's continue to work together," Mathis said. "I think that will be a very revealing time."

Queen, pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilmington, said cooperation in the BSC will exist as long as people want it. The BSC's elected leaders will have to decide if the spirit of cooperation goes forward, he said

"If our unity comes at the price that everybody has to be unified on every issue, we'll self-destruct out there somewhere," Queen said. "If we ever get to the point where we're not open and accepting of other people, then we'll just dry up."

Queen noted that Pereira is on the board of Conservative Carolina Baptists, a conservative political group, but has said that the group is not his heart.

"Sooner or later you've got to demonstrate that that's not your heart," Queen said. "He will have to distance himself in a very straightforward way from those who have a mean spirit."

Cummings, who left office as BSC president in November, said he is convinced that shared leadership among conservatives and moderates has "a pretty strong hold on N.C. Baptists."

Cummings, director of missions for Burnt Swamp Baptist Association, said he didn't think N.C. Baptists would elect leaders with a "takeover mentality."

"I'm confident that messengers that come to our conventions are convinced that shared leadership is the way," he said.

Moderates who are worried that conservatives who now say they only want balance will exclude moderates if they gain control of the BSC have a "legitimate concern," Cummings said. But he pointed out that many conservatives have distanced themselves from conservative remarks about a takeover of the BSC.

"I'm convinced that the moderates can't take over and conservatives must not take over," he said.

Cummings, who describes himself as rigidly conservative and fundamentalist in background, said he has appreciated learning to balance preaching focused on keeping people out of hell with a genuine concern for their struggles on earth

"We're learning that evangelism through missions and ministry is effective," he said.

Cummings pointed out that Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, where prominent moderate David Crocker is pastor, is "blitzing the city with ministry in the name of Jesus Christ" and "bringing people to the Lord."

Moderates and conservatives can learn from each other, Cummings said.

"If takeover is the day then each of us will run off with half of our effectiveness," he said.

Cummings said he believes the BSC can avoid such a fate.

"We're Southern Baptists, but we're also cooperative Baptists," he said.

When asked if he thought moderates and conservatives could come together in Mainstream Baptists of North Carolina, Cummings said he thinks the group is too closely identified with moderates.

Don Gordon, head of Mainstream's steering committee, said the group wants a future where conservatives and moderates can work together.

"As long as our voice is heard and followed there will continue to be a place where conservatives and moderates can work together," he said.

Gordon, pastor of First Baptist Church in Mount Olive, said conservative churches in moderate-controlled states are allowed to support the SBC, but moderate churches in conservative states cannot support the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

"I want to work together to maintain local church autonomy and freedom that has characterized our state convention for 171 years," Gordon said. "I would say give me freedom under Christ or take Baptist out of our name."

Bill Sanderson, president of Conservative Carolina Baptists, said members of his group are willing to work with moderates if moderates are willing to work with them.

"I don't think it would be good for our state to split and that's not what I desire to see," he said. "But I desire that conservatives have a voice on our General Board."

Sanderson agreed that the future of the BSC depends largely on the BSC leadership.

When asked if his group was in favor of conservatives taking over the BSC, Sanderson said, "I wouldn't use the word 'takeover,' I would use the word 'persuasion' or at least, 'give a listening ear to.'"

Sanderson said Patterson's prediction that the BSC will likely look different is five to 10 years is "probably true, but I don't have a crystal ball."

Patterson said he's "not a big fan" of shared leadership.

"With moderate leadership, moderates win," he said. "With shared leadership, moderates win."

Patterson said he doesn't agree with compromising on spiritual truth.

"The issue is not really (biblical) inerrancy," he said. "The issue is, 'Is everything in the Bible absolutely true?'"

Patterson said he finds fault with people who think they know what parts of the Bible are true.

"I have a problem with that," he said.

Patterson said some people are pictured as moderate and believe everything in the Bible is absolutely true but just don't like conservative leaders.

"I don't particularly blame them for that," he said. "Sometimes I don't like me either."

The issue, he said, is not whether they like conservative leaders, the issue is whether everything in the Bible is absolutely true.

Patterson compared shared leadership with treading water.

"You can't tread water and get anyplace," he said.

But Gordon said people tearing each other apart can't stay above water.

"If people can remain focused on Christ and the mission of Christ instead of man-made doctrines then we can work together," he said. "If we coerce a uniformity of thought we can't stay above water."

Patterson said his comment about the BSC looking different in the next five to 10 years was not a prediction of conservative victory in the state.

"But anybody observing it would have to observe the conservative presence in North Carolina is growing," he said.

Conservatives have controlled at least two of the top three BSC offices for six of the last seven years.

Patterson said he would like to think Southeastern is the main reason for the conservative growth, but he's not ready to take credit for it.

"We're certainly doing everything we can, but our focus is missions," he said. "We've not had time to do very much in politics. I'd imagine we've had some impact."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Editor Tony W. Cartledge and Assistant Editor Jimmy Allen contributed to this story.)

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12/28/2001 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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