Mainstream network called to pursue freedom
February 9 2001 by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press

Mainstream network called to pursue freedom | Friday, Feb. 9, 2001

Friday, Feb. 9, 2001

Mainstream network called to pursue freedom

By Bob Allen Associated Baptist Press DALLAS, Texas - After more than two decades of denominational infighting, the vast majority of Southern Baptists remain "largely uninformed" about causes of the conflict, said Houston layman John Baugh. Of the 13 million "mainstream" Baptists he estimated are still on the sidelines of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) controversy, Baugh said "it is unlikely that even 10 percent" are keenly aware of the dangers of "fundamentalism" facing their churches and the nation.

Mainstream Baptists, meanwhile, "are only four or five major decisions away from arresting the progress of and breaking the fundamentalist hold," Baugh said.

To do that, the movement must "enlist fellow Baptists in this ministry of freedom, and they are there to be enlisted," he said.

To Baptists who say "I don't think we can do that," Baugh said, "Please don't say that, or just get out of the way."

Baugh spoke at a national consultation of the Network of Mainstream Baptists Feb. 5-6 in Dallas. Baugh, founder of the Sysco food company and longtime critic of fundamentalism, co-convened the meeting with Baylor University Chancellor Herbert Reynolds.

About 170 invited leaders from Mainstream groups across the country attended. The network has been holding annual consultations for "three or four" years, said Reynolds. "These consultations have proven to be helpful to us and I think have helped our efforts throughout the states to preserve soul freedom," he said.

New Mainstream organizations formed last year in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, said David Currie, head of Texas Baptists Committed, the organization after which the Mainstream groups are modeled.

Those bring to 11 the number of Mainstream organizations working to mobilize Baptists in their states against what is termed alternately the "conservative resurgence" or "fundamentalist takeover" of SBC. Many Mainstream leaders are active in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), an Atlanta-based alternative missions organization that avoids overt politicking.

Mainstream founders, however, believe they can appeal to churches the Fellowship can't reach.

Representing Virginia's new Mainstream group, Bill Wilson described a number of churches in his state that "know they aren't fundamentalist, don't know what they think about the CBF, and we believe are the vast majority."

"We believe there is a vast untapped potential among laypeople and pastors who don't feel comfortable in either group and have nowhere to go," he said.

The media and other observers of the prolonged struggle for control and direction of the SBC since the late 1970s typically describe competing factions as "moderates" and "conservatives." Baugh eschewed the use of those terms in describing a new grassroots movement aimed at halting the advance of fundamentalism through political processes in Baptist state conventions.

One term has been used to imply "that we are merely 'moderate' in our commitment to Christ and God's holy word," Baugh said. And while the term conservative "gains favorable impression" among those opposed to change, Baugh said, SBC fundamentalists weren't out to "conserve" anything. In fact, he charged, they are "revolutionaries" who have imposed a "new religion" on Southern Baptists.

"It is as erroneous to imply that mainstream Baptists are moderate about their beliefs as it is to describe fundamentalists as theologically conservative," Baugh said. He called on the denominational and secular press to "forego" the use of those terms in reporting about Baptist life.

"Mainstream" Baptists, Baugh said, "are the people who prayerfully determine and hold fast to our commitments. We adhere to the 1963 'Baptist Faith and Message.'"

They are the people who believe the decision about whom to ordain as ministers is "solely vested in each autonomous body of believers," he said, and not in Southern Baptists' recently revised faith statement that says the Bible prohibits women from serving as senior pastors.

Mainstream Baptists are those who "sacrificially funded" the six Southern Baptist seminaries and other convention properties and who led the SBC to become the largest non-Catholic religious body and, at one time, the world's fastest growing faith group.

That ended in 1979, he said, when fundamentalists "systematically stole" all that mainstream Baptists had built. The group gained power, he said, through "a strategy based on devious means and Machiavellian machinations."

Baugh described actions of the new Southern Baptist leadership that he said indicate they have departed from the mainstream.

Baugh described as "startling" a change in the "Baptist Faith and Message" approved at last summer's SBC annual meeting that he said "significantly altered the role of Jesus in order to forward the new fundamentalist religion."

A second "astonishing" action at the same convention, Baugh said, was when a denominational leader spoke in opposition to a messenger's motion to seek peace among warring factions.

"The revolutionary fundamentalist religion is evolving before our eyes," Baugh said.

The forces that captured the SBC are now working to "transform other areas of Christendom" with a view toward gaining control of governmental bodies and then to impose their religious views on the American people, Baugh said.

"Some of the best-known fundamentalist leaders in control of the Southern Baptist Convention savor the day when the protective barrier separating church and state is gone," Baugh said. "Fundamentalists of all stripes savor victory and salivate over the potential of government power."

He urged mainstream Baptists to "stand in the halls of Congress" to dispute those who would erode the separation of church and state.

"We mainstreamers must engage them on every front," Baugh said. "I think we can and believe we will break this fundamentalist stranglehold on Baptist life."

While any conflict has two sides, Baugh said, "the actions of some fellow Baptists create a third side that inadvertently aids the cause of fundamentalism and impedes our efforts to arrest the growth of that movement."

Some non-fundamentalist Baptists "seemingly wish us to be mute in spite of all that has been seen and heard in 20 years," Baugh said. "Their demand is don't be unkind and don't be strident. ... Don't talk about the Baptist mess to anyone.

"Some of the very finest of our fellow Baptists have worked for reconciliation among our people," Baugh said. "I wish reconciliation were possible," but "our capitulation is the only response acceptable to fundamentalists."

Perry Sanders, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lafayette, La., urged churches to enlist their full quota of messengers for their state convention and to enlist others to do the same. "One victory is not enough," he said. "We've got to persevere 10 years at the minimum."

"We've got enough people if we simply have the perseverance ... to stay with it and not to falter and hold back."

"Neutrality is complicity with the opposition," Sanders said.

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2/9/2001 12:00:00 AM by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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