Unity or uniformity?
November 21 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Unity or uniformity? | Wednesday, Nov 21, 2001

Wednesday, Nov 21, 2001

Unity or uniformity?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor Will Tar Heel Baptists continue on the causeway of cooperation, or turn down a polarizing detour of division? Signals coming from the Baptist State Convention (BSC) annual meeting in Winston-Salem were mixed.

On the one hand, there was the amazing irony of Greg Mathis and Mike Queen nominating different candidates for president. Queen, a moderate and former General Board president, and Mathis, a conservative and former BSC president, invested years of effort into promoting cooperation and "shared leadership" among N.C. Baptists.

The good-natured road warriors traveled so many miles and promoted the idea so heavily during the late 1990's that their efforts were jokingly called "The Greg and Mike Show." In the process, they became good friends and public role models of how Baptists can agree on essentials without being threatened by peripheral differences.

Does Mathis' nomination of conservative Jerry Pereira and Queen's nomination of moderate Raymond Earp indicate a change in their commitment to cooperation and shared leadership? I don't think so. The fruit of their labors was evident in that both nominees had pledged to promote balance and continuing cooperation that recognizes the diversity of N.C. Baptists.

Both candidates for first vice president - incumbent Buddy Corbin and newcomer Bob Foy - made similar pledges, as did Larry Harper, who was re-elected as second vice president.

The "conservative" or "moderate" label is not as important to me as the "cooperative" label. I will trust Pereira, Foy and Harper to be men of their word, and not worry about our convention leadership for 2002.

That does not mean I'm not worried, however. There were clear indications that the ideals of balance and unity are not universally popular.

Swift and far-reaching changes resulting from a conservative shift in the Missouri Baptist Convention have renewed fears that the BSC could experience a similar upheaval. Some N.C. conservatives have expressed a desire to take the BSC down a similar path, but others have worked hard to distance themselves from a "takeover and makeover" agenda.

Nevertheless, the trust level among BSC members, carefully cultivated over the past few years, is dropping. During a question and answer session at the Mainstream laity rally prior to the annual meeting, more than one questioner pondered whether balanced leadership necessarily implies the inclusion of those who hold "extremist" views. Panel members encouraged continued cooperation among BSC members, but also said they believed the threat of a "takeover" is real.

Those fears were reinforced during the debate over bylaw changes presented by the "Unity Committee." The three proposals would instruct the convention's officers and nominating committees to appoint or recommend a balanced representation of N.C. Baptists who "desire unity and cooperation."

Two speakers sought to turn the issue from an organizational question to a theological debate, clearly implying that the only "unity" they find acceptable is for everyone to unite in adopting an inerrantist view of scripture.

The motion was referred to the Constitution and Bylaws Committee, ostensibly because messengers had not had sufficient notice, but that was not the real issue. The Unity Committee's report had received extensive coverage in the Biblical Recorder and the full text of the proposed amendments was published twice prior to the convention. Messengers have a responsibility to themselves and to their fellow messengers to be informed about issues facing the BSC. The Biblical Recorder exists, in large part, to provide that information, and does so faithfully. It is essential reading for those who truly care about their state convention.

But I digress.

No doubt, some messengers wanted more time to ponder the report, but the bylaw changes were sidetracked in large part because of a fear that affirming balanced leaders who value unity and cooperation could potentially exclude leaders who are agenda-driven to promote a particular cause.

For some folks, "unity" really means "uniformity."

I've tried hard to understand that point of view, but it holds no appeal for me.

The Unity Committee's report cited the "Jerusalem Conference" in Acts 15. The early church experienced "sharp dispute and debate" (v. 2, NIV) over the theological issue of whether Christians - particularly Gentiles - were bound by the ritual requirements of Old Testament law, including circumcision. Church leaders held a meeting to discuss the matter. At the end of the conference, no single view prevailed, but all were encouraged to show respect for others' views.

The result was not a uniformity of doctrine, but a unity of spirit and purpose, and God blessed it.

N.C. Baptists are on the right track of embracing a common purpose while respecting the rich diversity of our churches and their members.

I pray we'll stay the course.

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11/21/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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