Is victory this year essential for moderates?
October 24 2003 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

Is victory this year essential for moderates? | Friday, Oct. 24, 2003

Friday, Oct. 24, 2003

Is victory this year essential for moderates?

By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor

In November 1995, David Horton nominated Greg Mathis for Baptist State Convention (BSC) president.

Mathis' election by a margin of less than 100 votes began a string of eight years in which conservatives were elected as BSC president. This year, some convention observers are wondering if Horton's election would complete a conservative rise to power in the BSC.

Horton, pastor of Gate City Baptist Church in Greensboro, is giving up his current position as BSC second vice president to run for president. He is running against David Hughes, pastor of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.

Horton is backed by Conservative Carolina Baptists (CCB). Hughes is endorsed by Mainstream Baptists of North Carolina (MBNC), a group that supports moderate causes.

The wrangling for power between conservative and moderate Baptists on the national level ended in the 1990s after a bitter struggle that lasted more than 10 years. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) formed in 1991 as a missions and ministry alternative for moderates who felt disenfranchised by the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

In North Carolina, the controversy has taken on a subtler tone. Moderates controlled the BSC General Board for years, but conservatives have made recent gains, due in large part to conservative dominance of BSC elections since Mathis' win.

Conservatives have controlled at least two of the top three BSC offices seven of the last eight years. The three officers form a committee to nominate members of the powerful BSC Committee on Committees, which must be approved by the General Board.

Officials with MBNC indicated earlier this year that a moderate defeat at the BSC annual meeting in November could signal the end of the struggle among N.C. Baptists.

In a recent interview, Colon Jackson, the executive director of MBNC, backed off slightly from that stand.

"At one time I thought that if we didn't win we need to fold up our tents and go home," he said. "But we need a moderate voice in North Carolina."

Bill Sanderson, the president of CCB, said he doesn't know why moderates are talking about pulling out.

"The group that now calls itself Mainstream has pretty much been heading up the state convention for a number of years," he said.

Sanderson said that when things weren't going conservatives' way, he was asked if they would leave the convention. He said, "No."

"We didn't always get our desire, but we didn't pull out," he said. "If you get mad and take your ball and go home, that's acting like children."

If moderates leave, it's their choice, Sanderson said.

"It's not us forcing them out," he said. "They didn't force us out."

Mathis takes issue with moderates who say they don't have a place in N.C. Baptist life.

"I would say, 'Show me where you do not presently have a place of service in various leadership positions in the state,'" he said. "It's almost to me like there's people looking for a reason to leave. I think we need to work together."

Mathis said he doesn't see anything on the horizon that would make anyone want to leave the BSC.

"I just don't see this big, dramatic concern that if we don't win, we need to leave," he said. "I see that not as wanting a place at the table, but wanting to control."

Mike Queen, a moderate and pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilmington, said some N.C. Baptists would like "to get some clarity about whether you have to be a SBC loyalist to be part of the Baptist State Convention."

Queen said it's too early to say what might happen if the meeting goes one way or the other.

"I think people will wait till after the convention and simply see where we are," he said. "I think it's premature to say what anybody's going to do."

Sanderson pointed out that CBF Coordinator Dan Vestal had recently said CBF functions like a denomination for some churches.

"They are a denomination," Sanderson said. "They're just afraid to call themselves a denomination."

Sanderson said he is "not absolutely opposed" to the two sides working together in the BSC.

"But there's no way I could work with any church that ordains women or that will endorse sins that God does not say is good," he said. "There are no good sins."

Sanderson said the Lord loves homosexuals but hates the homosexual act.

"What we have is black and white and people want to make it gray," he said.

Such churches, he said, "have no business being in the N.C. Baptist State Convention."

"If the CBF wants them, that's their choice," he said. "But I'm not going to be affiliated with them."

Coy Privette, a well-known conservative and regional vice president of CCB, thinks the recent cuts to BSC staff positions show that the two sides need to work together. He said he believes BSC can remain unified as long as both sides stay focused on missions and evangelism.

"If we can't work together on fulfilling the commission our Lord has given us, I don't know what will make us work together," he said.

Privette said he thinks elections sometimes get too focused on personalities rather than the BSC's mission and ministry.

When asked what he would say to moderates who might be thinking about leaving the convention, Privette said, "I would say to them we ought to be committed to the ultimate goal of spreading the good news and it takes all of us to accomplish that goal."

Mark Corts, retired pastor of Calvary Baptist Church who is well known in conservative circles, also had words for moderates who might leave.

"I would remind them that when everything didn't go conservatives' way a few pulled out, but many stayed the course and kept giving money to Lottie Moon and the Cooperative Program," he said. "I believe the days when we're forced to take sides and look at each other with accusations are passing."

Corts said he would hate to see the BSC split.

"That would be bad for the cause of Christ and for individual Baptists," he said.

Buddy Corbin, a moderate and pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Asheville, said he thinks most N.C. Baptists will be paying attention to budget deliberations at the meeting. Some moderates are concerned that new churches affiliated with the CBF are having difficulty getting funding from the BSC even though some of the money is contributed through Plan C, the giving plan favored by some moderate churches.

The BSC has given local associations heavy influence into how church starting funds are spent. A new CBF church in Hendersonville didn't get funding from the BSC because Carolina Baptist Association wouldn't approve it.

"It's sort of a forecast of where we'll be if no churches affiliated with CBF national can share in church starting funds," Corbin said. "It's a matter of justice."

Mathis said the BSC has a process of how new churches get funding.

"It was rejected" for the Hendersonville church, he said. "They just have to respect that in this given situation it didn't work out."

Corbin said a network of about 20 churches in the western part of the state is "serious about starting churches."

"It's based on the fact that we really want to do missions without the association making us conform theologically in order to participate in our own funds," he said.

Some moderates are also concerned that conservatives might seek to have Plan C, which sends money to CBF and not the SBC, taken out of the budget.

Next year's BSC budget calls for a small percentage of the Plan C money to be sent to the SBC Adopt-an-Annuitant program. Some conservatives say the current plan violates the BSC's constitutional provision that the BSC cooperate with the work of the SBC.

A committee appointed by current BSC president Jerry Pereira found that Plan C does not violate the BSC constitution.

Mike Cummings, a conservative former BSC president, said he expects someone to challenge the budget over Plan C.

"I don't know that, but I've got a gut feeling," he said.

Cummings, the director of missions for Burnt Swamp Association, said he hopes that messengers will keep the giving options in the budget.

Sanderson said Plan C doesn't bother him, but he is concerned about Hughes' proposal to decrease the money sent to the SBC through Plan A from 32 percent to 30 percent.

"I'm totally opposed to that," Sanderson said.

The concern over the budget is further complicated by Hughes' proposal that the BSC have a unified giving plan with churches having the option to give money to the SBC or CBF.

Sanderson said he would like for the BSC to have one plan, but giving to CBF should not be considered Cooperative Program giving.

"If it goes to CBF, it goes to CBF," he said. "If it goes to the SBC, then it's called Cooperative Program giving."

Corbin said he hopes the approved budget gives consideration to everyone's values. Some moderate churches could continue to "target" their giving, designating their money to agencies, institutions and colleges that they support, he said.

"I really believe this is an important year," Corbin said.

Cummings said he would hate for the BSC to give moderates the impression that they are left out. He said he thinks MBNC has a heart for the BSC. People in the group are essential to the health of the BSC, he said.

"I'd hate for us to continue to not elect somebody they're behind," he said.

Cummings said the candidates for office this year are among the best he's seen.

"It's possible that outstanding people like that won't divide us," he said. "I hope that's the case."

10/24/2003 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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