- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2001

Part two of five

Except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? 1 Corinthians 14:9

FORT WORTH, Texas — The Rev. Michael Drennan had a pleasant problem as he prepared to graduate last year from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary here.
He got 40 to 50 inquiries from around the country about his availability for open jobs. He wound up taking a position with First Baptist Church of Woodbridge, the Northern Virginia suburb near where he grew up.
"A lot of churches are really looking for youth ministers now," says Mr. Drennan, 30, who has worked with young people for a decade.
A friend who graduated this year from Southwestern, a 200-acre campus south of town that is the crown jewel of clerical training for churches of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), also found four or five inquiries a day left on his voice mail.
"They are all saying, 'We have seen your resume and would like to know if you could come talk to us,'" Mr. Drennan says. "Ministry has a high rate of burnout and turnover, so churches always have a great need of preachers."
Between turnover and demand, Southern Baptist churches circulate the highest volume of preachers of all U.S. denominations.
With huge mission networks and budgets, the denomination is called, with bare exaggeration, "the established church of the South," and the Southern Baptist Convention plays a major role in the call, training and doctrinal leanings of future clergy.
In the New Testament, the book of Acts recounts that ordination first arose when Jesus' 12 apostles realized that by holding down jobs such as fishing or farming or "serving tables," they would not have the freedom to spread the Gospel.
The apostles picked assistants to do menial tasks so they could devote themselves entirely "to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." They also conferred this divine mission on other men by laying hands on their heads and praying, thereby "ordaining" them investing them with priestly authority.
In the 2,000 years since, this simple act sparked a galaxy of interpretations of how men — and later women — were to be trained and prepared for the ministry.
"Baptists for the most part have not placed great emphasis on ordination," says the Rev. Russell Dilday, former president of Southwestern Seminary. "You don't find the word in the Bible or a lot about it."
Southern Baptists have built the largest theological training system in the world. Still, many of the convention's 100,000 pastors — especially those of churches with fewer than 50 members — do not have seminary degrees. More than half hold other jobs to fulfill a calling in the 16 million-member religious body, according to interviews and published reports.
Growing by nearly 100,000 new members and 1,500 new churches each year, the SBC holds the nation's largest annual church gatherings. It boasts a roster of flamboyant preachers — from Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell — and has been home to Southern politicians as divergent as Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich or Al Gore and Jesse Helms.
So it's no wonder the SBC pretty much sets the image for all Baptists in America.
"Whenever Southern Baptists are described in the news, all other Baptists are assumed by the population to be in the same camp," says the Rev. David Scholer, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary who is an American Baptist, a smaller denomination based in Valley Forge, Pa.
"We must work hard to show there are a variety," he said.
Baptist clergy also are prominent for taking part in a major denominational split, producing vying "moderate" and "conservative" wings of an otherwise traditional faith.
"The SBC is distinctive as the only major American religious denomination to take a giant step to the right," says Oran Smith in his book, "The Rise of Baptist Republicanism."
That step, begun in 1979, was taken in tandem with the Republican shift in the South and a new political activism by Baptist pastors. As a result, "Southern Baptist influence at the national level is no longer weak," says Mr. Smith, pointing to 1994 as the threshold year: Bill Clinton, a "moderate" Southern Baptist (and member of a conservative congregation), held the White House and conservative Baptists took over Congress.

Down in Texas
Fully 40 percent of all SBC clergy and 51 percent of its missionaries are trained at Southwestern. The 93-year-old seminary enrolls 3,100 students on campus and 1,000 more at six extensions, making it the largest of six historic Southern Baptist seminaries.
Southwestern's 13 cream-colored brick buildings, each named for a benefactor, drip with tradition. Its 700,000 books and periodicals amount to one of the largest theological libraries in the nation.
The school serves growing numbers of ethnic congregations. It has hired a Cuban-American woman to teach church administration, a black professor of homiletics and a Korean who directs undergraduate and lay studies programs. In March, seminary trustees approved a master's degree in Islamic studies, making Southwestern one of only three Christian seminaries to offer the specialty.
Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a Republican, studied theology here, as did Cleveland Browns defensive end Bill Glass. On campus, Wild Bill's coffee shop serves up Starbucks coffee and CNN breaking news.
But for the most part, the training of future clergy, missionaries and church academics is serious business.
There's a special seriousness toward what the Bible says about homosexuality, the role of women and abortion.
Top SBC pastors became leading voices on these topics. Indeed, Gallup pollsters found that by the mid-1980s, Baptists were more pro-life than Roman Catholics. Southern Baptists led a boycott against the Walt Disney Co. in 1996 over its pro-homosexual policies and racy movies made by subsidiary Touchstone Pictures.
The convention came close to asking President Clinton's congregation, Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock, Ark., to withdraw fellowship over his pro-choice and homosexual rights policies. (Many Baptists, jealous of the local congregation's independence, fiercely opposed the president and his policies but just as fiercely opposed the resolution as being none of the convention's business.)

'More on the edge'
Abortion snuffed out a generation of potential clergy, says the Rev. Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern, where enrollment began dropping in 1986. The numbers have swung up slightly, he says, because the baby boomers' children are signing up.
An evangelical focus is evident in Mr. Hemphill's office. On one wall hangs a painting of a man in coat and tails baptizing new believers; the words inscribed on the frame above say: "Touch the World … Impact Eternity."
A new breed of young folks are doing that now, Mr. Hemphill explains.
"They are a little more adventurous, more bold, more on the edge," he says. "They want to go to the ends of the Earth."
Kent B. Sanders, who heads up clergy placement, says Southwestern draws two groups: conservative students who enroll right after college and older men — ages 40 to 50 — seeking a second career.
"They're giving up law practices, medical practices and engineering jobs to come here," Mr. Hemphill says of the latter group.
As in other denominations, SBC clergy are aging; only 11 percent of pastors are 35 or younger. The average age of seminarians is 33, although Southwestern officials say recruits are getting younger.
The denomination's 41,000 churches represent a high-demand market. Mr. Sanders gets 4,000 requests a year for pastors. In December, 70 percent of graduates had jobs waiting. In May, it was 72 percent.
Mobility keeps demand, or turnover, high. An SBC pastor spends an average of four years with a church. It usually takes six months to find a replacement, say officials at SBC headquarters in Nashville, Tenn.
About 4,000 new missions or start-up churches also need pastors.
The newest feature of the SBC landscape is the megachurch, which demands more clergy because pastoral staffs number 25 or more to serve thousands of members. And with the megachurch came a new kind of pastor.

Pastors and politics
"For a political candidate to reach a large number of people, and not be embarrassed, he can find a pretty good ally in one of those pastors," says Doug Wead, who led outreach to churches in Vice President George Bush's successful 1988 campaign for president. "They know how to communicate, how to use technology, how to organize."
When the 1988 Bush campaign identified 180 megachurches (defining them by attendance of 5,000 or more), half were Southern Baptist.
Researcher John Vaughn of Springfield, Mo., counts nearly 600 megachurches today, defining them as having at least 2,000 in attendance. Twenty percent of these — one in five — are Southern Baptist.
Mr. Smith, who was reared a Southern Baptist, writes that the Baptist embrace of partisan politics arose in the 1960s when a liberal SBC wing focused on race and social justice. This sparked a conservative response that came to view President Carter, a Georgia Democrat and Southern Baptist, as a "secular humanist" in his 1980 re-election battle with challenger Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican from California. Mr. Carter lost.
Conservative pastors had formed a vaunted "old boys network" that began to redirect the SBC in 1979, producing successful candidates for president of the convention each year right through the present.
"Southern Baptists and Republicans have exported a Southern brand of gloves-off politics and religion to the rest of the nation but not without trouble in the ranks," Mr. Smith says.
The internal clash hinged on differing views of how to interpret the Bible, of how Baptists "cooperate" and of partisan allegiances.
The public turning point came in 1985, when 45,519 "messengers," or delegates, streamed into Dallas to elect an SBC president during the largest legislative meeting of a religious group in history. After victory there, conservatives gradually took over the convention's national agencies, including six historic seminaries.

A momentous revision
Some 1 million to 2 million Southern Baptists are die-hard moderates, according to the most generous church estimates. Their pastors control state conventions in Texas, North Carolina and Virginia, many Baptist state newspapers and nearly all the Baptist colleges and universities.
But most Baptist leaders are politically energized conservatives, according to "Bully Pulpit," a scholarly study of 5,000 ministers in eight Protestant groups.
The survey found Southern Baptists most likely to be "very interested" in politics (34 percent). They also surpass more liberal clergy in "preaching a whole sermon on a political issue" (58 percent).
Unlike the "social justice" agenda of liberal clergy, the conservative minister is out for "moral reform" by way of pronouncements, candidate endorsements, campaign activity, petition drives and boycotts.
Still, the survey found that just 2 percent of Protestant pastors consider themselves activists in the so-called "new Christian right." So most SBC clergy see their main work as preaching the Gospel and serving a congregation.
When politics are not at issue, though, doctrine can widen the conservative-centrist split.
In June 2000, SBC delegates adopted a significantly revised version of their doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith and Message (or BF&M;). The revision, only the second since 1925, emphasized moral stands and upheld the strict authority of the Bible, the all-powerfulness of God and salvation only in Christ.
SBC centrists protested on the grounds their tradition emphasizes a person's "soul competency" as one of a "priesthood of believers." In other words, each person has as much moral authority as any other to interpret the Bible as God leads his soul or conscience.
By the mid-1990s, the more fundamentalist wing of laity and clergy controlled the convention's six seminaries. The key had been to populate the boards of trustees with conservatives; this was achieved by electing conservative SBC presidents every year since 1979.
Centrists such as Mr. Dilday, who led Southwestern for 16 years, were eased out or retired. In a "covenant" with the churches, Mr. Hemphill and the other conservative presidents declared: "In an age of rampant theological compromise, our seminaries must send no uncertain sound." They promised to defend "the authority, inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible."
All seminary professors were asked to sign the BF&M; of 2000 after what amounted to a new employment interview.

'Correcting the course'
At Southwestern, signatures of the 90 full-time faculty members were due in March. Two who refused to sign — Old Testament professor Rick Johnson and ethics professor Jeph Holloway — must be gone by next spring.
"I was hired under one set of circumstances and they changed them to require of me a commitment that almost violates the commitment I made when first hired ," Mr. Holloway says. "I've been a Baptist ever since I've been a Christian and I'd hate to think there'd be no room for me."
Some at Southwestern took early retirement rather than sign.
"Faculty will be reluctant to talk about it because it's a hostile thing, a depressing and fearful atmosphere," Mr. Dilday says.
"The president is being pressured," he says of his successor, Mr. Hemphill. "He was elected by the takeover trustees who voted to fire me. There was no reason, no theological issue, but I had opposed the takeover effort."
Conservatives insist they "corrected the course" and excited a new generation for Christ.
In 1998, the SBC presidency went to the Rev. Paige Patterson, who first organized resistance to liberal teachings while a seminarian 31 years earlier. Mr. Patterson said it wouldn't bother him if centrists simply left the SBC.
"I think probably integrity demands it," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But the centrists stayed, setting up alternative mission agencies and theological seminaries and complaining that the "conservative-caused" conflict seeped down to the congregation level.
By 1988, the rate of Baptist clergy firings hit a record of 1,390 a year. A decade later, it settled to fewer than 900 a year.

The numbers debate
The two sides also dispute whether the six seminaries are growing or declining.
Until Mr. Dilday's firing in 1994, Southwestern enrolled 5,200, a total he calls "the largest in the history of Christendom." Now the head count is 3,100, and Mr. Dilday blames the decline on "the takeover by the hyper-conservatives."
But the conservatives cite growth, especially in pre-seminary undergraduate enrollments at schools such as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., where Mr. Patterson is president.
The enrollment debate came to a head in October when the Baptist General Convention of Texas voted to cut its annual contribution of $5 million to the seminaries. The Texas centrists, flexing their muscle, concluded that the six schools espoused "doctrinaire fundamentalism" and were foundering in recruitment.
Leaders at Southwestern, which stood to lose $1.6 million, insist the cuts haven't harmed them. SBC headquarters promised to fill the funding gap.
"The executive committee said to us [seminary presidents] in Nashville, 'We're not going to let one state hold you hostage,'" Mr. Hemphill says.
The funds from the Texas convention now go to places such as the centrist-led George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas, and Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, founded in 1991 as the first moderate breakaway.
"There are [conservative] churches out there that would never think of coming to us for a pastor. We don't fit each other's expectations," says the Rev. W. Robert Spinks, director of development at the Richmond seminary, which enrolls 292.
Mr. Spinks says growing numbers of centrists congregations likewise "do not trust the product" at Southeastern, where he and many of the Richmond faculty worked before a new board ousted them in favor of conservatives.
The Richmond school graduated its 250th student in May. The placement rate for graduates is 90 percent, but the centrist stream still is comparatively tiny.

Banning female preachers
Sociologist Nancy Ammerman, who as a professor in Atlanta studied the heyday of SBC conflict, says conservatives thus solved the problem of "keeping bright young conservatives in the fold."
They typically had drifted to the centrist persuasion after going to graduate school. Many centrist clergy and SBC faculty have joined other Baptist, evangelical or mainline Protestant groups.
"Their old recruitment, training and placement system has been broken up," Ms. Ammerman says of the centrists. "It still is hard for people who are outsiders to the 'new SBC' to figure out where to go to college and seminary, who their mentors should be and who will sponsor them as candidates for pastoral positions."
With all the splits, she says, it is no longer easy to typecast a typical Southern Baptist minister. "The term 'SBC clergy' covers a lot of territory."
In the official SBC, however, that minister is less likely than ever to be a woman. The most controversial part of the BF&M; of 2000 is a ban on female clergy, which the autonomous congregations may heed or not.
"While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture," the credo says.
Since the Apostle Paul said he would not "suffer a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man," the SBC should do likewise, the ban reasons.
Nearly 1,200 women are ordained in the SBC, but only a few dozen are said by Baptist officials to be senior pastors "over men."
That is such a small number, critics say, that the ban was like killing a gnat with a cannon — and mainly a sanction against militant feminism.

Symbol of the future
Either way, the prohibition on female clergy was part of the faculty pledge at Southwestern and food for thought on campus, where 26 percent of students are women.
"My preference is to teach women," says Judith Kimsey, 28, who is earning a master's of divinity. "Men as leaders in the church is more the biblical pattern. I did not always feel that way. I was raised to be independent, so God had to bring me to a place where I was comfortable with my role."
Catherine Bryan, 31, who is working toward her doctorate in the Old Testament, has encountered no problems teaching men. For the 14 men who take her class on the book of Exodus, she says, "It's not been an issue."
Carla Works, 24, candidate for a master's of divinity in theology, disagrees with the revised BF&M.; In one sense, she argues, the discussion is on a moot point.
"There is no such thing as a senior pastor in the Bible," she says. "That is a modern distinction we have forced into the text. I'm personally saddened that anyone would put limitations on anyone's call to the ministry."
"They say Jesus didn't have women disciples. Well, he didn't have Gentile ones either," Mr. Dilday says.
And the former Southwestern president notes one big dilemma for the Southern Baptist Convention's theological decree that no woman shall teach a man: Her name is Anne Graham Lotz and she is the daughter of the dean of modern evangelists, Billy Graham.
Mrs. Lotz, 53, who never attended seminary, "is preaching in places around the convention," Mr. Dilday says. "She's a symbol of the future that women are gifted and will be moving into places of responsibility. She had an evangelistic rally here in Fort Worth, and that was downright preaching."

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