The Baptist General Convention of Texas yesterday cut funding to the top Southern Baptist seminaries over their “doctrinaire fundamentalism” and invited Baptist churches nationwide to join its approach to missions.
The annual meeting of 6,400 “messengers,” or delegates, voted by a 3-to-1 margin to cut $4.3 million of next year’s funding for six national seminaries and amended its constitution so churches outside Texas could be affiliates of the nation’s largest Baptist state convention.
“This was in response to a fundamentalist resurgence and to our state needs,” the Rev. Russell Dilday, a past president of the Texas convention, said in an interview from the assembly in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“Texas has the resources and history of being out front,” said Mr. Dilday, a “moderate” Baptist leader fired as a seminary president by conservatives. “The future of Baptist life is going to be more regional, and not the kind of top-down hierarchy and authoritarian way the Southern Baptist Convention has become.”
The vote by the state convention is one of the most significant since 1990, when theological conservatives in the 15.8-million-member denomination succeeded in winning enough presidential elections to appoint conservatives to all the boards of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) agencies, including the six seminaries.
The Texas Baptist Convention known to be a “moderate” stronghold, along with Virginia makes up 17 percent of all SBC members and provides 13 percent of the SBC annual Cooperative Program budget. The terms “moderate” and “conservative” are relative, however, and even “moderate” Baptists hold strongly conservative theological views as compared to most mainstream denominations.
Texas voted to spend the funds withheld from the SBC on its three theology schools, established as a result of the conservative-moderate split in the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination.
It also ended nearly all of its support for the denominational headquarters and a social-issues agency in Nashville, Tenn., with another cut of $1 million.
“The Texas Baptist leadership calculated this proposal for maximum negative impact on the SBC,” said the Rev. R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a conservative leader.
A motion to make the cut gradually over three years was voted down in Texas yesterday.
“The $4.3 million taken away from the six seminaries is [already] budgeted revenue,” Mr. Mohler said.
He said the six theology schools may appeal financially to “friends of the seminaries,” including conservative churches in Texas. The SBC’s top Executive Committee also could shift other funds in the annual budget to make up the loss.
“I lament this action because it has broken a 70-year relationship of trust,” Mr. Mohler said.
The Texas Baptists voted on a string of policies to focus more on state affairs and alliances with moderates, who no longer control national agencies. But a “Seminary Study Committee Report” was the cutting edge-topic.
Delegates from the Texas convention visited the six seminaries and concluded that the trustees “almost exclusively reflect the narrow attitude of doctrinaire fundamentalism.”
That narrowness, the report said, led to the firing and departure of some faculty and a rigid approach to theology, especially after the SBC national assembly in June adopted a new doctrinal statement, the 2000 “Baptist Faith and Message,” not changed since 1963.
The Texas report said the 2000 statement adopted “creedalism” and conservative views, such as a ban on female pastors, that downplayed “the priesthood of believers” and “soul competency” Baptist ideas that promote freedom in Bible belief.
Two weeks ago, former President Jimmy Carter reacted to the 2000 statement in a letter disassociating himself from the SBC a letter moderates sent to 75,000 Baptists. Though powerful, Mr. Carter’s statement was largely symbolic, since only congregations, and not individuals, are affiliated with the convention.
Mr. Mohler, in his rebuttal of the Texas report on the seminaries, said what it derided as creedalism was no more than the kind of confession of faith that seminary professors had been required to sign “without hesitation or mental reservation” since 1859.
“Without a confession of faith, there is no legal or disciplinary procedure for accountability,” the Mohler rebuttal said. “This was a point frustratingly lost on the [Texas] committee in our discussions.”
He said “doctrinaire fundamentalism” was “a reckless charge” and shows the Texas panel “has demonstrated that it will not identify with the conservative convictions held precious” by Southern Baptists.
The outcome in Texas was being watched by other Baptists.
“Virginia Baptists may see something Texas Baptists are doing and say, ‘We want to be a part of that,’ ” said Mike Clingenpeel, editor of the Religious Herald, which serves the Virginia Baptists.
“But we are all autonomous levels in SBC life, and so the vote in one state will not have a lot of impact on churches here,” he said.
For years, the national SBC had run seminaries, publishing concerns, and foreign and domestic missions, while states had their own colleges, hospitals and newspapers.
With the conservative-moderate split, however, in the past decade many “moderate” groups and states have set up their own seminaries, publishing outlets and missions.
Bill Boatwright, head of communications for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said the Texas vote was “an unprecedented move,” but added: “In the past, events in one state convention have led to very little bleed-over into other states.”
He said that each year the executive directors of each state convention meet and compare “different models” for mission and cooperation. “Sometimes they are looking for new and better ways to cooperate,” he said.
The Texas leadership did not present itself yesterday as founding a breakaway Baptist group to rival the national convention.
“It kind of represents a historic new breakthrough,” said Mr. Dilday, the former president of Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. “Texas won’t try to be an alternative to the SBC, but instead a full-service convention.”
Despite such overtures, Mr. Mohler said conservatives will stay the course.
“Southern Seminary and the SBC will not and cannot compromise on matters of biblical conviction, and this is just what Southern Baptists have every right to expect,” he said.