Wednesday, June 16, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Southern Baptist Convention yesterday approved a call for an amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman to stem the tide of homosexual “marriage.”

At its annual convention, the nation’s second-largest Christian denomination also debated a resolution that would have urged parents to pull their children out of public schools, but rejected it in favor of a more general warning against America’s drift toward secularism.

The marriage resolution, passed without debate, also commended President Bush, who spoke Tuesday via video, for backing a federal marriage amendment.

The resolution declared that “the union of one man and one woman is the only form of marriage prescribed in the Bible as God’s perfect design” and called this traditional family the “foundational institution that builds and maintains strong societies.”

There was more spirited debate among the 8,500 representatives yesterday over the schools proposal, which criticized the “officially Godless” public schools and was offered by retired Air Force Gen. T.C. Pinckney of Alexandria, Va., and attorney Bruce Shortt of Spring, Texas.

Gen. Pinckney moved a floor amendment encouraging parents to provide “a thoroughly Christian education” through either private schools or home schooling. The meeting defeated that by show of hands.

During the debate, Gen. Pinckney said “we are enabling Satan to destroy our children.” Mr. Shortt cited statistics on sexually transmitted diseases and loss of belief among youths, and denounced the “2,000 homosexual clubs in our middle schools and high schools.”

The resolutions committee opposed any pullout from public schools, even though half its members were home-schoolers.

The Rev. Bobby Welch of Daytona Beach, Fla., newly elected as SBC president, was among those who called it a mistake to withdraw Christian influence from public schools, saying that it would hinder evangelism.

The meeting’s closest vote was a 55 percent to 45 percent rejection of a proposed study on whether to change the denomination’s name and drop “Southern.” Some have worried that the “Southern” in the denomination’s name puts off some people who could be evangelized.

Another resolution hailed the increasing conservatism in the denomination in the past 25 years. But alongside celebration, some speakers wondered — as the SBC’s annual meeting drew to a close — whether the denomination is stagnating.

Mr. Welch said at a press conference it would be optimistic to say the SBC has “plateaued.”

In fact, he said, baptism figures show “we are declining.”

Before his election Tuesday, Mr. Welch told the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper his presidency would stress evangelism to counter “this malaise we’re caught in now of floundering and struggling.”

The SBC’s membership — 16.3 million — has grown slightly in recent years while more liberal U.S. denominations have shrunk. But the Rev. Jimmy Draper, president of the SBC publishing house, told the gathering that SBC baptisms had declined over the past four years.

That reflects “a denomination that’s lost its focus,” he said.

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