EDITOR’S NOTE: The following counterpoint is published as part of our ongoing commitment to provide an independent spectrum of voices. Bill Jones, former executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, wrote the following response to a column written by Ross Shelton, pastor of First Baptist Brenham, and published by the Baptist Standard.
A few days ago, the BGCT held its annual meeting. It was the second self-styled “Family Gathering” — now held every 5 years — in which the state’s Hispanic and African-American conventions meet simultaneously with the BGCT.
Last week, Ethics Daily published an op-ed by Jackie Baugh Moore, titled “New generation leads CBF toward other collaborations.” One sentence jumped out at me.
Moore wrote: “Fellowship Southwest (comprised of CBF ministries and initiatives in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and the West) began about the time many of us in Texas churches saw our Baptist General Convention of Texas taken over by political maneuverings and leadership that value dogma and exclusiveness over collaboration for a common purpose.”
News coverage of this week’s “Family Gathering” appears to confirm her observation.
BGCT leaders touted the unity and diversity reflected in the gathering; yet the unity was a reflection of conformity achieved at the November 2016 meeting by sending some of the “family” packing. As for diversity, I suppose so, if you consider diversity as only skin deep.
The four fragile freedoms of Baptists
But diversity is not just skin deep. Diversity for Baptists has always included what Baptist historian Walter B. Shurden dubbed the “four fragile freedoms” in his classic book, “The Baptist Identity.”
- Bible Freedom
- Soul Freedom
- Church Freedom
- Religious Freedom
According to these four freedoms — all of which are part of our DNA since the beginning of the Baptist movement in the early 1600s — Baptists take our marching orders from the Holy Spirit, not a denominational hierarchy.
In the 1980s, a political faction schemed to take power in the SBC. Once it took control, its power-hungry leaders dictated interpretations of particular scripture passages to be enforced on Baptists and their churches as a creed.
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In recent years, the BGCT — fearing the efforts of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) to steal its churches — has begun traveling the SBC road.
BGCT Executive Director David Hardage invited Paige Patterson, then president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and co-architect of the Fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, to speak to the BGCT staff during its weekly prayer time. Hardage later told me he heard from numerous pastors encouraging him to build a relationship with Patterson and Southwestern so students there would be agreeable to pastoring BGCT churches.
BGCT messengers, encouraged by Hardage, vote to recommend the disfellowshipping of any churches deemed to be welcoming and affirming toward LGBTQ people. Three months later, the BGCT Executive Board affirmed this vote and removed three churches, including my home church in Dallas. We were no longer part of the “family.”
Legally, the BGCT has the right to decide what churches will be affiliated with it. Nevertheless, drawing the criteria so narrowly based on doctrines that are not essential to the nature of God, the deity of Jesus, or our salvation is unBaptist. It violates at least three of those “fragile freedoms” identified by Shurden (and religious freedom may be next). Now we understand better what makes them so fragile.
Reconciliation and reform another apparent SBC inroad to the BGCT
This week, the Baptist Standard published an op-ed written by Ross Shelton, pastor of First Baptist in Brenham, titled “How disconnected BGCT pastors can reconnect with national Baptist groups.”
Shelton’s prescription serves as further evidence that the BGCT is far down the SBC road. He proposes “four ways BGCT pastors, working together, may seek to reconnect with national Baptist life”:
His treatment of the first two bullets is most revealing. Reconciliation refers to the SBC; reform refers mostly to CBF.
With respect to reconciliation, BGCT leaders are told they should:
- stop calling SBC and SBTC leaders and pastors “fundamentalists.”
- sponsor a conference in partnership with Southwestern Seminary.
- have “BGCT colleges and seminaries agree to hire at least a few professors who have been recently educated by an SBC seminary and/or who are supportive of the current direction of the SBC, thereby exposing students in BGCT colleges and seminaries to at least a few voices supportive of and connected to the current SBC.”
- develop a new doctrinal statement replacing both versions of the Baptist Faith & Message.
With respect to reform:
- In relation to CBF, “BGCT pastors will provide a reforming voice … [and] call the CBF to stop their current theological trajectory and return to evangelical roots.”
- In relation to the SBC, “BGCT pastors may function as a moderating voice on certain topics or issues.”
In other words:
- Make nice with the SBC and SBTC, and maybe they’ll stop trying to steal our churches.
- Despite the faithfulness of Logsdon and Truett Seminaries in teaching and adhering to Baptist principles through the years, we’re ready to partner with a seminary whose leadership has consistently thumbed their noses at those principles.
- Let the SBC infiltrate BGCT colleges and seminaries and indoctrinate our students with its theology. (Make no mistake about it, let the SBC dip its toe into your waters, and pretty soon it’s taken over the whole ocean.)
- Bible Freedom? Soul Freedom? Ha! BGCT leaders know what’s right and are God’s tool to “reform” anyone who doesn’t agree with them. Oops, make that BGCT-SBC-SBTC leaders!
Guess what, only one of those three parties will compromise, and it won’t be the Fundamentalists of the SBC or SBTC. You have only to look as far as the late, lamented “SBC Peace Committee” of the mid-1980s to know who is going to write the new Baptist creed.
What I fear may be the case about the BGCT
I wish I could believe Shelton’s article is just the fantasy of one isolated pastor. However, based on David Hardage’s overtures to Paige Patterson and Southwestern Seminary, along with the BGCT’s recent turn toward creed-based criteria for churches, I strongly suspect his article reflects a larger movement in the BGCT with broad support and momentum.
Sadly, though, Jackie Baugh Moore is right. Dogma and exclusiveness, once the province of the SBC, have captured the BGCT, and the SBC is well on its way to doing so, too.
Bill Jones is the former executive director of Texas Baptists Committed and can be found at billjoneswritings.com.