Fundamentalist Baptists Seek To Admonish Officials They See As Too Liberal
ATLANTA (AP) _ Southern Baptists, winding up a contentious national convention today, turned their attention from denomination feuding and toward a new push to influence such national issues as school prayer, pornography and education.
With half or more of the 41,000 delegates already gone home, the convention plunged into a list of resolutions approved by denomination leaders and expected to win easy approval by day’s end.
Among other things, the resolutions declare that convention delegates:
- ″Decry denial of the constitutional right of voluntary prayer and Bible reading in the public schools″ nd ″encourage Southern Baptists to become active participants in the political life of this country at the local, state and federal levels in order to defend and promote the traditional Judeo- Christian values necessary if America is to survive as a nation founded upon those values.″
- Encourage fighting pornography through all legal means, including protests.
- Call on Southern Baptists to press state and local school book selectors to correct ″the censored history″ of the nation in textbooks with few or no references to religion.
Leaders gave no indication by mid-day whether they would allow votes on a series of motions introduced one day earlier to reprove or remove denomination officials seen as too liberal.
Delegates launched strong attacks Wednesday on officials seen as soft on such issues as abortion and school prayer and called for an investigation of a Baptist leader who said he did not necessarily believe the Bible error-free.
Meanwhile, the denomination’s president and president-elect, both fundamentalists, called for peace, love and an end to the bitterness that has soured relations among factions in the 14.5-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Those pleas won applause from the 20,000 or so delegates who remained Wednesday after nearly 40,000 voted in Tuesday’s presidential election.
In four main cases, delegates asked the full convention to:
-Withdraw the denomination and its $450,000 a year from a joint Baptist lobbying agency in Washington on grounds that executive director James Dunn and other employees were misrepresenting Southern Baptists’ views on such issues as abortion and school prayer. That motion was referred to a committee instead by a vote of 12,001 to 9,956.
-Require that a new head of the denomination’s social concerns agency be sought ″whose record and convictions about the sanctity of unborn life″ are in accord with an anti-abortion position - a slap at the Rev. Foy Valentine, the current head of an agency that fundamentalists have criticized.
-Ask for an investigation of the head of the denomination’s historical committee, Marion D. Lark of Henderson, N.C., who had said in a report to the gathering earlier Wednesday that he didn’t think the Bible was necessarily without error on scientific matters.
-Investigate an unnamed staff member of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., who was said to have written a paper implying ″universalism,″ a concept that God ultimately redeems all humanity.
The newly elected president, the Rev. Adrian P. Rogers of Memphis, Tenn., pleaded in a sermon before the motions, ″May God give us increasing unity. We’re not enemies. We are brothers in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are built together, bound together, in it together, like it or not.″
And after the motions, the outgoing president, the Rev. Charles Stanley of Atlanta, responded solemnly to a request to lead the crowd in a prayer for forgiveness for distrust.
″Love and unforgiveness cannot remain in the same heart,″ he said. ″Seal us together in the bond of the love of the cross.″
The main controversy splitting the denomination involves the insistence by fundamentalists that true Christians - and certainly Southern Baptist employees - hold strictly literalist views of the Bible. Moderates, who lost the major convention elections, allow for diverse understandings.
The longest debate Wednesday involved the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, which represents eight Baptist denominations in dealing with government issues in Washington.
M.G. ″Dan″ Daniels of Mobile, Ala., who asked the convention to cut the agency loose, said its leaders ″spout a view that would destroy our beloved Constitution, our nation and our churches.″
Another critic, J. Steve Salls of Greensboro, N.C., said the agency’s leaders aligned themselves with pro-abortion organizations.
Dunn, the agency’s head, said in a later news conference that he and others at the agency had nothing to do with the abortion issue, that their job was to lobby on religious-freedom issues and that they were kept extremely busy in that area, doing ″what any reasonable Southern Baptist would want us to do.″
He also said he felt there were plenty of Southern Baptists who felt differently from the fundamentalists and would find ways to support the agency financially if the denomination withdrew its official funding.
Such withdrawal is still a possibility, since this week’s elections marked the eighth straight year the fundamentalists have won the presidency, solidifying their control of crucial agency appointments.