Peace Report Highlights Opening of Southern Baptist Convention
ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A ″peace report″ being presented at the Southern Baptist Convention’s 130th annual meeting may wind up exacerbating tensions among factions that have been feuding for 25 years, observers say.
About 25,000 delegates are attending the three-day convention of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Among the items on the agenda for the meeting that opens today were recommendations by a peace committee and the election of a president.
Another potential problem emerged Monday when the Missouri Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights announced it would picket the convention to protest the Baptists’ strong anti-abortion stance.
The 14.6 million-member denomination has been divided over whether the Bible should be interpreted literally or symbolically. Conservatives believe biblical stories should be considered historical fact, while moderates have argued that Baptists should be free to interpret certain passages.
The peace committee, headed by the Rev. Charles Fuller of Roanoke, Va., was to make its second attempt to bring together the two sides when it presented its report today. Delegates last year rejected the committee’s report.
″It may be that the peace report will start a war,″ said Alvin C. Shackleford, director of the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service, the Baptist Press. ″It’s really hard to say. But one of the things about our conventions is that all of the messengers can stand and say whatever they feel.″
The denomination’s fundamentalist president, the Rev. Adrian Rogers, said he expected delegates to be ready to vote on the report today because it was uncomplicated and because it would ″touch″ the people.
Fuller said the committee, working until 4:15 a.m. Monday, produced a report that reflected its ″diversity.″
″Not everyone got all he or she wanted in this report,″ he said.
But the Rev. E. Glenn Henson, a leading Southern Baptist scholar who advocates splitting the denomination, said, ″I can see no way to resolve the controversy we have engaged in for more than 25 years.″
Thus far, the fundamentalists have held control in the battle. The peace committee was formed two years ago to help resolve the dispute.
Conservative and moderate factions met separately Monday to prepare for the convention.
A North Carolina minister called on members of the denomination to acknowledge diversity of Christian experience and find a compromise. John Harris Hewett, of Asheville, in an address Monday to the moderate Southern Baptist Forum asked the pastors to choose harmony over dissonance and to pray that an indivisible union comes out of the convention.
Rogers, of Memphis, Tenn., is expected to be nominated for a second, one- year term. The Rev. Richard Jackson, of Phoenix, Ariz., considered a moderate, also has announced he would accept a nomination.
Also Monday, in an address to the conservative group of ministers, the Southern Baptist Pastor’s Conference, the president of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary warned against relying on human actions to achieve spiritual goals.
″It is significant that we take some truths of the Christian gospel and twist them beyond recognition,″ said Landrum P. Leavell II. ″Jesus taught us the dignity and worth of the human, but we take his teachings and use them to reject him...
″We have taken what God has given in rich abundance and compromised those gifts. We spend our time, money and energy jockeying over who will run the machinery.″