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Southern Baptists Elect Fundamentalist Over Moderate

June 15, 1988

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AP) _ Southern Baptists narrowly elected a fundamentalist as their president Tuesday, extending indefinitely the march to the right of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

In the high-stakes contest, the Rev. Jerry Vines got 15,804 votes, or 50.5 percent, to defeat the Rev. Richard Jackson, who had 15,112, or 48.3 percent.

Two other surprise nominees got a small scattering of ballots. James Craig, a Tulsa, Okla., engineer, had 276 votes, the Rev. Anis Shorrosh of Mobile, Ala., who had nominated himself, received 82.

Vines’ victory for a one-year term, which is traditionally renewed for a second year, extended the fundamentalist wing’s denominational control into the 10th year it said it needed to enact its conservative theological- political agenda.

Vines, 50, is co-pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., while runner-up Jackson, 49, is pastor of the North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix, Ariz. Each church has about 18,000 members.

Because of the size and country-wide influence of the 14.7 million member denomination, the direction set here was seen as having an impact in broader evangelical circles.

About 35,000 ″messengers,″ as local church representatives are called, were present for the opening day of the Southern Baptist Convention’s meeting, which runs through Thursday.

Before the election, the outgoing president, the Rev. Adrian Rogers of Memphis, Tenn., unleashed a scathing attack on denominational ″liberals,″ which is what fundamentalists call the moderates.

″They have turned Protestant Christianity into a graveyard,″ he said.

Likening them to ″leaven of the Pharisees,″ he said such ″theological morticians have no right in Baptist pulpits.″

The Rev. Russell Dilday, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, criticized Rogers’ ″divisive tone.″

″There was a frantic note, a pulling out of all the stops″ as if fearful of the election outcome, Dilday told reporters. ″I think our Baptist forefathers would be shocked.″

Moderates who have been gradually cut out of power by the prolonged fundamentalist surge have indicated they’re not pulling out and splitting the denomination.

″We’re not dead and I’m not quitting,″ said the Rev. Winfred Moore of Amarillo, Texas, a moderate leader.

But he derided compromise with fundamentalists’ demands. ″My granddaddy was absolutely right. He said, ’Son, there’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow line and dead possums,‴ Moore told a side meeting of moderate pastors.

Zoological analogies also got a pre-election airing in the fundamentalist camp where a fiery Dallas leader, the Rev. W.A. Criswell, declared:

″Liberals today call themselves moderates. A skunk by any other name still stinks.″

Bringing out the socio-political aspects of the fundamentalist drive, he blamed the ″curse of liberalism″ for turning the nation over to secularists, humanists, atheists and infidels.

″By law and legislation, we bow at no altar and call on the name of no God,″ he said. ″No longer can we pray in public schools, read God’s word″ or ″have chapel services in public schools or place a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn.″

Among American Christians, Southern Baptists always have been pervasively conservative in their theology, stressing the autonomy of local congregations, church-state separation, no creedal rules but the Bible and ″soul competence″ of individuals to interpret it as they understand it.

But the fundamentalist wing that won predominance in 1979, and has held it since, insists on viewing the Bible as literalistically ″inerrant″ - without error - historically, religiously and scientifically.

Under the shiboleth of ″inerrancy,″ the fundamentalist wing has pressed a wide socio-political program generally identified with the new religious right that emerged about the same time at the turn of the 1980s.

As the fundamentalists gained sway over institutional trustees through presidential appointive powers, several organizational and seminary staff members have been hit by restrictions and pressures that drove them from their posts.

Screening processes have been instituted to make sure personnel adhere to certain beliefs, such as that Adam and Eve were real people and that biblical miracles actually occurred.

Also, policies were invoked against women clergy and employing divorced pastors in most cases.

Baptist fundamentalists unavailingly backed Judge Robert Bork for the U.S. Supreme Court, contrary to Baptist practice against taking sides about particular candidates.

The fundamentalist wing also has marshalled the denomination for other religious right causes - prayer in public schools, capital punishment and condemning all abortion except to save the mother’s life.

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