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Sunday, November 9, 1997
Split could create autonomous state group,
both sides say
DALLAS (AP) -- Southern Baptists' long-running power struggle
between moderates and conservatives could widen into an official
rift at the state convention that begins Monday, says a candidate
for president of the statewide organization.
"I think that very likely would happen," said Russell
Dilday, a moderate and the only announced candidate for president
of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Dilday added that a split resulting in a separate Texas-based
infrastructure of religious educational opportunities, mission
programs and teaching materials might eliminate politics and be
beneficial to the group.
"It might clear the air," he said.
Texas Baptists' moderate-conservative split has been a source
of rancor for years. Dilday was the head of Southwestern Baptist
Theological Seminary in Fort Worth for 16 years, until he was
forced out three years ago by the Southern Baptist Convention's
Conservatives say they are reasserting biblically correct positions
on issues and religious practices.
Moderates question some of the biblical interpretations and
challenge what they say is an anti-Baptist infringement on the
autonomy of both church and believer.
Conservatives control the Southern Baptist Convention at the
national level, where similar political conflicts have occurred,
while moderates are strong in the Texas convention.
The state Baptist group's membership strength and donations
are important to the national SBC and make it one of the largest
state conventions in the country.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas has more than 5,500
churches, 2.7 million members and a projected 1998 budget of $47.8
Some moderate and conservative leaders say changes both sides
expect will likely push some conservatives into creating their
own association with ties to the SBC.
"By this action, they essentially become the ninth largest
denomination in America," said Bill Leonard, a Baptist, historian
and dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School in North
"What they are doing, effectively, is becoming a self-contained
denominational body that is related to the SBC almost as an auxiliary,"
Leonard told The Dallas Morning News in Saturday's editions.
A similar schism occurred last year when the Southern Baptist
Conservatives of Virginia splintered away from the larger Baptist
General Association of Virginia.
"That is what's coming, unless God intervenes or something
drastic happens," said the Rev. Miles Seaborn, president
of the conservative Southern Baptists of Texas. "Our commitment
is to go and walk as far as we can and as long as we can. But
there's a certain place we're not going to go beyond."
State officials say about 6,000 messengers -- about the same
number attending the past two state conventions -- are expected
in Austin to vote on the proposals.
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