Southern Baptist Moderates Create BWA Support Group

It seems the conservative vs. moderate power struggle within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has yet to retire, even after 25 years of dissent and division. On December 4, 2004, a group of some two dozen retired chief executives of Southern Baptist entities gathered in Atlanta to declare support for the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), despite a denomination-wide decision earlier this year to sever ties with the Alliance.

Naming themselves “Advocates of the Baptist World Alliance,” the former SBC leaders met for one purpose: “to retain Southern Baptist participation in and support of the Baptist World Alliance.”

The headmaster of the rally was Duke K. McCall, a former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president and executive secretary-treasurer of the SBC.

“We function within Baptist freedom and the autonomy of every Christian church. The BWA has inspired and instructed world Baptists in their intention to be biblical Christian witnesses to our Savior Jesus Christ,” McCall, also a former president of the BWA, said.

The SBC has undergone tectonic shifts in power since the first conservative president took seat in 1979. In that short period of 25 years, conservatives successfully secured the presidency, made staff changes in the executive board, booted off moderate and liberal leaders from SBC-affiliated seminaries, and even made fundamental changes in the denomination’s faith statement. The clear success of the “conservative resurgence” forced moderates to branch into a separate entity called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) – a more moderate fellowship of Baptist churches – by the early 1990s.

The conservatives’ power proved itself once again during the SBC’s 2004 Annual Meeting. At the meeting, the conservative leadership, led by Paige Patterson - one of the foremost architects of the conservative resurgence, convinced the nationwide messengers to quit membership from the BWA – a group Southern Baptists helped create 99 years earlier. Nearly two-thirds of the Southern Baptist messengers voted to sever ties with the BWA, which had by then been branded a “liberal” group with “abhorrent theologies.” The cessation of membership also meant a secession of funds – a big blow to the Alliance that had at one point received a quarter of its funding from the giant SBC.

Moderates decried the severance, pointing to several benefits to maintaining fellowship within the BWA.

During the recent meeting in Atlanta, the two dozen past leaders of the SBC – most of whom served during or before the conservative resurgence took place, reiterated the reasons to stay within the world’s largest alliance of Baptists.

"Southern Baptists are blessed by their BWA connection with believers who are zealous in evangelism. We need to strengthen this family tie for our own benefit,” McCall said.

According to a BWA press release by McCall, there were several points emphasized during the gathering:

“1. We are not in a battle with anyone.

2. We want to support Baptist organizations and churches that serve God and witness to Jesus as Lord.

3. We do not speak for or represent any group we may have served in the past, but we are individuals with a past history who speak and act on the basis of that past experience.

4. Our concern is the vitality of Baptist witness under the Great Commission of our Lord. We believe that this is in keeping with Jesus prayer for the unity of believers, John 17:21. May the witness of the BWA to the glory of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be such that the world will say again, "Behold how they love one another!" We have sometimes striven for a reputation for orthodoxy, a worthy goal, but love for our neighbor (the second greatest commandment) is an even more effective witness.

5. We serve the Baptist World Alliance, not because its membership includes no sinners, but because it has inspired and instructed world Baptists in their intention to be Biblical Christian witnesses to our Savior Jesus Christ.

6. As Southern Baptists ourselves, we have been inspired and instructed in the past by our brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we have worked in the BWA. We have not always agreed, but we have tried to speak "the truth in love."

7. The SBC withdrawal from BWA membership does not require any individual or church, or Baptist association to sever that Christian relation to the BWA. We do not counsel any individual or church to withdraw from the SBC.”

McCall served as president of the BWA from 1980 to 1985. During his tenure, he retired from Southern Seminary, which soon found much more conservative leadership. In 1990, McCall joined several other SBC notables to form the Baptist Cooperative Missions Program (BPMP), an alternative channel of fundings for the Southern Baptist ministries. According to the Baptist Press, the BCMP “transferred its resources to the CBF…soon after its formation.”

Grady Cothen, one of the co-founders of the BCMP and former president of the Baptist Sunday School Board (now called Lifeway), was among those present at the Atlanta meeting.

Others in attendance included: Lloyd Elder, former President of the Sunday School Board; SBC state executive Jere Allen (Washington, DC), Charles Barnes (Maryland), Bill Causey (Mississippi), James Griffith (Georgia), Jack Lowndes (New York), Don Widemon (Missouri); former Women’s Missionary Union Executives Alma Hunt, Carolyn Crumpler, Dellanna O'Brien, Catherine Allen and Lee Allen; former leader of SBC Relations to Black Churches Emmanuel McCall; former vice president of the International Mission Board Bill O' Brien; Atlanta area pastors Truett Gannon, David Sapp, Bill Self and Craig Sherouse; and BWA staffer Denton Lotz and Ian Chapman.

According to the BWA, “Former SBC seminary presidents and executives of various organizations also expressed a desire to come but the change in date prevented their coming. The participants agreed to endorse a written statement in support of the BWA. Former leaders will be invited to sign the document to indicate their support and affirmation of the BWA.”