Southern Baptist president Frank Page is speaking to fellow Baptists across the country with a resolve to pull together a denomination that has been wracked with divisions.
Page is scheduled to open the Florida Baptist State Convention's annual meeting in November, when Baptists hope to talk about what unites rather than divides them.
"There are forces at work today to try to divide and distract Baptists from our primary mission. We cannot allow methodological differences, generational gaps, or stylistic preferences to divide us," said state convention president Willy Rice, according to Florida Baptist Witness. "We need each other and we truly are better when we are together."
The theme of the Nov. 12-13 meeting is "We Are Better Together."
Page, who was elected in June to a second term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was in the Tulsa, Okla., area on Sunday addressing local Southern Baptists who don't have the greatest reputation, according to Page.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Tulsa Metro Association of Baptist Churches, Page acknowledged factions within the Southern Baptist Convention who aren't even talking to each other.
"The groups that are so deeply divided within our convention ... have made little effort to come together," said Page, according to Tulsa World. "And those divisions are so deep that some of the groups will not even talk to each other. And that greatly disturbs me and gives me great caution about our future."
Moreover, Southern Baptists do not have the greatest image, Page indicated.
"There's a lot of negativity out there toward religious groups, and certainly toward our group, because we've apparently come across as very legalistic and mean-spirited, and I think that's sometimes accurate, because sometimes we've acted that way," said Page, according to the local newspaper.
But he also highlighted the media's role in their negative image.
"Many times, however, it's a caricature that has been promoted by certain media groups who . . . would rather us not be seen in a positive light," he said.
That negative light is what thousands of other Baptists, labeled as moderate or progressive, are trying to counter. Some 20,000 Baptists are expected to convene in January for the New Baptist Covenant Celebration to improve their image and demonstrate Baptist unity around social concerns such as poverty. The new push is spearheaded by former president Jimmy Carter and organized under the umbrella of the North American Baptist Fellowship.
For the most part, Southern Baptist leaders have chosen to sit out this one, skeptical of whether the effort is really about the gospel. Critics claim the covenant has political overtones, considering the speaker list – that includes former president Bill Clinton and former vice president Al Gore – and the date, which falls on the presidential election year.
While Page hopes participants of the covenant will seek to promote a biblical mandate, he said he will not be a part of any leftwing liberal agenda.
And while moderate Baptists have indicated the negative image was created by the media spotlight on conservative Baptists, who have been criticized as narrow-minded, Page has highlighted the millions of dollars of contributions, domestic and overseas relief work, and spreading of the Gospel message the denomination has done.
The reality, Page said, is most Southern Baptists are loving, caring people. The SBC leader says Baptists are most known for what they're against and not what they are for and thus Baptists need to do a better job of "presenting reality."
"We want to tell you that we are for a life-changing message of Christ," he highlighted in Tulsa.
Expressing optimism, Page said he sees "a growing resolve that we're going to pull together, and that we're going to do what it takes to win this world to Christ."