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Southern Baptists Once More Elect Fundamentalist Pastor as President

June 11, 1986|JOHN DART | Times Religion Writer

ATLANTA — Southern Baptists elected a fundamentalist pastor as their president for the eighth straight year Tuesday, virtually assuring a takeover by doctrinaire conservatives of seminaries and other agencies in the largest U.S. Protestant denomination.

The Rev. Adrian Rogers, a Memphis, Tenn., pastor, received 21,201 votes (54.2%) to 17,898 (45.8%) for the moderate-conservative candidate, the Rev. Winfred Moore of Amarillo, Tex. It was Rogers, 54, who started the campaign to rid the denomination of alleged liberal influences when he served as president in 1979.

"Messengers" from churches of the 14.4-million-member denomination fell about 5,000 short of last year's record registration of more than 45,000, but the pre-voting rhetoric was equal in intensity over the stakes involved.

Hours before the balloting, outgoing President Charles Stanley of Atlanta said that Southern Baptists will suffer just as Israelites did during their long quest for the Promised Land if messengers do not "continue in the direction God has set us in."

Stanley concluded, to prolonged applause, that the messengers had the "choice of supernatural opportunity and blessings or the possibility of barrenness because we didn't have the courage to go on." Fundamentalists already have 50% representation on all seminary and agency boards, according to Paul Pressler, a Texas appeals court judge and one of the principal architects of the fundamentalist efforts.

Moderate leader Bill Sherman, a Nashville pastor, said that some boards already have a fundamentalist majority but that the appointees do not always vote as predicted.

Fundamentalist leaders in the evangelical denomination have organized effectively to elect presidents who have made appointments of like-minded conservatives to committees and boards of Southern Baptist agencies and seminaries.

Moderate messengers failed in their efforts to make substitutions from the floor for nominees to a committee that will fill upcoming board vacancies.

Rogers told a post-election news conference that he will appoint only "the best Baptists" to agency boards, without regard to quotas of conservatives or moderates.

He said he believes that 90% of Southern Baptists are Christians who have no doubts about the accuracy of the Bible. "Those who teach ought to reflect what the vast majority of Southern Baptists believe," he said.

The Rev. Charles Fuller of Roanoke, Va., head of a broadly based Peace Committee created a year ago, warned that "there is no way in which we can finally come to peace without having some casualties," implying that some officials of denomination agencies or professors of seminaries may be removed.

When outside limits are drawn for allowable diversity in beliefs, "some people who have been at the heart of the controversy will have to be dealt with," Fuller said.

The avowed fundamentalist cause proclaims in no uncertain terms an error-free, literally interpreted Bible. The fundamentalists charge that some seminaries teach or tolerate liberal biblical interpretation.

At a forum of moderates Monday, Norman Cavender, a Claxton, Ga., layman, asserted that Baptists will continue to follow their long tradition of freedom to interpret Scripture for themselves, "no matter how many would-be Baptist priests or Baptist popes try to stop us."

Conservative Theology

A report from the Peace Committee approved the faithfulness to conservative Biblical interpretations at three Southern Baptist seminaries, including Golden Gate Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., and Southwestern in Fort Worth, Tex., the world's largest, but said there are questions about three others.

For example, the Rev. Bill Crews, a Riverside, Calif., pastor and member of the Peace Committee, said there are still "tensions" to resolve at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where Crews led a subcommittee's investigation.

"Where the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation seems to be in opposition to Scripture," Crews said, "most Southern Baptists would stay with (a literal reading) of Scripture. Southern Seminary would put more faith in their discoveries."

Greetings From Reagan

Greetings to the annual meeting from President Reagan, a customary White House gesture to large conventions, struck one messenger at a floor microphone as "ill-timed and hostile" when it was read immediately after the results for president were announced.

President Reagan said in the letter, dated Monday, that liberalism has been thrown on the defensive in the country. "So many of the proud liberal myths about man's self-sufficiency, government's omniscience and our ability to do everything without God have shriveled up. . . . The great basic truths about God and family and country have emerged stronger than ever."

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