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Moderate So. Baptists Huddle to Map Strategy

September 17, 1988|Associated Press

NEW YORK — Restraint tempered desperate words at a strategy session of Southern Baptist moderates about "where we go" in a denomination now run by fundamentalists.

"We are Baptists in a denomination that has stopped being Baptist," said Kirby Godsey, president of Mercer University in Macon, Ga.

The 900 moderate leaders of the coalition, the Southern Baptist Alliance, made no move at their meeting in Nashville, Tenn., last weekend to quit the 14.7-million-member denomination, although some speculated that it eventually could happen.

For the time being, however, participants took lesser measures, launching such independent projects as alternative Sunday school lessons and theological education. They keenly lamented the control achieved by fundamentalists over the denomination, the country's largest Protestant body.

It "is wounded and just may be mortally wounded," said the Rev. Randall Lolley of Raleigh, N.C.

The Rev. Tom Grace of St. John's Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., said, "We now exist in a state of grief, grief over loss of our mother denomination."

Its historic principles "are in eclipse," Godsey said. "In the midst of these dreadful and frightening shadows of denominational eclipse we huddle together to find reassurance and light enough to sustain us."

The three-day meeting was called after fundamentalists last June won denominational rule for the 10th straight year. The fundamentalists insist on a literal view of the Bible as "inerrant"--free of error historically, scientifically and religiously. Moderates allow for diverse interpretations.

The fundamentalist wing gradually has gained sway over church institutions through the appointive powers of a succession of fundamentalist presidents, the latest being the Rev. Jerry Vines of Jacksonville, Fla.

Sizing up the present status of moderates, the Rev. Cecil Sherman of Ft. Worth, Tex., told the Nashville meeting, "We have been put out of the house. The game goes on, but we don't get to play."

The alliance has 36,460 members, including individuals and member churches, in 38 states.

Its board voted to publish independent adult Sunday school lessons beginning in January for those dissatisfied with materials put out by the denominational Sunday School Board.

The alliance also decided to support a House of Baptist Studies at Duke University, a Methodist institution in Durham, N.C., and a divinity school at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, N.C.

The moderates allotted $30,000 to support various causes purportedly spurned by the administration, such as peacemaking, housing for the poor and women in ministry.

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