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Southern Baptists to Choose New Leader


Southern Baptists will gather in St. Louis for their annual meeting Tuesday and Wednesday to select a new president and make plans for initiatives related to the family and evangelism.

The only announced nominee to lead the 16-million-member religion is Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. If elected, he would succeed James Merritt, a pastor from Snellville, Ga., who has served two one-year terms as president of the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 delegates are expected to attend, said Bill Merrell, spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.

They will hear of a new initiative called "Empowering Kingdom Growth," which will involve a focus on "the vision of God for the whole world," Merrell said. It will call Baptists to personal holiness and include evangelism and other efforts to work with like-minded Christians.

"The aim of it ... is to help us lift our eyes up so we're not just looking at our church or our own denomination, but at what God is doing in the world," Merrell said.

They also will be updated on the work of the Council on Family Life, which hopes to counter increasing rates of divorce.

As at other recent conventions, Soulforce, an interdenominational pro-gay group, plans a demonstration to highlight criticisms of gays by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a Southern Baptist known for his support of posting the Ten Commandments in courtrooms.

The group would like Merritt to address them outside the convention hall, but Merrell said that's unlikely. He said Southern Baptists in general do not agree with Soulforce's stances.

"We regret that people such as those in Soulforce have so far departed from the teachings of Scripture that they have called blessed what God calls cursed and an abomination," he said.

Resolutions Committee Chairman Frank Harber, a pastor from Colleyville, Texas, said proposed resolutions that may be considered at the meeting include several on the Middle East and one supporting Sept. 11 rescue workers.

The Southern Baptists expect to hear from a range of well-known evangelicals, including Christian aid workers Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, who were imprisoned last year in Afghanistan, and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright.

As for complaints, officials of the denomination say they're comfortable with their policies and believe most Southern Baptists are too.

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