Battle that changed SBC had
deep roots in Texas on both sides
___By Mark Wingfield
___Did the "conservative resurgence" that reshaped the Southern Baptist Convention merely originate in Texas because the 1979 SBC annual meeting was held in Houston, or did the movement have its impetus in Texas Baptist life?
___Historians and longtime Texans see various answers to that question, but they generally agree that Texas created a unique breeding ground for the kind of leadership needed to pull off such a massive political and theological movement.
___"The fact that the major architects of the movement, Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler, and perhaps one of the main spiritual leaders, W.A. Criswell, were Texans would certainly give credence to the view that Texas was the seedbed for this," said Jesse Fletcher, retired president of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and author of the SBC's sesquicentennial history.
___On the other hand, "to say that Texans pulled it off by themselves would be erroneous also," Fletcher added. "But the organizing genius was born down here. You can't back too far away from Patterson, Pressler and Criswell as the three high-profile personalities in the early stages."
___Both Pressler and Patterson have deep roots in Texas Baptist life.
___Patterson is the son of T.A. Patterson, executive secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Texas from 1961 to 1973.
___Pressler's paternal grandfather and great-grandfather both were active in Texas Baptist life, with his great-grandfather serving as a vice president of the BGCT and his grandfather serving as a trustee of Baylor University. His maternal grandparents also were deeply engaged in Texas Baptist life, the most notable being Hosea Garrett, who served as chairman of Baylor's board for 38 years.
___By some accounts, it was Pressler's concerns about what had happened to the Baylor
religion department by the 1960s and '70s that sparked his determination to make changes in the Baptist bureaucracy.
|PAUL PRESSLER is interviewed during an SBC annual meeting.
___In his new book about the SBC controversy, "A Hill On Which to Die," Pressler cites concerns about "liberal" theology being taught at Baylor.
___"In 1977, five young people who had been in the youth group Nancy and I had led were freshmen at Baylor ...," Pressler writes. "They called me one day and said that they were confused about what to believe and wanted me to visit them in Waco. They said that the things we taught them and the things that the Bible says were different from the things that their Baylor religion professors were teaching them."
___Pressler visited the students in Waco, read through their textbooks and determined Baylor was teaching "higher critical" theology, which he had run into as a student at Princeton and found to be out of line with his understanding of the Bible.
___"Driving back to Houston that night from Waco, I promised God I would not sit back any longer. I would work to see our convention turned around, and I was determined to see it restored to teaching that the Bible is truly God's word," Pressler writes.
___Ironically, Pressler directed his crusade to stamp out liberalism at the SBC, a national body which has no control over Baylor, which is affiliated with the BGCT, a statewide body.
___The SBC directly controls only its six seminaries. And the state conventions are autonomous from the national convention. Nowhere has this distinction been more evident than in Texas.
___And it is an essential thing to understand if one is to grasp the Texas roots and Texas response to the conservative movement in the SBC, said native Texan Bill Leonard, a Baptist historian who now serves as dean of the Wake Forest University divinity school .
___"I tend to distinguish between the SBC connections, particularly represented by Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, and the Texas Baptist connections, represented through Baylor," Leonard said. "The Texas Southern Baptist ethos cannot be understood apart from Southwestern and their willingness to play the game politically in the SBC.
___"The state convention never paid any attention to the fundamentalists in the state," he said. "They were able to exercise their activity in the larger convention maybe using certain Texas strategies and by playing to a conservatism Southwestern always had played to."
___But what worked on the national level didn't work at home, he said. "There was a conservatism in Texas that was non-negotiable. Everybody knew the leaders there were not really liberals."
___To understand the dichotomy between the Texas Baptist conservatism and the kind of conservatism that now rules in the SBC you must remember J. Frank Norris, Leonard said. Norris, who was pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth from 1909 to 1952, is considered the pre-eminent Texas fundamentalist. His fiery rhetoric and inflammatory charges of liberalism at Southwestern Seminary, Baylor and the BGCT wreaked havoc in both the state and national conventions.
___"Southwestern, in reacting against Norris, linked itself more closely to the national convention than to the state convention," Leonard said. "In doing that, they sowed the seeds of the future. Baylor cast its lot with the BGCT; Southwestern cast its lot with the SBC."
___This distinction became pivotal in 1979, when the Pressler-Patterson coalition launched its effort to reform the SBC, Leonard said. The conservative reformers, though based in Texas, could not produce the same results in Texas as they did on the national level.
___"They could not because there was this streak in Texas which remembered Norris and which also was more Texas Baptist than Southern Baptist," he added. "Virginia and Texas were the two states in the old SBC where people most understood themselves in terms of a state identity rather than a national identity."
___Baylor's leaders understood this distinction and played to it, Leonard said. "When it came time to choose, Baylor anticipated that the majority of Texas Baptists would choose Texas identity over national SBC identity. In that sense, Baylor understood more about the Texas mentality than Southwestern. Baylor anticipated the future in Texas in a way Southwestern didn't or couldn't."
___Some of these sentiments are echoed by Bill Pinson, executive director of the BGCT since 1983.
___"When the organized political effort in the SBC began in 1979, Texas Baptists were as they had always been--committed to the Bible as their authority, theologically conservative and focused on missions and evangelism," Pinson said.
___"Although in 1979 some or even many Texas Baptists may have viewed certain Southern Baptists and some SBC seminaries in the East as 'liberal,' most did not favor imposing creedal views or requiring conformity of belief on theological and social issues," he said. "Thus the call of the political leaders of the so-called 'conservative resurgence' seemed either unnecessary or dangerous to many Texas Baptists.
___"The secular political activity, the character assassination, the exclusion from positions of leadership of any but those who were part of the cause, and the firing or forcing from office of persons who did not agree with their political agenda offended and even enraged many Texas Baptists."
___Beyond Pressler, Patterson and Criswell, Texas produced many of the other key players on both sides of the SBC controversy. Three other Texans were elected to the SBC presidency on the conservative ticket: Jimmy Draper, Morris Chapman and Ed Young. Several other Texans were among the unsuccessful presidential candidates from 1979 to 1990: Robert Naylor, Abner McCall, James Pleitz, Richard Jackson, Winfred Moore and Daniel Vestal.
___Other Texas pastors and laymen also became prominent in the struggle, including John Baugh, a corporate executive from Houston who had crossed paths with Pressler in local church conflicts long before most Southern Baptist knew either man's name. Baugh became a staunch supporter of the moderate cause and in many ways was Pressler's counterweight in devoting time, energy and money toward his cause.
___These two men first met in 1961 at Second Baptist Church of Houston, where Baugh and his wife, Eula Mae, were directors of the college department and Pressler and his wife, Nancy, became teachers in the college department.
___After a period of several years, the Presslers were removed as Sunday school teachers. In his book, Pressler cites the reason as the disapproval of church leaders regarding his public stand in the church against the Ralph Elliott Broadman commentary on "Genesis." Baugh cites others reasons, including the fact that the Presslers were working with a small Presbyterian church and taking students from Second Baptist.
___Pressler charges in his book that the Baughs and a handful of other people "ran the church" and he raised their ire by protesting the Elliott commentary in a church business meeting.
___Pressler's own assessment of his expulsion as a Sunday school teacher offers an ironic foreshadowing of accusations that eventually would be made against him and the conservative movement in the SBC
___"What had happened seemed obvious to me," he writes. "I believe the damage control was to remove 'unsafe people' from leadership. Authority was exerted to remove anything that could cause trouble or create dissension."
___Twelve years later, the conservative movement in the SBC would be launched in the same city where this church fight occurred. And through the course of the next 20 years, no other laymen would devote more time and money to the battle than Paul Pressler and John Baugh.___
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