September 1, 1999

Reconciliation Forum sets
Oct. 1 meeting to plan future

___By Mark Wingfield
___Managing Editor
___Leaders of the Reconciliation Forum do not intend to form a third political group among Texas Baptists, but they do face a crossroads that could determine what their movement will become, organizers said in a recent interview.
___A statewide meeting of the Reconciliation Forum has been scheduled for Oct. 1 at First Baptist Church of Irving from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. At this meeting, participants will discuss what lies ahead and how their desire to bring reconciliation between Baptist moderates and conservatives should proceed.
___The Reconciliation Forum is a loose-knit group of centrists, moderates and conservatives that has held regional and statewide dialogue sessions over the past year. The group's stated goal has been to bring about personal reconciliation between individuals who have become estranged through 20 years of denominational fighting. The group has no officers, no budget, no constitution.
___ Some leaders of both moderate and conservative groups within Texas have dismissed the effort as either unrealistic or politically motivated.
___Conservatives who recently split away from the Baptist General Convention of Texas to form the new Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, for example, have seen the Reconciliation Forum as a futile effort to bring the two state groups back together. Moderates who support Texas Baptists Committed, on the other hand, have seen the Reconciliation Forum as either a naive or stealth effort to bring the BGCT in line with the conservative-dominated Southern Baptist Convention.
___At least one moderate leader has been widely quoted across the state as calling the Reconciliation Forum the "Back-to-Egypt Committee," a reference to the Hebrews of Old Testament times who longed to go back to slavery in Egypt rather than wander the wilderness in search of the Promised Land.
___Neither of these perceptions is accurate, five leaders of the reconciliation movement contended in a recent interview.
___Leaders interviewed were Benny Slack, pastor of First Baptist Church of Gainesville and convener of the forum; D.L. Lowrie, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lubbock; Paul Stripling, director of missions for Waco Baptist Association; Jim Puckett, retired pastor of First Baptist Church of McKinney; and James Leo Garrett, theology professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.
___"This is not a political movement at all," Stripling insisted.
___"Because of my involvement in reconciliation, some have wanted me to mount a new political movement," admitted Slack. "My answer has been, 'We've had enough political activity.'"
___What should worry denominational loyalists more than a third political group, these Texans asserted, is the growing apathy among many pastors and lay leaders toward any form of denominational life.
___"Laymen and pastors alike are weary of the politics of both the SBC and BGCT," Slack said. "People are sick of all the mailings and of the party caucusing going on before and during our annual meetings. This political anxiety and animosity has got to be replaced with a move to Christ and his cross. Until we are right with God and one another, we have no business doing God's business in convention work."
___The Reconciliation Forum's goal is not to bring the BGCT and SBC back fully together again nor to bring the BGCT and Southern Baptists of Texas back together again, the leaders declared.
___"Truth does not lie on either side of this issue," Lowrie said.
___"We don't anticipate everyone coming to the middle," added Stripling. "We can have diversity."
___"We're not asking people to change their convictions," said Puckett. "We're asking them to seek personal reconciliation."
___The starting point for such reconciliation is to honor truth, Lowrie insisted. "It would be a big step forward if we didn't change our convictions ... but we'd honor truth.
___"In Texas, I've seen good men maligned and browbeaten for political purposes. ... We can at least go back to the day when a man runs for president alongside five or six or seven others and they all leave as friends."
___"God is at work on both sides," said Lowrie. "He's just got one flock, and he's trying to get them all in one fold."
___However, it is statements such as these that cause both moderate and conservative leaders to look upon the Reconciliation Forum with curiosity.
___Slack acknowledged this problem and illustrated it by declaring his conviction that "Daniel Vestal, Paige Patterson and Russell Dilday are all good and godly men."
___Devout moderates and conservatives alike would take exception with such a statement, he admitted, noting that Vestal and Dilday are revered by moderates and disdained by conservatives, while the opposite is true of Patterson.
___Somehow, Baptists need to be allowed to see the good in both the conservative and moderate movements and stake out a position somewhere in the middle without having to bow to a political party of either side, the reconciliation leaders said.
___Garrett illustrated this point by noting that Baptist conservatives tend to talk almost exclusively about authority as an overriding principle, while Baptist moderates tend to talk about freedom above all else.
___"Baptists at their best have kept those balanced," he asserted.


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