New association will be autonomous body
___By Mark Wingfield
___DALLAS--Advocates for the new Baptist Association of the Southwest have agreed the proposed interstate association will be an autonomous body rather than a chapter of any national organization such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
___During an organizational meeting at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas Sept. 16-17, about 40 participants "wrestled" with the question of what the new association will be, said George Mason, pastor at Wilshire.
___Participants from Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana ultimately decided they should form an association that will be free to relate to other autonomous Baptist organizations as it chooses, Mason said.
___"We don't know what other bodies will do," he added. "But we decided we can say what we want. We need such an organization for the missional purposes of our churches."
___That does not mean churches affiliating with the Baptist Association of the Southwest will abandon relationships with existing local associations, Mason said, explaining that his church, for example, will not leave Dallas Baptist Association in order to join the new association.
___Some Baptist leaders have criticized the proposed association because it attempts to unite churches not only across city and county lines but across state lines. The Baptist General Convention of Texas State Missions Commission has requested that a committee be appointed to study the formation of new associations, largely in response to the Baptist Association of the Southwest and a proposed new association of Hispanic churches.
___Yet Mason said those working to form the new non-geographic association see the definition of "local" taking on a new meaning that must be acknowledged.
___"Local will be redefined as regional," he said.
___Most current Baptist associations in Texas were formed at a time when travel even between adjoining counties was much more difficult than today, he explained. "In a day when you have Southwest Airlines and can go to any Wright Amendment location within a day's travel, what does 'local' mean? Local can now be regional."
___The Wright Amendment is the federal law that allows Southwest Airlines to operate flights out of Dallas Love Field to adjoining states. Southwest Airlines, based at Love Field, operates multiple daily flights between major Texas cities, as well as frequent service to Oklahoma City, Tulsa and New Orleans.
___This redefinition of local allows churches to group themselves into associations built along more specific core values, Mason suggested, listing the authority of Scripture, priesthood of believers and religious liberty as a few examples of such core values.
___Formation of the Baptist Association of the Southwest is not directly related to a proposal put forward by Baylor University Chancellor Herbert Reynolds last November that the BGCT become a Baptist Convention of the Americas, Mason said.
___"The truth is it's on the same trail, but it's not a deliberate attempt to pave the way for that," he said. "We are responding to a very pressing need our churches feel to be in relationship with one another."
___There has been no conversation between Reynolds and creators of the Baptist Association of the Southwest about joining the two ideas, he said.
___However, "if the BGCT were to move forward with the Reynolds plan, we will have created a model that could make that plan easier to carry out," Mason said.
___Observers also should not confuse the Baptist Association of the Southwest with existing groups such as Texas Baptists Committed, Mason urged. "Texas Baptists Committed is a very clear political organization. The Baptist Association of the Southwest will be a missionary organization."
___Organizers of the new association will reconvene at Wilshire in late February to finalize official documents such as a constitution and bylaws. Then the association will hold its constitutional meeting March 31-April 1 at Wilshire.
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