March 8, 2000

Conservative pastors meet at
Prestonwood amid media flurry

___By Mark Wingfield
___Managing Editor
___PLANO--Despite extensive media coverage, no formal action resulted from the meeting of about two dozen Texas Baptist pastors last week at Prestonwood Baptist Church to discuss their future relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
___Secular media outlets across North Texas reported that the gathering would draw up to 300 pastors or that it was a meeting of Prestonwood members to vote to leave the BGCT. Neither report was true.
___In reality, fewer than 30 pastors attended the by-invitation-only meeting hosted by Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham; Claude Thomas, pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless and chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee; and Ed Young, former SBC president and pastor of Second Baptist Church of Houston.
___"We have no statement, no proposal or pronouncement," Graham explained at the conclusion of the three-and-a-half hour meeting. Rather, he described the meeting as a time of prayer and discussion about the options available to Texas Baptist churches that want to fully support the SBC and believe the BGCT is distancing itself from the national convention.
___The small group of pastors included Stan Coffey, pastor of San Jacinto Baptist Church in Amarillo and president of the new Southern Baptists of Texas Convention formed in opposition to the BGCT. No representative of the BGCT was invited to attend, even though James Semple, director of the BGCT's State Missions Commission, called the church the morning of the meeting and volunteered to come hear the concerns of the pastors.
___"We talked about what we believe matters most--world evangelization and missions in Texas," Graham explained after the meeting. "The common thread was support of the Southern Baptist Convention. As Southern Baptists living and ministering in Texas, how do we go about reaching our state?"
___Asked if the group thought the BGCT was not an effective means of reaching Texas with the gospel, Graham responded that he believes there are "some philosophical differences about how we do church and missions."
___But the primary concern, he reiterated, is that the BGCT is not supportive enough of the SBC and its current conservative leadership, put in place during a 20-year battle for control of the denomination.
___The SBC and its agencies and institutions are experiencing "success, success, success" in missions and evangelism, and the BGCT does not promote and highlight these successes, he said.
___Graham is scheduled to nominate Georgia pastor James Merritt for the SBC's presidency during the annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., in June. Graham also has been rumored as a future presidential candidate.
___Graham expressed displeasure with an earlier statement by BGCT President Clyde Glazener that the BGCT "won't be controlled by the SBC."
___"I ask, what convention in all the world is controlled by the SBC?" Graham responded. "There's no other state convention saying this."
___The pastors at the meeting--most of whom were unidentified and unavailable for comment--also shared concerns about the BGCT becoming a refuge for churches from outside Texas, Graham said.
___That issue also was cited by Thomas, who said he does not favor inviting "disenfranchised churches from other states" into the BGCT.
___BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade said since neither he nor any other BGCT leader was invited to the Prestonwood meeting, he could not comment on the issues raised there.
___"We are open to discuss any matter of concern with any church affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and to address those concerns as openly and honestly as possible," Wade said. "I am sure that before any church would decide to move away from the BGCT, they would want to have representatives from the convention visit with them and their churches."
___His hope is that no churches will leave the BGCT but that all will remain an active part of the convention's mission to proclaim the gospel across the state, he said.
___"When a church leaves, it turns its back on the ministries which we mutually support--child care homes, facilities for the elderly, hospitals, universities and academies, as well as efforts to reach and better the lives of thousands of Texans," he said. "The job is so big it requires the best efforts of us all."
___Young admitted he and his church have not been involved much in the BGCT or its statewide ministries. In fact, last year, Second Baptist Church gave no money to the Cooperative Program through the BGCT, according to the BGCT's published annual report. The mega-church did give $7,400 in designated funds.
___He came to the Prestonwood meeting, though, because he is interested in knowing more about reaching Texas with the gospel, he said.
___However, Young would not commit himself to the new Southern Baptists of Texas Convention any more than he committed to supporting the BGCT. "I'm just going to do my work and designate straight to the SBC," he said.
___But he did say that he and other conservative pastors feel "disenfranchised from the General Baptist Convention of Texas."
___"I hope the tent will broaden a bit," he said, recasting a famous line uttered in the 1980s by fellow Houston pastor John Bisagno, who at the time said conservatives would "broaden the tent" to allow more participation by moderates.
___Graham said Prestonwood has not made any final decisions about its state convention affiliations. A study committee is working on the matter and should report to the church's deacons this spring, he said.
___Though Prestonwood has the largest membership of any Baptist church in Texas, it traditionally has not been one of the convention's largest financial supporters. Last year, for example, the 15,000-member church with a $23 million budget gave a total of $12,575 through the BGCT. Of that amount, the BGCT received $6,050 for Texas ministries and the SBC Cooperative Program received $4,858.
___First Baptist Church of Euless, meanwhile, recently completed a study of its state convention relationships and voted to dually align with the BGCT and the new Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Thomas said he couldn't remember how the church's missions giving would be divided between the two state conventions.
___Last year, First Baptist Church of Euless gave a total of $396,445 through the BGCT. Of that amount, $84,649 went to BGCT ministries, $200,083 went to the SBC and the remainder went to designated offerings.

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