Saturday, July 29, 2017

Whither Texas Baptists . . . after Texas Baptists Committed?
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

In the 1990s, David Currie and Texas Baptists Committed fought tooth-and-nail to keep Texas Baptists free to be faithful. As the Fundamentalists, in the late 1980s, neared their goal of achieving full control of the Southern Baptist Convention, they set their sights on the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) . . . because it was far and away the largest state convention, owning the most assets and institutions, the most prized of which was . . . Baylor University. More than anything, Paul Pressler wanted control of Baylor.

But he didn’t get it.

To gain control of the BGCT, they used the same strategy that had been so successful in the SBC . . . go after the presidency and its appointive powers . . . win the presidency enough years consecutively to place a majority of people on all convention boards and committees who have pledged their loyalty to your cause, and the BGCT will be yours.

In the 1980s, they had caught SBC leadership napping. SBC leaders trusted the people’s wisdom to see through the lies told by Fundamentalists, to resist their use of secular political tactics, and to hold to the Baptist principles that they were so blatantly violating.

Texas Baptist leadership learned from the mistakes of their SBC colleagues. They determined that, to keep Texas Baptists free, they would need to organize, educate, and fight. If Fundamentalists expected to catch Texas Baptist leadership napping, they were in for a rude awakening.

Led by David Currie, Texas Baptists Committed organized the state. David traveled the state, speaking to churches, educating Texas Baptists on what was at stake, and mobilizing them to vote for Moderate candidates at the BGCT Annual Meeting.

As for Baylor, President Herbert Reynolds and the Board of Regents voted for freedom and a measure of independence from the BGCT, ensuring that – if Fundamentalists were successful in taking control of the BGCT – Baylor would nevertheless be saved.

In 1998, after losing election after election, the Fundamentalists gave up their efforts to win the BGCT presidency and formed the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC). Their strategy shifted from controlling the BGCT to luring BGCT churches to leave the BGCT & join the SBTC. That has been their strategy ever since . . . though Paige Patterson’s overtures to David Hardage and the BGCT in 2015 cause me to question whether there is a new strategy of infiltration & influence toward current BGCT leadership.

The BGCT executive director position has always been a balancing act . . . balancing various constituencies and priorities. It has been even moreso since 1990. There is a spectrum along which BGCT-affiliated churches reside, a spectrum that is not all that balanced. Though the BGCT was kept out of Fundamentalist hands, and BGCT churches by-and-large hewed to Baptist principles of freedom, most BGCT churches – and the people in their pews – continue to support the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) – which was formed in 1991 by Moderates who no longer had a home in the SBC – is still supported by very few, relatively speaking, BGCT-affiliated churches. Let’s be honest – most Texas Baptists consider CBF “liberal.” Ironically, this perception of “liberalism” (the same accusation that Fundamentalists leveled against SBC seminary professors in the 1970s & 1980s) is based, essentially, on CBF’s faithful recognition of the freedom inherent in the Baptist distinctives of Bible freedom, soul freedom, church freedom, and religious freedom, as described so cogently by Walter B. Shurden in his book, The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms (1993, Smyth & Helwys Publishing). (And fragile they are!)

Fundamentalists will say that “the Controversy” was an argument over correct doctrine. Nothing could be further from the truth. We Moderates did not seek to control how Fundamentalists interpret the Bible. We sought to focus on those things that unite us as Baptists rather than on those that divide us . . . first and foremost, our love for Jesus and our desire to share Him with a hurting world . . . our worship of a gracious Father who created and sustains us . . . and our need for the work of the Holy Spirit within us to motivate, guide, and comfort us.

We Moderates recognized that none of us – Moderate or Fundamentalist – has a monopoly on God’s truth. We are all imperfect creatures, trying our best to understand God’s Word – both the Word made flesh and the written Word – and the call of that Word upon our lives. As my Daddy told me many times, “we should never presume to know the mind of God.”
Therefore, we can cooperate with each other in humility, cooperating as sisters and brothers, to share Christ. Missions have unified Baptists from our earliest days.

But Fundamentalists said no, you must agree to our interpretation of certain Scriptures and even our description of Scripture (“inerrant”), or else we don’t want to have anything to do with you.

Moderates didn’t leave voluntarily . . . we were told to leave.

In my tenure as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed (January 2011-July 2017), our focus has been on helping churches as they search for a pastor. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) has an effective network, just as their Fundamentalist forefathers had in the 1980s. When a church loses a pastor, the SBTC finds it out quickly and offers an interim pastor and proposes candidates for pastor. 

We’ve heard this story from so many corners that it appears to be typical – that when an SBTC candidate goes before a search committee, he (always he) tells the search committee he is a servant pastor, that he has no political agenda, and so forth. Then, when he is called as pastor, it isn’t long before he fires anyone on the staff who dares disagree with his interpretation of scripture. He soon begins to impose his will on the church and lead it away from the BGCT by slandering the BGCT. That church inevitably winds up in conflict and dissension, a broken fellowship that takes years to repair and, in many cases, is broken beyond repair.

At TBC, my priority has been to develop our own network – which we did in 2014, with the TBC Advisory Network – of pastors and laity who would keep us informed of churches going pastorless, a network of people to whom we could turn with questions from search committees about the qualifications and track records of prospective pastors, and a network that would keep us supplied with resumes of reliable prospective pastors. 

Unfortunately, strapped for cash, TBC has operated with only one executive staff member – me. That has handicapped us in terms of getting the word out to churches. Also, our TBC Advisory Network didn’t respond to my requests for information as I had hoped they would. Year after year, I get about four or five calls a year from search committees asking for my help. That doesn’t make a dent in Texas. So we haven’t had the impact I had hoped we would.

The SBTC continues to steal churches.

But that isn’t my only concern. Many of us are disturbed by the rightward, inward turn of the BGCT under David Hardage’s leadership. When David was announced as executive director in January 2012, he immediately announced that the BGCT’s policy of regarding homosexual behavior as sinful would remain in place. I guess I understand why he felt that was necessary – because the SBTC had lied repeatedly about the BGCT’s stance on this issue.

Nevertheless, in May 2015, I raised this issue with him, following a warning letter he had sent to churches and pastors. My point to David was that churches were increasingly having to wrestle with how to minister to the gay people in their congregation and community, and his hard-line stance toward pastors and churches was making their task more difficult. I asked him, “Couldn’t you just not make an issue of it? Just recognize the autonomy of the local church and let them minister to these people in the way they feel led of the Holy Spirit.” David replied, “I don’t know.”

I thought his reply was more encouraging than a “no.” Then came 2016 and his letter to Wilshire Baptist Church of Dallas and First Baptist Church of Austin. At our TBC Breakfast the following week, David didn’t attend, but Steve Vernon, BGCT associate executive director, did. In my remarks, I called Hardage’s action a violation of local church autonomy. Later that morning, the convention voted – narrowly – to affirm his stance. In February, the BGCT Executive Board made it official – Wilshire, FBC Austin, and Lake Shore in Waco were out.

So a lot of us are concerned that the BGCT is focusing on division rather than unity, exclusion rather than inclusion. Not exactly the spirit I see in Jesus Christ.

David Hardage embraces Paige Patterson and gives the back of his hand to Bill Jones, George Mason, Griff Martin, and Kyndall Rae Rothaus.

My only encouragement is this: David Hardage is NOT the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Since I made my remarks at that November TBC Breakfast, numerous BGCT staffers have thanked me privately. Also, please note that, in my remarks that morning, my disagreement with the BGCT was prefaced by all I love about the BGCT.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas is its Hunger Offering (which Wilshire began and has now been told will not be allowed to support any longer); its Christian Life Commission; its nine wonderful universities with their great faculty and students; Buckner International; Disaster Relief . . . and I could go on. So I haven’t given up on the BGCT; I still love the BGCT . . . and miss it, because David Hardage and a majority of messengers have said they don’t want me anymore.

There will be no official “watchdog” anymore; as individuals and churches, all of us have to be watchdogs, supporting those things we love about the BGCT (those of you who are still allowed to support it), praying for it, and holding its leadership accountable for the bedrock principles . . . those "fragile freedoms" . . . on which Baptists have stood for over 400 years.

Is the BGCT becoming “SBC lite”? I hope not, I pray not.


  1. How has the BGCT made a “right inward turn” when David Hardage only affirmed the historical stance of the BGCT. This stance was confirmed by the 2016 Messengers in Waco and then formally by the Executive Board at their 2017 Board meeting. The BGCT has not moved.
    David Russell, board chair and member of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, noted resolutions approved at BGCT annual meetings in 1982, 1992, 2005 and 2009, as well as motions approved at the 2016 annual meeting and at Executive Board meetings in 1996, 1998 and 2010 all indicate “Texas Baptists have consistently held that the Bible teaches that any sexual relationship outside the bounds of a marriage between a man and woman is sin, including same-sex sexual behavior.”
    -2/21/17 online issue of the Baptist Standard
    Who moved are churches such as Wilshire, FBC Austin, Royal Lane, Broadway, and Lake Shore moved further to the left. Where were you Bill Jones when the BGCT severed its ties with Royal Lane Baptist Church in 2010, where was your voice then? I don’t remember George Mason speaking out against the BGCT for its decision about Royal Lane, where was TBC when that happened in 2010? What did TBC say? Where were the voices of Kyndall Routhaus and Griff Martin in 2010. Why didn’t all of you make the same accusations against then Executive Director Randel Everett that you now make against David Hardage?
    In February 2017, the BGCT Executive Board as directed by the standards set by the 2016 Convention messengers in Waco voted 63-6 to declare that Wilshire, FBC Austin, and Lake Shore Waco were outside the bounds of harmonious cooperation with the BGCT due to their affirmations of LGBT lifestyles and marriages. 63-6 is hardly a narrow vote, and yes the vote did require a 2/3 majority of the Executive Board.
    You grossly overstate Hardage’s reception of Paige Patterson. Patterson asked Hardage to come and speak in a chapel service at SWBTS, which he did, and Hardage reciprocated by invited Patterson to speak one time at a BGCT employee chapel service last year. SWBTS also now allows BGCT to put its Texas Baptists Life magazine on their campus and that has been the extent of it. Yet it is Roger Paynter/Griff Martin, George Mason and Kyndall Rothaus who have led their churches away from the BGCT and demanded to be treated as special exceptions with their views of affirming homosexual marriage and ordaining LGBT ministers.
    I was a front row witness to George Mason’s shenanigans at Wilshire Baptist Church, where he campaigned for the church to change its stance, and where he did not even have the courage to call for a by-law change to affirm LGBT lifestyles and marriages, since a by-law change would have required a 2/3 majority vote of the congregation. Instead he manipulated the wording of the vote that would require a simple majority which only passed by a 61/39 margin. Hardly a strong vote of affirmation in a Baptist church, which followed an exodus of 200-300 members from Wilshire. There are plenty of Baptist groups with whom you can affiliate if you want to affirm homosexuality: Baptist Peace Fellowship, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, American Baptist Convention.

    Stan Granberry Garland, TX

    1. 1. When you write on an issue such as this, Stan, it’s customary to first put all your cards on the table, divulging any vested interests you may have in relation to the issues and personalities you discuss. Since you didn’t do that, I’ll do it for you. Anyone reading your comments should be aware that (a) you are a BGCT staffer, working for BaptistWay Press, so your defenses of the BGCT Executive Board and David Hardage need to be read with that perspective in mind; and (b) you were a member of Wilshire Baptist Church who voted in the minority on last year’s resolution and whose membership at Wilshire was thus threatened because of your position as a BGCT staffer, so your criticisms of George Mason and Wilshire should be read with that perspective in mind.

      2. It’s disingenuous of you to ask where I was in 2010, when Royal Lane was forced out of the BGCT, because you know very well where I was. I wrote a TBC blog post at that time, titled “Which beliefs are Baptist “dealbreakers”?” taking the BGCT to task for never drawing a line in the sand until after a church had crossed it. Until the vote last November, there was never an official BGCT policy that stated the conditions under which a church would be considered to be outside of “harmonious cooperation” with the BGCT. So I wrote that the BGCT needed to be honest with churches up-front so that they would know when they had crossed a line.

      In that same blog post, I lamented that Broadway and Royal Lane were gone, because “the BGCT needs churches like Broadway and Royal Lane to challenge us to discuss the hard issues . . . instead of sweeping them and their issues under the rug, we need to sweep them into a conversation that will challenge us to grapple with scripture passages whose meaning and intent depend on historical context, the audience at which they were aimed, nuances of language, and numerous other factors.”

      And you know that I wrote that, Stan, because you emailed me at that time, saying that you didn’t believe Texas Baptist churches were ready to have that conversation. So how can you ask me – with a straight face – where I was in 2010?

      It’s also disingenuous of you to ask where Griff Martin and Kyndall Rae Rothaus were on this issue in 2010, because you well know that neither was a Texas Baptist pastor at that time. Besides, this is an issue with which people have been wrestling; the conclusions they have reached in 2017 doesn’t tell us where they were on it in 2010. As for George Mason and Wilshire, you very well know that Wilshire hadn’t had this conversation at that time. Again, people grow, they study, and they wrestle with thorny issues and interpretations of scripture; to hold them account in 2010 for positions they hold in 2017 is disingenuous at best.

      3. The “narrow vote” to which I referred was at the Annual Meeting last November, not the vote by the Executive Board. The vote last November was so narrow that they had to take it three times, because of their difficulty in counting it.

      4. Stan, my advice for your future arguments is: don’t speak about things of which you have limited or no knowledge. You write that I “grossly overstate Hardage’s reception of Paige Patterson. . . . Hardage reciprocated by invited (sic) Patterson to speak one time at a BGCT employee chapel service last year.” First of all, the chapel service was in 2015, not 2016. Second, I spoke directly to David Hardage about this matter on two occasions in his office, in addition to receiving a copy of an email communication – regarding this matter – between Hardage and an administrator at one of our Texas Baptist seminaries.

      I asked David what his intention was. David told me directly that a number of Texas Baptist pastors had urged him to establish a relationship between the BGCT and Paige Patterson & Southwestern Seminary for the purpose of improving the BGCT’s image in the eyes of Southwestern faculty & students, with the goal of making Southwestern’s students more amenable to pastoring BGCT churches.

      (To be continued in next comment)

    2. (Continued from previous comment)

      That’s a lot more than “speak one time at a BGCT employee chapel service,” Stan. I expressed my concern to David, asking, “Why do we want to encourage Southwestern’s students – who have been indoctrinated in a model of pastor as dictator; a model of the pastorate as a men-only club; and a model of marriage as a relationship in which submissiveness, instead of being mutual, is one way, with wives being submissive to husbands – to pastor our BGCT churches?”

      David had no answer to that question. He just got angry and said he resented my questioning him on his move toward Patterson.

      I’ve spoken with administrators at our Texas Baptist seminaries who consider David’s cultivating of a relationship with Paige Patterson as a slap in the face to our Texas Baptist seminaries, who have been consistently faithful in support of the BGCT, while Patterson and Southwestern have consistently sought to undermine the BGCT and direct churches to leave it & go to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

      5. You celebrate the BGCT for not “moving” and criticize Wilshire, FBC Austin, et al., for “moving.” I disagree. Wilshire, FBC Austin, et al., have consistently sought to be faithful to the spirit of Jesus Christ. As with individuals, this should mean growth and change as we study and learn. Wilshire, FBC Austin, et al., have consistently been faithful to Baptist principles.

      When the BGCT says you can’t be with us if you disagree with us on this issue, an issue which has nothing to do with the essentials of our salvation or the nature of God, it is acting as the Fundamentalists who took over the SBC in 1990. It is telling a church how it must be governed rather than recognizing the autonomy of a church in making those decisions for itself. It is violating the bedrock Baptist principle of local church autonomy. The BGCT has moved . . . it has codified its stance and moved away from being truly Baptist. At the same time, it has refused to move positively in the direction of studying, learning, growing.

      These churches have not “led their churches away from the BGCT and demanded to be treated as special exceptions . . .” They have asked for the same treatment as given other BGCT churches . . . to be treated as autonomous Baptist churches capable of governing themselves.

      These churches were not “led away from the BGCT” by their pastors . . . it was the BGCT who forced them out. Wilshire didn’t want to leave the BGCT. Baptists can cooperate, worship together, do missions together, etc., despite our disagreements over scripture. But the BGCT . . . as the Fundamentalists who took over the SBC in 1990 . . . said no, you must profess agreement with us or leave.

      George Mason offered to give up Wilshire’s messenger-voting rights for Wilshire to be able to continue to work with the BGCT and to give money to the Hunger Offering, our Texas Baptist universities, and so forth. David Hardage and the BGCT refused even this compromise. George Mason and Wilshire made every effort to stay connected with the BGCT.

      6. Your depiction of George Mason’s actions at Wilshire last year as “shenanigans” is despicable. You should be ashamed of yourself, Stan. You say you “had a front-row seat” . . . keep in mind that I was there, too, and so were many more. You’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.

      There were no “shenanigans.” George Mason bent over backwards to maintain unity within the Wilshire fellowship and to maintain cooperation with the BGCT. No, Wilshire never voted to approve a particular scriptural interpretation of homosexual behavior; in other words, Wilshire neither affirmed the “behavior” of the LGBTQ community, nor did it call such behavior sinful. Such a vote would have trampled all over the Baptist principle of soul competency/Bible freedom.

      (To be continued in next comment)

    3. (Continued from previous comment)

      Instead, we voted to have one class of membership, meaning that we’re all sinners equally . . . I’m not sure why that’s so controversial, it seems biblical to me. There were no “shenanigans,” Stan. There was a conversation that was held over a period of many months, in which Wilshire members took in information – biblical, scientific, psychological, and so forth – and had opportunities to discuss it all with each other, including even an open forum where both sides were given opportunities to speak publicly to the membership. Then the vote was held over two weeks, by secret ballot, giving all members an opportunity to cast a vote.

      After the final result was announced, George made every effort to bring the entire church together in unity. Wilshire doesn’t kick people out as the BGCT does. Those people who left (I don’t know the numbers, and I doubt you do, either) – it was their decision; or, in some cases, the BGCT’s decision to require that its staff members attend another church. Wilshire didn’t ask any of them to leave; instead, George and Wilshire asked them to stay. And some did, saying that disagreement over one issue wasn’t going to cloud their love for Wilshire and their desire to continue to worship and serve with their sisters and brothers at Wilshire. That’s being Baptist, Stan . . . and being Christian.

      As for the BGCT’s attitude toward its staff, requiring they attend BGCT-aligned churches, I have only recently learned that David Hardage is a member of a church that is dually-aligned with both the BGCT and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which he has supposedly been trying to prevent stealing churches from the BGCT. I don’t understand such hypocrisy. Maybe you need to direct some of your “straight-talk” to David Hardage, Stan.

      You’ve responded to me, Stan, and now I’ve responded to you, trying my best to answer all your questions & respond to all of your points. Time to end this discussion and move on.