Moderates in North Carolina aren't likely to form a rival convention like conservatives in Virginia and Texas or moderates in Missouri, says a convener of a Jan. 23-24 meeting for Baptists desiring to disengage from polarizing politics in the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
"I do not sense any move in that direction," said David Hughes, pastor of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem and the defeated moderate candidate at the state convention last fall.
A major focus of the conference, however, will be to discuss new models for supporting selected ministries of the state convention. Many moderates don't support priorities of the convention's conservative leadership, which is closely aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention, but still desire ties to the state's Baptist colleges and other institutions, newspaper and auxiliaries like WMU and Baptist Men.
"We need to identify ways to support these important ministry partners while not necessarily supporting the entire budget of the state convention," Hughes said in a statement announcing the upcoming gathering in Greensboro.
Hughes said in an interview that some media reports have tried to portray the meeting as "a Waterloo," where moderates declare a formal split. While he views that outcome unlikely, Hughes said some new alignments could emerge.
Hughes finds promise in the emergence of networks of like-minded Baptists that don't conform to traditional geographical boundaries such as associations and state conventions. One such group already exists in western North Carolina, resulting from division in a couple of associations over funding of new churches that align exclusively with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Last February a group of churches either formally out of fellowship or feeling out of place in conservative associations organized for fellowship, joint mission projects and mutual support. The network emerged after an association in Hendersonville wouldn't grant funding to a CBF church start with a woman pastor and the state convention refused to interfere in what leaders said was an association decision.
While not an association, the network is doing "association-like" things, said Guy Sayles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Asheville and chairman of an interim steering committee guiding structures he described as "lean and ad-hoc." Sayles said the network has worked with the state and national CBF on a variety of projects, is exploring church starts and plans to build a Habitat for Humanity house this summer.
Hughes said he believes the grouping "really is a model for things to come."
He projects more instances of like-minded churches crossing association, and perhaps even state, lines to work together for common causes. Geographically defined boundaries, inherited from a 19th century denominational model, "are going to become fuzzier and less important," Hughes predicted.
"There's a lot of energy about this," Hughes said. "I feel like we're on the tail end of one era and the front end of a new era."
While moderates talked of moving on, the editor of the Biblical Recorder urged disenfranchised churches not to "pull back" on support of the state convention.
Moderates who fear conservatives now controlling the state convention will crack down on doctrinal uniformity will only hasten that day by leaving, said Editor Tony Cartledge in this week's editorial.
"If the [Baptist state convention] should one day draw an exclusive doctrinal line around all leadership and decision making, it might well be time for the excluded parties to find another home, but that day has not come," Cartledge wrote.
"Some will call me naive, but I am accustomed to living on hope. It is better to remain engaged and hope for good things than to disengage and turn one's fears into a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Presenters invited to the Greensboro meeting include representatives of the state convention and institutions, as well as groups outside or North Carolina including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Baptist World Alliance, Baptist Center for Ethics, Baptist General Association of Virginia, Baptist General Convention of Texas and American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.
"I think it's an opportunity to expose North Carolina Baptists to all the changes in the Baptist landscape that are going on not only in North Carolina, but throughout the country and even around the world," Hughes said.
"We're not intending to give one answer," he said. "Rather we're intending to present information and options."
"I think the 19th century model is not adequate for 21st century church life," Hughes said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Editor's Note: David Hughes is also a member of BCE's board of directors.