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Moderate Baptist Leaders to Discuss ‘New Day’

Representatives of five Baptist organizations with histories of resisting fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist Convention share a platform to discuss a common future at this weekend’s Mainstream Baptist Network Convocation in Atlanta.

Leaders of two national groups formed in response to denominational controversy, two moderate-led state conventions that opposed fundamentalist changes and a global Baptist group that recently fell from grace with Southern Baptist leaders are being asked not just to tell their stories but rather to spark a discussion of “something bigger than all of them,” Bill Wilson, co-chair of the Mainstream Baptist Network, told EthicsDaily.com.

The fourth annual Mainstream convocation, scheduled to begin Friday afternoon at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Atlanta, will focus on a myriad of new and redefined ministry organizations that have emerged in the 25 years since America’s largest Protestant denomination began its sharp turn to the right. Planners describe the collection as a “Baptist diaspora.”

The meeting closes with a panel of leaders of five of those groups with significant constituencies discussing “A New Day for Baptists” on Saturday morning. That will be followed by a summary and response by Baptist historian Walter Shurden.

John Upton, executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, and Charles Wade of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, represent two established state conventions that resisted the SBC’s fundamentalist agenda being imported into their states. In both states, fundamentalists broke off from the larger convention and began separate conventions pledging support for the new direction in the SBC.

Joining Upton and Wade on the panel is Daniel Vestal, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a “denomination-like” organization that provides an alternative missionary force and other resources for moderate churches.

Vestal referenced a changing Baptist landscape in comments last week about a current study of how the Atlanta-based CBF defines partners.

“CBF does not exist to serve itself or its partners,” Vestal said last Thursday in his report to the group’s Coordinating Council. “It exists to serve churches.”

“The old denominational convention model where churches supported and served the convention/denomination and its agencies is over,” Vestal said. “The day of entitlement for denominational agencies is over.”

Alan Stanford of the North American Baptist Fellowship will represent the Baptist World Alliance, a global fellowship of 211 Baptist unions and fellowships with membership of more than 32 million baptized believers. Southern Baptists severed ties this summer with the BWA, expressing a desire to work exclusively with like-minded conservatives around the world.

Rounding out the panel is David Currie, national consultant of the Mainstream Baptist Network, a group which began to defend Texas from fundamentalist takeover but eventually branched out into a national network including chapters in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina and Oklahoma.

Despite their common origins and many shared values, the groups are largely separate and even occasionally view one another with suspicion. Wilson said he would like to see conversation develop about where all the organizations fit into the bigger picture of moderate Baptist life after the SBC takeover.

“We’re trying to roll out this idea it’s a new day and it’s going to take some new ways of thinking,” said Wilson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dalton, Ga.

Other featured speakers at the convocation are Albert Reyes, president of Baptist University of the Americas; Theo Angelov, immediate past general secretary of European Baptist Federation; and Penny Marler, a Samford University sociologist invited to discuss how denominations should respond to social and religious trends the last half century.

People attending will also choose among breakout sessions on Friday afternoon. One option, “New Ways for Curriculum Development And Distribution for Baptists,” will be led by Jan Turrentine, managing editor of Acacia Resources, the publishing arm of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Click here to register for the Mainstream Convocation.