By Todd Starnes
DALLAS (BP)--The Baptist General Convention of Texas is openly discussing whether or not to sever ties with the Southern Baptist Convention and leaders have raised the possibility that the BGCT could create a new Baptist denomination at its annual meeting in October.
Clyde Glazener, president of the BGCT and pastor at Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, told the Dallas Morning News that he could not predict what would happen at the annual meeting, but many Texans were unhappy with the conservative leadership of the SBC.
"The truth is that, for some time now, a true Baptist could not support some of the agencies in SBC life," Glazener said. The BGCT claims 2.7 million members and 6,600 churches.
Glazener said he did not know if he could support the work of the International Mission Board or NAMB. "I don't know if we can do it with integrity," he said. "If they won't accept missionaries who don't sign off on the Baptist Faith and Message it would be an interesting development."
James Merritt, president of the SBC and pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga., offered a word of reconciliation to the BGCT leadership.
"I want us to open our arms to everyone in our entire convention and reach this world for Jesus Christ," Merritt said in response to the BGCT's intentions.
"I would hope that all Texas Baptists would realize that we do need each other and we have a world that is lost and needs to be saved," Merritt added. "This is the time for Baptists to pull together, to unite our efforts to get the gospel out."
Merritt said the way to reach the world is not by leaving the convention. "The way to reach the world is to stand for truth and that's what Baptists have done. We've never said you have to be in lock-step with everything we say or everything we believe," Merritt said. "I would hope that all Texans realize what is at stake in the SBC enterprise of missions and evangelism."
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, told Baptist Press he was not surprised by Glazener's statements.
"It's something that we've been saying for a good while. That the BGCT is moving away from the SBC," Graham said. "Now, it's on the table, more publicly and frankly, we're not surprised."
While saddened by the possible break, Graham said it puts Texas Baptists in an awkward position. "The grassroots Baptists support the SBC," he said. "It's only a small core of moderate leadership that oppose the convention."
"This is a wakeup call to churches all over Texas and I believe that once the moderates get out of the closet, they will find it difficult to take churches out of the SBC," he predicted.
Claude Thomas, chairman of the SBC executive committee and pastor of First Baptist Church, Euliss, told Baptist Press he was grieved by the news. "...It appears they are openly speaking about the BGCT embracing a national denomination and I think they are right," Thomas said. "They are poised to start their own convention and even more than a convention, a denomination."
Thomas said the issue for Texas Baptists is whether or not to remain a part of a convention that "believes the Bible is just a book."
Thomas was referring to floor debate about the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message during the annual SBC meeting in Orlando. Anthony Sizemore, pastor of First Baptist Church, Floydada, Texas, argued passionately that the "Bible is just a book."
The BF&M contained language that described the Bible as divinely inspired as well as true and trustworthy. Many of the messengers who argued against the BF&M were from Texas and had ties to the denomination-like Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, including Charles Wade, the executive director of the BGCT.
Thomas said the issue with the BGCT was clarified at the Orlando convention. "It's basically about a person's view of Scripture," Thomas said. "It appears that from the [Orlando] convention discussion that some in leadership in the BGCT have a lower view of Scripture than our Southern Baptist forefathers," Thomas said. "And that appears to be the issue."
On the other hand, Thomas argued, the SBC has stepped forward with a clear definition or declaration of "our very high view of Scripture."
Jim Richards, the executive director of the conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said Texas Baptists who want to affirm Biblical inerrancy have a home in their convention.
"Texas churches that want to have a strong and positive relationship with the SBC and still carry out Texas missions and ministry need to know they have a home with us," he said. "We stand ready to minister to and facilitate churches who want to affiliate with us."
Currently, the SBTC has 367 affiliated churches. Richards said he expects that number to slowly increase. "As far as our convention is concerned, we believe the newspaper article about the BGCT will make it easier for people to make a prayerful and educated choice on whom they want to work with in the state of Texas."
The BGCT was contacted for comment but a BGCT spokesperson would not answer questions concerning Glazener's statements.