Inerrancy Controversy / Fundamentalist Takeover of Southern Baptist Convention

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“Inerrancy,” which was to become a code word for much of the fundamentalist movement, had a scientific quality that was related to the view of truth as directly apprehended facts. It was vital to the dispensationalists that their information be not only absolutely reliable but also precise.

George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture 56-57 (2006)

Inerrancy is a term not easily explained, for there is no consensus regarding its origins or its precise meaning. In spite of the many disagreements that the word inerrancy has engendered among those who profess to believe in it, Morris Chapman, who was elected SBC president in June 1990, was quoted as saying, ‘For us not to believe in inerrancy is not to believe in God’. Yet, from the earliest Anabaptist to contemporary Southern Baptist statements of faith, which includes twenty-six confessions of faith containing over 700 articles, the word inerrancy cannot be found. Not until 1925, when the statement of faith of that year was adopted by the SBC, was there a word even similar to inerrancy mentioned. The 1925 statement says that the Bible had ‘God for its author’ and was ‘without any mixture of error’. Even the Baptist Faith and Message Statement of 1963 fails to use the word inerrancy. Actually the term is relatively new in theological circles, dated no further back than the nineteenth century.

David T. Morgan, Upheaval in the Southern Baptist Convention, 1979-90: Crusade for Truth or Bid for Power?, The Journal of Religious History, vol. 17(3), 326-327 (June 1993).

We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter; that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us; and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds and religious opinions should be tried.

[Southern] Baptist Faith and Message [creed] (1925)

Albert H. Newman, probably the leading Baptist historian of the time, in 1905 provided an unusually clear analysis of the current status of the theological debates. Newman identified three major parties among Baptists in America. At one extreme were the liberals with their dazzlingly impressive academic strength. On the other extreme were the premillennialists, whom Newman characterized as “intensely anti-rationalistic,” uncompromising concerning Scripture, tending to equate higher criticism with the Devil, and working through independent agencies and Bible institutes. In the middle was a moderate conservative party, “still in the vast majority” and controlling most of the working forces of the denomination. Despite these major divisions, the debates inspired no large-scale public interest. “Even in New England and the Middle States,” Newman estimated, “not one Baptist member in ten is conscious of any important change in theology or departure from the old Baptist orthodoxy.” For the Western and Southeastern states his estimate was not one in twenty; for the Southwest, not one in a hundred. Newman, who himself apparently considered such ignorance compatible with invincibility, concluded that the denomination “never possessed so many advantages and never encountered so few obstacles to progress.” “Things are getting better,'” he said, “and not worse.”

The moderate character of the dominant conservative party, standing between the two aggressive new movements on the extremes, was one reason for optimism. Although some Baptist conservatives insisted on the inerrancy of Scripture in detail, this position was far from being a test of Baptist orthodoxy. The leading conservative Baptist theologian of the time, Augustus H. Strong, president of Rochester Theological Seminary, had a concept of truth that reflected the influence of some of the same philosophical trends that were shaping theological liberalism. While holding a high view of Biblical authority, Strong’s starting point was that truth was not doctrinal or prepositional, but rather “the truth is a personal Being, and that Christ himself is the Truth.” Strong attributed the intellectual difficulties in the church to a view of truth that was too abstract and literal. People mistakenly supposed that the perfection attributed to the deity could be attributed equally to statements about Christ made by the church, the ministry, the Bible, or a creed. “A large part of the unbelief of the present day,” he said, “has been caused by the unwarranted identification of these symbols and manifestations with Christ himself. Neither the church nor ministry, Bible or creed, is perfect. To discover imperfection in them is to prove that they are not in themselves divine.”

Strong rejected very explicitly the idea of Scripture as inerrant and in his influential Systematic Theology eventually dropped language that might even suggest such a conclusion. Statements similar to Strong’s could readily be found elsewhere among Baptist conservatives. Robert Stuart MacArthur, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New York City (which became a fundamentalist center under his successor, John Roach Straton), in 1899 strongly defended traditional Christianity while maintaining that “A true doctrine of inspiration may admit mistakes, or at least the possibility of mistakes, in history and biographical statements, while it denies error in matters of faith and morals. . . ,” Even Curtis Lee Laws, editor of the conservative Watchman-Examiner (and in 1920 inventor of the word “fundamentalist” to describe this Baptist party), did not insist on inerrancy, emphasizing the “experimental” verification of the Bible’s truth rather than its value as scientific statement. Like the dispensationalists and (as will be seen shortly) the Princeton theologians, Laws viewed the objective character of Biblical truth as analogous to the laws of physics. Like the Princetonians, he viewed Biblical truth as known by common sense. “The infallibility of the Bible is the infallibility of common sense, and of the experimental triumph within us.” Yet, as this last phrase suggests, the truth of Scripture known by common sense was the truth of its “living power.” “It is our authority,” he said, “because it does for us what our souls need.” In Laws’s view this was by no means subjectivism. But one’s common sense knowledge of the objective truth of Scripture came by way of intuitive confirmation, not as scientific demonstration. This view separated Laws from the more characteristic fundamentalist insistence on inerrancy. An intuitive sense of the “living power” of Scripture was not dependent on the Bible’s accuracy in scientific detail.

George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture 106-108 (2006)

In 1910 the Presbyterian General Assembly, in response to some questions raised about the orthodoxy of some of the graduates of Union Theological Seminary, adopted a five-point declaration of “essential” doctrines. Summarized, these points were: (1) the inerrancy of Scripture, (2) the Virgin Birth of Christ, (3) his substitutionary atonement, (4) his bodily resurrection, and (5) the authenticity of the miracles. These five points (which included both the narrow issue of inerrancy and some of the broad issues concerning the supernatural in Christianity) were not intended to be a creed or a definitive statement. Yet in the 1920s they became the “famous five points” that were the last rallying position before the spectacular collapse of the conservative party. Moreover, because of parallels to various other fundamentalist short creeds (and an historian’s error), they became the basis of what (with premillennialism substituted for the authenticity of the miracles) were long known as the “five points of fundamentalism.”

George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture 117 (2006)

It was June 1965. and Southern Baptists had been embroiled for months in what one combatant had dubbed a “holy war.” For six years, a conservative coalition led most visibly by Paige Patterson (president of Criswell Center for Biblical Studies in Dallas) and Paul Pressler (a Houston judge) had been victorious in the election of convention presidents. Their aim was to control the appointment process by which trustees are nominated so that, in turn, conservative trustees could purge the denomination of liberalism.

Nancy Ammerman, Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention 3 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University
Press, 1990).

Beginning in 1979, the Southern Baptist Convention experienced one of the most contentious and significant denominational battles in American religious history. It is best known now as the Southern Baptist controversy, and it resulted in the conservative faction completely ousting the moderates from power and taking control of all denominational agencies, including the six SBC seminaries.

Barry Hankins, Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservative American Culture 2-3 (2002)

In 1984 [Paul Pressler] maintained: ‘The issue in the Southern Baptist Convention has been, is, and always will be, as far as I am concerned, what Scripture is, not an interpretation of Scripture’. He did not deviate from that position when quizzed by reporters at the San Antonio Convention in 1988. ‘You see,’ he said, ‘the issue is . . . whether we approach Scripture with the confidence that this is God’s Word. The liberals know they cannot win on that issue. So they’re trying to make non-issues so that they will have a chance to win.’
Echoing Pressler’s monotonous theme of inerrancy were a host of prominent Southern Baptist ministers and laymen. While they declared their belief in inerrancy publicly, some of them qualified it in private. Seldom, if ever, would they say in public that they did not hold an absolute view of inerrancy, perhaps because they suspected that the grassroots Baptist could not fully understand their subtle qualifications of the doctrine. Many inerrantists boldly denied that there were errors in the Bible and then turned around and admitted to ‘minor errors’, ‘statistical errors’ and contradictions between one historical fact and another, when pressed by knowledgeable interrogators.

David T. Morgan, Upheaval in the Southern Baptist Convention, 1979-90: Crusade for Truth or Bid for Power?, The Journal of Religious History, vol. 17(3), 327 (June 1993).

Two major events of 1986 and 1987 contributed significantly to the ultimate moderate defeat. The first was the Glorieta Statement prepared and issued in 1986 by the presidents of the six seminaries. … Among other things, the statement affirmed that the Bible contained no error “in any area of reality.” The response was anything but what they anticipated. Moderate faculties in at least three seminaries descended upon their returning presidents with the charge that they had “given away the store.” Conservatives, wary because of years of “doublespeak,” were not much more enthusiastic, wondering aloud what this kind of language implied. In the end, however, conservatives took the statement at face value and held the presidents’ feet to the fire.

The next year, 1987, brought the final report of the Peace Committee, which had been meeting regularly for two years, to the convention in St. Louis. The committee had been mandated by the 1985 Dallas convention, which saw a record 45,000 elected messengers almost create terminal gridlock in that city.

The findings of the committee confirmed … the following four observations about the theological concerns of many Baptists:

(1) Baptists generally wished to affirm the direct creation of mankind and the belief that Adam and Eve were real persons.
(2) Baptists generally accepted the stated authorship of all the books of the Bible.
(3) Baptists generally wished to affirm the reality of all the miracles mentioned in the Bible.
(4) Baptists generally believed that all the historical narratives written by Biblical authors are accurate and reliable.

Paige Patterson, “Anatomy of a Reformation: the Southern Baptist Convention, 1978-1994″ (1994), at 24-25.

What are the results? At the end of sixteen years of conservative advance, new executives committed to the resurgence and to the inerrancy of Scripture have been installed in nine of the agencies and institutions. Others will be placed in the next twenty-four months. Almost every Board of Trustees is decidedly conservative. Giving reached all time highs this year and four of the six seminaries showed growth this fall. The mission programs and offerings continue to grow with more than 4,000 career missionaries now under appointment in distant lands, with personnel in 180 plus countries. Dozens of new evangelically minded professors have taken their places on seminary faculties. A new commentary, The New American Commentary, was authorized by the Sunday School Board to be written only by those who could sign the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Production is about one-third completed.

Moderates have formed a fellowship within the convention called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Wake Forest, Mercer, Stetson, Furman, Baylor, Richmond, and Samford universities have jumped the traces and declared their independence from Baptist state conventions. State conventions in Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri are continuing trouble pockets. Whether the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will secede from the convention and how a few state conventions settle issues remains to be seen. But no one seriously expects even a schism to deprive the Southern Baptist convention of more than a thousand of its 38,000 congregations.

A word needs to be said about two other developments. In the early days of the controversy, conservatives pointed to the unassailable fact that there was no parity in the six seminary faculties. Some had no professing inerrantists on board, and none had more than a few. Moderates later discovered that conservatives did not desire “parity” but rather believed that every professor in Southern Baptist Convention seminaries should be an inerrantist. Some moderates felt that they had been deceived. However, conservatives never asked for parity. They simply noted that moderates, who claimed to be inclusive, in fact had been exclusive and doctrinaire. They further expressed the conviction that the two confessions which governed all six seminaries are, in reality, inerrantist documents.

Paige Patterson, “Anatomy of a Reformation: the Southern Baptist Convention, 1978-1994″ (1994), at 24-25.

The catalytic event was the publication by Broadman Press of Midwestern seminary professor Ralph H, Elliott’s The Message of Genesis. Elliott plainly declared that the stories of the first 11 chapters and some events in later chapters of Genesis were non-historical and prone to error. The furor led to Elliott’s dismissal and adoption of a revised Baptist Faith and Message in 1963, which lifted intact from the 1925 BFM the ambiguous phrase “truth, without any mixture of error for its matter.” Moreover, the phrase was tempered by two other statements in the revised BFM, which were used to broaden the interpretation of inspiration:

(1) “The Holy Bible… is the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man.” Conservatives saw this as simply meaning that the Bible truthfully relates God’s revelatory acts. But moderates, termed liberals by some conservatives, continued to hold that the Biblical “record” was a step removed from the infallible revelation and while trustworthy, it contained errors made by its human writers.

(2) “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ” Conservatives took this to mean that an infallible and inerrant record pointed to Jesus as the final, complete revelation of God to man. Others, however, took it to mean that the record was not necessarily inerrant and at times could be seen as beneath, out of harmony, or in conflict with the ethic of Jesus.

The l963 BFM merely bought more time. Some denominational employees continued to teach and write that the Bible was errant in history and science. Conservatives made impassioned protests and won some victories, including the rewriting of the Genesis-Exodus volume of the new Broadman Commentary. But the denominational establishment, which had allowed a leftward expanding diversity, did not show alarm until conservatives began electing convention presidents who put the change process into motion, leading to the election of agency trustees who would reverse the policy of accommodation of a broad theological diversity which had been practiced in the past.

James C. Hefley, Truth in Crisis: The Controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention, Bringing the Controversy Up-to-Date, Vol. 2 (1987), at 3

Moderates, who had been pointing for 1981 in Los Angeles when the popular Rogers would be ineligible, were caught off guard when he withdrew (to spend more time with church and family, he said) only a month before the convention in St Louis.

It turned out that Rogers was not essential to a second conservative win. The conservative activists got out the vote again and elected Bailey Smith, although his Oklahoma super-church gave only two percent of its budget to the Cooperative Program.

Fired by a second presidential victory, conservatives introduced a strong “doctrinal integrity’ resolution that said SBC seminaries and other agencies should “only employ, and continue the employment” of faculty and staff “who believe in the divine inspiration of the whole Bible, the infallibility of the original manuscripts, and that the Bible is truth without any error.” The doctrinal integrity resolution was patterned after one drawn up for Missouri Baptist institutions by conservatives Larry Lewis, then a pastor in SL Louis, and Fred Powell, then a pastor in the Kansas City area.

Denominational statesman Herschel Hobbs objected that “infallibility” would be “too strong on the seminaries.” He proposed that the resolution be amended to see that seminary teaching conformed to “abstracts of principles” and the 1963 BFM Hobbs’ amendment failed decisively, even though denominational agency heads and state editors sitting at tables before the podium unanimously held up hands in favor of it.

Agency leaders and moderates became further concerned when Bailey Smith and several other SBC conservative leaders spoke to a National Affairs Briefing in Dallas sponsored by the politically conservative Religious Roundtable. Moderates took this to mean that the SBC conservative alliance was in league with a national political right wing movement aiming for control of the While House. And they labeled as “intolerant” Smith’s remark that “God Almighty doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews” or anyone else who doesn’t accept Jesus as Messiah. Publicity of Smith’s “Jewish prayer” statement set a pattern in moderate strategy designed to show conservatives as irresponsible, intolerant, independent fundamentalists, bent on destroying the Southern Baptist Convention.

This pattern was followed a short tine later after conservative strategist Paul Pressler told Virginia conservatives, “The lifeblood of the Southern Baptist Convention is the trustees. We need to go for the jugular—we need to go for trustees.”

“Going for the jugular” became a code phrase in the denominational press, symbolizing Pressler as the archvillain among the destroyers, although the judge often tried to explain that by a “metaphorical expression” he “was only trying to show the source of strength and power, where the lifeblood of Southern Baptists lies.”

James C. Hefley, Truth in Crisis: The Controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention, Bringing the Controversy Up-to-Date, Vol. 2 (1987), at 5-6.

Forced to select a single event in the years 1979-1983 that profiled the future conflict within the SBC, one would do well to point to the 1979 SBC Pastors’ Conference in Houston, Texas. The name could be misleading. It is a “Preaching Conference,” a preaching conference for pastors, and it meets immediately prior to the annual meeting of the SBC. It became in the decade of the controversy an orchestrated political rally for SBC fundamentalism. Bill Leonard was correct when he said that “1979 was the culmination of a century of doctrinal debate and the beginning of a new denominational coalition.” That new denominational coalition’s first public manifestation, however, appeared at the Pastors’ Conference in Houston in 1979.

The SBC Pastors’ Conference that year contained several ingredients of the future Fundamentalist agenda. One was the denominational agenda of control, reflected not only in the preconvention politicking of Patterson and Pressler, but also in the announcement by Criswell at the Pastors’ Conference that Baptists had gathered to elect Rogers as SBC president. Also, James Robison expressed the control agenda in his vitriolic Pastors’ Conference sermon. Robison said: “I believe we must not only elect a president who believes the Bible is the infallible, inerrant word of the living God, but we must elect a president who is totally committed to the removal from this denomination of any teacher, any educator who does not believe the Bible is the infallible, inerrant word of the living God.”

The entire fundamentalist worldview, including the inerrancy formula and the control agenda, would be used in the future to purge SBC institutions of nonfundamentalists and thus to transform the SBC.

The theological agenda of inerrancy and its straw man “liberalism” also constituted a major thrust of sermons at the Pastors’ Conference, especially those by Robison, as illustrated above, and by Adrian Rogers. With broad swipes at “liberals,” “humanists.” “entrenched denominational bureaucrats,” and “professors,” Rogers and Robison brought the vast majority of the audience to its feet again and again. “Have you ever noticed how many of these instructors of higher learning” Robison sarcastically asked, “look like they’ve been embalmed with the fluid of higher education? I don’t know why they think they have to come out and siren the platform and look like a God-forsaking corpse.” Cleverly, Rogers reported a fictional conversation between two demons where one said, “if those liberal theologians ever really discover the power of the cross, hell help us, all heaven will break loose.”

Rogers launched his sermon by stressing that a successful ministry was rooted in Rogers’s type of theological orthodoxy. “You look and you see the churches that are reaching and winning and baptizing people in this day of sagging statistics,” he proclaimed, “and every one of them, and I say every one of them, is a conservative fundamental Bible believer. Every one of them!” A variation of this theme often used by fundamentalists throughout the controversy was that mainline denominations declined because they deserted fundamentalist-type theological orthodoxy.

In addition, Rogers raised the issue of the role of women, speaking of “Satan’s fib about women’s lib.” Describing the women’s drive for equality as “this unisex movement,” the gifted preacher said it “has been belched out of hell.” Rogers’s attitude toward women’s role in society and the church triumphed in the infamous 1984 SBC resolution on the role of women.

Walter B. Shurden & Randy Shepley Going for the Jugular: A Documentary History of the SBC Holy War 6-7 (1996).

The legendary W. A. Criswell spoke last at the Pastor’s Conference. He reminded the audience of the decline of mainline denominations in both the United States and Great Britain. That decline began, he argued, when evangelical denominations endorsed higher criticism of Scripture. This, he said, is precisely what happened in nineteenth-century Great Britain, where only the legendary Charles Spurgeon held out for inerrancy. Rejecting the idea that the Grand Compromise could be held together by missions and evangelism, Criswell argued, “My brother, if the higher critical approach to scriptures dominates our institutions and our denomination, there will be no missionaries to hurt. They will cease. . . . As with the Baptists of Great Britain, whether we continue to live or ultimately die lies in our dedication to the infallible Word of God.” As future SBC president Jerry Vines put it in 1986, “The view that the Bible contains error is worth fighting against. That’s the first domino to fall.”

Conservatives such as Criswell believed that the vast majority of Southern Baptists ascribed to biblical inerrancy. Pressler routinely put the percentage at 90 percent. A study by Baptist sociologist Nancy Ammerman in 1985 found that 85 percent of Southern Baptist pastors and lay leaders affirmed the view that “the scriptures are the inerrant Word of God, accurate in every detail.” Conservatives such as Pressler, Patterson, and Criswell routinely interpreted inerrancy to mean an affirmation of a literal view of biblical stories such as the Genesis creation accounts. They argued that the Bible was inerrant historically and scientifically, which meant that an allegorical reading of creation would not do. If Genesis spoke of Adam and Eve as two individual human beings, then it was unacceptable to view them as mere representations of humanity.

Ammerman discovered, however, that fewer than half of SBC pastors and lay leaders interpreted inerrancy this way. “Whatever Southern Baptists mean by inerrancy,” she concluded from her surveys and interviews at the 1985 convention, “not all of them mean that Genesis is to be read as history or science. The number of Southern Baptists who insist on such a reading of the creation stories is well under half.” On the other hand, 59 percent of Ammerman’s respondents were willing to, in her words, “claim not only that the Bible is inerrant, but that it speaks clearly and precisely about the history of the world from creation to the end of time.” Moreover, she declared to the delight of conservatives, “That is certainly the position of the denomination’s fundamentalist leaders, and it has been the position of most fundamentalists since the movement began.” During the controversy, the only safe position was a clear and consistent affirmation of inerrancy, whatever one meant by the term. Quibbling about what inerrancy actually was, or doubts concerning the term’s importance, would not suffice. As Pressler liked to put it, “Once you have crossed the theological Rubicon of saying that the Bible is sufficiently man’s work so that it can be in error and make mistakes, then you have opened the floodgates for the individual to determine the categories which are truth, and that is [an] extremely presumptuous thing for a man to do.”

Thomas S. Kidd & Barry Hankins, Baptists in America: A History 232-33 (2015)

Obviously there were critics aplenty and not a few quarrels among Southern Baptists both before and after Pressler and Patterson plotted their new-direction strategy at the Cafe DuMonde and began linking their fundamentalist communications network together. How is it that their efforts produced a successful movement rather than just another of many short-lived controversies? The answer lies at least partly in the fact that they sincerely believed themselves to be crusaders for truth and were thus able to persuade thousands of Southern Baptists to join them in restoring doctrinal purity throughout the denomination. Biblical inerrantists are part of a huge fraternity of ‘true believers’ within the Christian faith; inerrancy is a doctrine which cuts across denominational lines, and numerous Southern Baptists adhere to it. Pressler and Patterson, two who subscribed to it, were ‘true believers’ in the same sense that Oliver Cromwell and Maximilien Robespierre were. They were proud of what they considered their uncompromising stance for truth. What they denied was that they were motivated by a desire for political power. Since these two men captured majority support in the denomination with the rallying cry of biblical inerrancy, it seems appropriate to focus attention first on that doctrine. After that the moderate allegation that the real issue was political power and the theological issue a subterfuge will be scrutinized.

Inerrancy is a term not easily explained, for there is no consensus regarding its origins or its precise meaning. In spite of the many disagreements that the word inerrancy has engendered among those who profess to believe in it, Morris Chapman, who was elected SBC president in June 1990, was quoted as saying, ‘For us not to believe in inerrancy is not to believe in God’. Yet, from the earliest Anabaptist to contemporary Southern Baptist statements of faith, which includes twenty-six confessions of faith containing over 700 articles, the word inerrancy cannot be found. Not until 1925, when the statement of faith of that year was adopted by the SBC, was there a word even similar to inerrancy mentioned. The 1925 statement says that the Bible had ‘God for its author’ and was ‘without any mixture of error’. Even the Baptist Faith and Message Statement of 1963 fails to use the word inerrancy. Actually the term is relatively new in theological circles, dated no further back than the nineteenth century.”

The fundamentalists argued that the word might not be old but that the concept of an infallible Bible is as old as the Scripture itself. One indefatigable reporter of the controversy, James C .(Jimmy) Hefley, who came down solidly on the side of the fundamentalists, asserted that fundamentalists ‘believe divine inspiration protected the biblical writers from error of any form, historical, scientific, doctrinal, theological, or philosophical’, and he quoted a Memphis, Tennessee, fundamentalist named Vaughn Denton as saying, ‘Anyone who does NOT accept the Bible as infallible AND inerrant is a heretic and disbeliever’. Paul Pressler put it this way: “Once you have crossed the theological Rubicon of saying that the Bible is sufficiently man’s work so that it can be in error and make mistakes, then you have opened the floodgates for the individual to determine the categories which are truth, and that is [an] extremely presumptuous thing for a man to do.”

Pressler stuck steadfastly to his contention that the nature of Scripture, and nothing else, was the issue. In 1984 he maintained: ‘The issue in the Southern Baptist Convention has been, is, and always will be, as far as I am concerned, what Scripture is, not an interpretation of Scripture’. He did not deviate from that position when quizzed by reporters at the San Antonio Convention in 1988. ‘You see,’ he said, ‘the issue is . . . whether we approach Scripture with the confidence that this is God’s Word. The liberals know they cannot win on that issue. So they’re trying to make non-issues so that they will have a chance to win.

David T. Morgan, Upheaval in the Southern Baptist Convention, 1979-90: Crusade for Truth or Bid for Power?, The Journal of Religious History, vol. 17(3) 326-27 (June 1993).

Each side chose to refer to itself in these terms to avoid more pejorative labels of “fundamentalists” and “liberals” that were utilized by their opponents. The Conservatives were antiestablishment Southern Baptists; they possessed a “Religious Right” worldview that encompassed absolute moral values and an unwavering belief in the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. Energized by the successes of New Right politics in the latter half of the 1970s, this group would seek to “save” their denomination from the threats of secularism and moral decay in the same way that they sought to “save” American society as a whole. Led by an cadre a well-educated, and well-politically connected elites, Conservatives saw seizing control of their denomination as the only way to save it. Existing on the fringes of the denominational structure, with their own institutions and organizations, this group of conservative Southern Baptists came to power by harnessing the frustration that many rank and file Southern Baptist had felt in the decades leading up to the “crisis” as SBC leaders had become increasingly socially and doctrinally progressive.

Austin R. Biggs, “The Southern Baptist Convention “Crisis” in Context: Southern Baptist Conservatism and the Rise of the Religious Right” (2017), at 14, Western Kentucky University [master’s thesis].

In 1979, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. The decades surrounding World War II were a period in which Southern Baptists joined a great migration of Southerners from their home region in search of great economic opportunity. For the denomination, this Southern exodus led to a shedding of traditional provincialism as it amassed territories and membership throughout the nation. What had been dubbed the “Catholic Church of the South” decades before had grown into a denominational machine second only to the actual Catholic Church in America.

Austin R. Biggs, “The Southern Baptist Convention “Crisis” in Context: Southern Baptist Conservatism and the Rise of the Religious Right” (2017), at 59, Western Kentucky University [master’s thesis].

The “crisis” in the Southern Baptist Convention was the era in which Conservative leaders executed their plan to seize control of the denominational machinery and provide a “course correction” away from what they perceived as a leftward drift. The bookends for this period were the 1979 election of Adrian Rogers as SBC president in Houston in which the Conservative plan was launched and the 1991 election of Morris Chapman as SBC president in which he assumed the denominational presidency unopposed, marking the end of Moderate attempts to regain the denomination. At first glance, doctrinal issues loomed large in this struggle as Conservatives built an attack on the “liberals” in the denomination centered around upholding the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy, while Moderates countered by asserting the traditional Baptist doctrines of Soul Competency the Priesthood of all Believers. Southern Baptist doctrine, however, was more of a surface level issue. When considering the extent to which Conservative action molded itself largely around the “family values” platform of the Religious Right, it becomes evident that it was their sociopolitical views, not doctrine, that they wished to impose upon the denomination. The struggle between Moderate and Conservative Southern Baptists extended beyond their religious lives to encompass diverging worldviews that drew broader cultural and political issues into the conflict.

Austin R. Biggs, “The Southern Baptist Convention “Crisis” in Context: Southern Baptist Conservatism and the Rise of the Religious Right” (2017), at 62-63, Western Kentucky University [master’s thesis].

In 1979, Adrian Rogers became president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Pastor of Bellevue Baptist outside of Memphis, one of the largest churches in the country, with a nationally known television ministry, Rogers was the most visible “fundamentalist” pastor in the SBC. Many observers believed his election amounted to little more than a nod to the conservative wing of the denomination. It had happened before, when W. A. Criswell of First Baptist, Dallas served two terms as convention president (1968–1970). But they were wrong. The election of Rogers set in motion a political and theological battle for control of America’s largest Protestant denomination. It would become one of the most significant religious events of the twentieth century.

Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler devised the strategy for the “conservative resurgence.” Patterson was a theologian-preacher and dean of the Criswell Institute in Dallas. Pressler served for years as a Texas state appeals court judge and active Baptist layman. Patterson was the unofficial theologian of the conservative movement, Pressler its political strategist, and Rogers the popular preacher.

Conservatives believed that moderates had allowed the denomination to drift too far leftward, and they sought to take the SBC back to its conservative, biblical roots. Pressler studied the SBC’s constitution and determined that if he and Patterson engineered the election of conservative SBC presidents like Rogers, and those presidents appointed conservatives to the boards of the denominational agencies and seminaries, the entire apparatus of the SBC would be in conservative hands within ten years.

Rogers’s 1979 election was the first step in executing this strategy. It took a few years for moderates to realize what they were up against, largely because they believed in what Southern Baptist historian Bill Leonard called the “Grand Compromise.” Because of the theological diversity of the denomination, moderate SBC officials sought to keep theological controversy at bay while uniting all factions around missions and evangelism. Southern Baptists may not be able to agree on a particular view of the inspiration of Scripture, the historicity of Old Testament stories, Calvinist versus Arminian theology, or women in ministry, the reasoning went, but all were united around the need to share Christ with a lost world and to win sinners to the faith. This Grand Compromise had held for so long that moderates did not see the threat coming. They proved slow to organize resistance, and by the time they did, the conservative juggernaut was rolling. For reasons that remain mysterious, Rogers did not run for the perfunctory second one-year term, but conservatives rallied around Bailey Smith of First Baptist, Del City, Oklahoma, who served two terms, as did his successor, Dallas area megachurch pastor James Draper Jr. Conservatives won these elections by rallying their supporters around the inerrancy of Scripture. The term “inerrancy” appeared in the late nineteenth century, and the evangelical debate over inerrancy reached a fever pitch in the 1970s. In 1976, evangelical Baptist scholar and Christianity Today editor Harold Lindsell published the book The Battle for the Bible, which identified inerrancy as the most important issue of his generation. An entire chapter was devoted to the Southern Baptists. Lindsell argued that the denomination was moving away from the belief that the Bible is inerrant in matters of not only theology and Christian practice but also history and science, and he singled out a handful of SBC moderates for scorn.

Moderates believed the inerrancy debate amounted to a false choice. They emphasized the authority of Scripture once interpreted properly, and they denied that the Bible’s authority relied on its historic or scientific accuracy in every detail. Nevertheless, Lindsell’s book stunned some SBC conservatives and emboldened others.

Conservatives convinced a growing number of people that the SBC’s moderate leaders were out of touch with the denomination’s grass roots. Then, through sophisticated campaigning, conservatives got their sympathizers to the SBC annual meetings to vote. Complex issues of inspiration, authority, and interpretation of Scripture fell to the wayside in the political battle over inerrancy. Other theological issues also came to the fore, such as the ordination of women, and cultural and political issues like abortion and separation of church and state became embroiled in the controversy as well. Conservatives charged that moderate leaders were liberals, a charge that was more accurate politically than theologically. But it worked. By 1985, moderates were in trouble. More than halfway into their ten-year plan, conservatives had already started to remake the denomination. As agency and seminary boards fell into the hands of conservative appointees, the moderates desperately needed to break the conservative momentum at the SBC annual convention that summer. The meeting took place at the Dallas Convention Center, where one year earlier Republicans had nominated Ronald Reagan for a second term. Both the Reagan and SBC revolutions were part of a conservative shift taking place in the wider culture.

Thomas S. Kidd & Barry Hankins, Baptists in America: A History 228-230 (2015)

The “Crisis” in the Southern Baptist Convention that began in 1979 and continued through the 1980s was an event that the denomination and the American society around it had been building toward for decades. These forces, driven by population shifts and exacerbated by the tumult of the Cold War, the counter-cultural movement, Watergate, and Vietnam, both transformed and divided the nation. In the South, they produced a nationalization of the region, including the SBC, which destroyed the cultural hegemony of the Old South and played a vital role in the emergence of the New Right as Southern migrants carried their cultural and political worldviews with them to other regions of the country. For the denomination, these societal upheavals and population shifts created a drastic expansion of its territory and brought about a massive centralization project by the generation of leaders that came to power in the 1950s. Forward looking, but still products of the Old South, these leaders failed to recognize the threat that many Southern Baptists felt as they encountered new levels of secularism and pluralism within their society. Accordingly, their attempts to appeal to the “center” of their constituency caused them to misjudge the sway of the morally absolutist worldview of the New Right upon Southern Baptists throughout the nation.

Austin R. Biggs, “The Southern Baptist Convention “Crisis” in Context: Southern Baptist Conservatism and the Rise of the Religious Right” (2017), at 59-60, Western Kentucky University [master’s thesis].

Once again the South provides the striking exception as the conservative (sometimes known as “fundamentalist”) takeover of the huge Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and 1990s recapitulated the denominational controversies of the 1920s. The remarkable difference, however, is that, contrary to many predictions during the early stages of the Southern Baptist controversies, in this case the fundamentalists did win. In one of the most remarkable developments in American ecclesiastical history, conservatives gained control of the central boards of the denomination and took over its theological seminaries. Although characteristic fundamentalist theological concerns, often encapsulated under the rubric of “the inerrancy of Scripture,” were major elements in defining Southern Baptist conservatism, most observers believed that the cultural-political issues were just as important, or perhaps more so, in enlisting popular support.

George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture 244 (2006)

In 1979 that tradition, wholly dependent upon the longstanding spirit of accommodation for its continuance, was placed in jeopardy by men who wanted to put the denomination on the straight-and-narrow path of biblical inerrancy. To accomplish their objective they came to believe that they had to secure control of the Convention. Those who supported the effort argued that their leaders had launched a crusade for truth, while opponents of what some would eventually call ‘the takeover’ condemned the move as a naked power play. The fight was soon on, but there was no agreement among the combatants as to why they were at loggerheads.

Not only was there disagreement over the cause of the brawl, the two sides could not agree on what to call each other. To divide the SBC into only two hostile camps during the controversy of the 1980s is to oversimplify the matter, for there were numerous positions and subtle differences. Even so, for the sake of convenience, this paper will recognize two general groups, plus a basically conservative but non-aligned middle group which was wooed by the other two sides. Taking the offensive in 1979 were people who called themselves ‘conservatives’ and designated their movement the ‘conservative resurgence’. This group referred to their opponents as ‘liberals’, while the so-called liberals called themselves ‘moderates’ and their opponents ‘fundamentalists’. Over time writers came to label the ‘conservatives’ as ‘conservative-fundamentalists’ and the ‘moderates’ as ‘moderate-conservatives’. Since the former espouse views that are fundamentalist in nature and the latter hold views traditionally considered conservative, this paper will use the terms fundamentalists for the former and moderates for the latter.

As the argument over labels continued, disagreement over the nature of the controversy intensified. According to the fundamentalists, they believed the Bible to be fully inspired and without error, while the moderates did not. The fundamentalists further asserted that their view concerning Scripture was the traditional Baptist belief and that the SBC would not return to it until the moderates were ousted from denominational leadership roles or pushed out of the Convention altogether.

Moderates responded that the banner of biblical inerrancy was merely camouflage for covering up a political power play. They insisted that they believed in the ‘authority’ of the Bible and that many in their ranks were committed inerrantists. Asserting that there were virtually no ‘true liberals’ in the SBC, they contended that the Convention had traditionally accommodated diverse theological views and had never denied fundamentalists their right to believe in biblical inerrancy. That all changed, according to the moderates, when, in 1979, fundamentalists, by secular political means, seized control of the Convention and set out to impose their theological views on all Southern Baptists. Denying the charge, the fundamentalists insisted that they only sought a ‘theological correction’ from the liberal turn the Convention had taken.

The ‘conservative resurgence’ in the SBC was primarily the work of two men who bided their time for over a decade after planning it. Those two men were Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson. Pressler, a Baptist layman and appeals court judge from Houston, Texas, first met Patterson- then a graduate student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and later president of Criswell College in Dallas-in New Orleans ‘about 1968’, although the meeting is sometimes said to have occurred in 1967. Over coffee and beignets at the Cafe DuMonde the two men began plotting the strategy which eventually altered the direction of the SBC. Pressler became the movement’s political strategist and Patterson its theological guru. Not long thereafter, from behind the scenes, the reforming duo received the advice and encouragement of W. A. Criswell, the clearly fundamentalist pastor of the SBC’s largest church, First Baptist of Dallas. Dan Griffin, moderate pastor from Fayetteville, North Carolina, called these men and their allies ‘nouveaux Pharisees’.

Pressler was able to present to Southern Baptists impressive credentials with regard to both lineage and education. A Texan from a long line of Baptist preachers and lawyers, he was educated at Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Princeton University and the University of Texas Law School. As he ventured out from the environment of his upbringing to acquire his education, Pressler encountered ‘liberalism’ in the churches he attended. He came to despise the ‘negative impact’ it had on ‘culture and society’ and on the ‘presentation of the gospel’. In the early 1960s he was moved to combat ‘liberalism’ by writing a pamphlet to warn Southern Baptists against it and by supporting New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as long as it remained doctrinally sound. The judge labelled as a liberal anyone not believing ‘that the Bible is completely true, and completely what God intended it to be’. In a word, anybody who did not believe in biblical inerrancy was a liberal-regardless of what else that person might or might not believe!

Patterson was just as adamant as Pressler on the issue of an error-free Bible and, because of his very adequate training in theology, he could explain theological subtleties for the ‘conservative’ cause. Like Pressler, Patterson eschewed the label of ‘fundamentalist’ and insisted on being called a conservative. Even so, the views of both men were undeniably akin to those of professed fundamentalists. When they first met in the French Quarter in 1967 or 1968, Patterson, the younger man, committed himself to helping Pressler put the SBC on the clearly delineated path of biblical inerrancy. They agreed that they would become familiar with every jot and tittle in the Convention by-laws and other constitutional documents and learn in detail exactly how the system worked. Moreover, they would seek out like-minded ‘conservative’ pastors throughout the Convention and create their own communications network in various states-a network that became a reality at a formal meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, about five years later. Ultimately they would secure the election of an SBC president who was a committed inerrantist, followed by another and then another until, through the presidential appointive power, they and their supporters could outvote the ‘liberals’ on the Convention boards and agencies which controlled the denomination.’

For over ten years Pressler and Patterson worked methodically and patiently to accomplish their self-appointed mission. As they created their communications network, they studied thoroughly the Convention’s structure and operations. One of their early allies was Adrian Rogers, pastor of the mammoth Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. After considerable agonizing Rogers agreed to run for SBC president when the Convention met at Houston in 1979, and he was elected by a 51.4 per cent vote over five other candidates. While the vote was being taken, Pressler and Patterson ‘occupied a command post in sky-boxes’ above the Convention floor and maintained contact with many of their floor leaders below. Subsequently it was revealed that numerous voting irregularities played a part in that election which turned out to be only the first of twelve consecutive presidential election victories for the ‘conservative resurgence’ between 1979 and 1990. Registered as ‘a messenger from a church to which he did not belong’- except as an ‘honorary’ member-was none other than Judge Pressler himself. Over 15,500 messengers registered in all, but some churches sent more than their allotted number of messengers. Over 1,000 people registered without having been elected as messengers by their churches. Bus loads of people who were not legitimate messengers arrived from as far away as 150 miles. Illegal ballots were cast. Husbands marked ballots for their wives and pastors for some of their church members who were not present for the vote. Following the Rogers victory, Pressler, Patterson and their allies set a goal of winning control of the Convention by 1989. ‘Biblical inerrancy’ was to be their rallying cry, while their opponents were to be accused of being ‘weak on the authority of an error-free Bible’.

Customarily, SBC presidents served a one-year term and then ran unopposed for a second term, but Adrian Rogers, for ‘personal reasons’ chose not to stand for a second term. Stepping up to fill the void was another of his stripe- Bailey Smith, then a pastor in Dell City, Oklahoma. Smith won the presidency in 1980 and again in 1981, but when he ran for a second term at the 1981 Convention in Los Angeles, moderates who had become aware of what the fundamentalists were doing, broke with tradition and nominated Abner McCall, president of Baylor University and former dean of the Baylor University Law School, to oppose Smith. The latter won easily with a majority of 60 per cent of the vote-more than any other fundamentalist elected between 1979and 1990. After Smith came James T. (Jimmy) Draper of Euless, Texas, for two years; Charles Stanley of Atlanta for two terms; Adrian Rogers once more and for two terms this time; Jerry Vines of Jacksonville, Florida, for two years; and finally, in 1990, Morris Chapman of Wichita Falls, Texas. At the time these men were elected all were pastors of large urban or suburban churches and were confirmed inerrantists.’ Pressler and Patterson, having thus gained their succession of inerrantist presidents, set out to drive perceived ‘liberals’ from Convention agencies, aiming especially at seminary professors.

David T. Morgan, Upheaval in the Southern Baptist Convention, 1979-90: Crusade for Truth or Bid for Power?, The Journal of Religious History, vol. 17(3) 322-326 (June 1993).

The Sunday School Board had barely recovered from the Elliott controversy in the early sixties when the Broadman Bible Commentary was published and its Genesis and Exodus sections came under heavy fire from conservative voices. Led by Ross Edwards, editor of the Baptist Word and Way in Missouri, and a pastor, M. O. Owens, from North Carolina, an aggressive conservative group still in touch with one another following the Elliott controversy leveled a blistering criticism at the Sunday School Board. Even such strong denominationalists as Joe Odle of the Mississippi Baptist Record questioned the direction of the Sunday School Board in its publishing ventures. Specifically, Odle cited tendencies to allow biblical criticism in its new materials, to move away from a doctrinal stand, to overemphasize social action, and to emphasize an intellectual rather than biblical approach.
W. A. Criswell was elected president of the Convention in Houston in 1968 and presided when the Convention registered a record 16,678 messengers in New Orleans in 1969. Criswell took over the gavel from H. Franklin Paschall, who served as pastor for many of the Sunday School Board employees and had presided for two terms following Wayne Dehoney’s tenure. Given the recent controversies, Sunday School Board employees could have felt less secure under the fiery Criswell, but Criswell later confessed that he did essentially what the denomination’s leadership told him to do.

The Sunday School Board’s Broadman Press, under fire from conservatives for the Commentary, drew criticism from its more moderate elements when in 1968 it published W. A. Criswell’s book entitled Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True at the beginning of his tenure as president of the Convention. Many Baptists of more moderate views, still wincing over treatment of the Elliott book, reacted strongly against Broadman’s promotion of Criswell’s effort. Confirming the suspicions of many conservatives was a strong reaction by the Association of Baptist Professors of Religion at their meeting in 1969 that criticized Criswell’s book and the Sunday School Board’s promotion of it.

The professors’ move, based upon their belief1 that Criswell’s book denied the historical-critical approach to the Bible r encountered an immediate backlash. A few letters to editors and one editorial called for investigations by trustees of Baptist schools it]to what their professors were teaching about the Bible.

Despite evidence of strong support for Criswell’s bonk and maybe because of it, the professors and their supporters organized a short-lived entity railed the E. Y Mullins Fellowship. They even decided to run one of their own, Richmond University professor W. C. Smith, Jr., against Criswell at the convention in New Orleans. Smith garnered 450 votes to Criswell’s 7,482. Thus supported, Criswell lashed back in a speech to the Executive Committee in Nashville. Urging “arch-liberals” to get out of the Convention, he confessed his growing frustration with the range of beliefs sheltered under the Southern Baptist Convention. “How far do you compromise what you believe in order to stay together?” he asked.

The following year, 1970, emboldened by Criswell’s presiding and With the Convention meeting in the conservative stronghold of Denver, Colorado, opponents of the Sunday School Board’s perceived liberal tendencies promoted an “Affirming the Bible Conference” just preceding the Southern Baptist Convention. Led by Missouri’s Ross Edwards and several previous SBC presidents, including Ramsey Pollard and K. Owen White, the conference, together with the Denver Convention, clearly demonstrated the growing power of the conservative voice and the galvanizing of the forces of the disaffectioned in Southern Baptist life,

Despite efforts by the Sunday School Board’s Sullivan to promote the idea of unity amidst diversity and to point out that no SBC position was intended by Broadman publications and Clifton Allen’s plea to give the next generation “a heritage of the open mind and open Bible” (Allen was general editor of the Commentary) a motion was passed to withdraw volume I from distribution and rewrite it.

Jesse C. Fletcher, The Southern Baptist Convention: a Sesquicentennial History 237-38 (1994)

The following is from Walter B. Shurden, “A Chronology of the Fundamentalist-Moderate Controversy,” in The Struggle for The Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement ix-xviii (1993)


February 22. The Christian Index. Names of those to preach at SBC Pastors’ Conference in Houston is released, and reads like a Who’s Who of future Fundamentalist leaders of the next decade: Homer Lindsay, Jr, president, Adrian Rogers, W. A. Criswell, Jerry Vines, Charles Stanley, and others.
May 10. The Christian Index has article by Toby Druin in which Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler confirm reports that meetings had been held in at least fifteen states to encourage messengers to attend the SBC in Houston to elect a president committed to biblical inerrancy. Patterson said the meetings grew out of a concern that every resolution in recent years aimed at underscoring Southern Baptist belief in biblical inerrancy “has come back toothless.” No particular candidate was named but Patterson said Jerry Vines, Richard Jackson, Adrian Rogers, Bailey Smith, Homer Lindsay, and John Bisagno would be acceptable.
May 24. The Christian Index reports that Harold Lindsell, president of the Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship, said in an interview with the Memphis Commercial Appeal that it is time for Southern Baptists to face the issue of inerrancy even if it meant the loss of 500,000 members. Lindsell also announced he would be speaking in several cities across the nation before the SBC in Houston, promoting sales of his new book entitled The Bible in the Balance. Lindsell denied the Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship had been involved in the Pressler-Patterson meetings across the nation.
June 12-14, SBC, Houston, 15,760 messengers, Jimmy Allen presiding.

—At the Pastors’ Conference preceding the SBC, Fundamentalist Homer Lindsay. Jr. presides over a parade of preachers who lashed out at alleged “liberals” within the SBC Moments after Adrian Rogers said “If those liberals will ever come to the cross of Christ, all heaven will break loose,” W. A. Criswell endorsed him to be the next president of the SBC. Fundamentalist James T. Draper elected president of the Pastor’s Conference.

—Fundamentalist Adrian Rogers elected as president on the First ballot with 51.36% of the vote, over five independent candidates. In a news conference following election, Rogers said he was not part of the Pressler-Patterson political machine and that he hoped the kind of political organization that led to his election would not be a pattern for future elections of SBC presidents.
–Resolution ironically adopted at the beginning of a twelve-year-long fight “On Disavowing Political Activity in Selecting Officers,” read in part as follows: ‘”WHEREAS, There have been numerous public reports of political-type meetings and materials for the purpose of predetermining the election of officers of this Convention; Be it therefore Resolved, that this Convention go on record as disavowing overt political activity and organization as a method of selection of its messengers and Churches to pray for guidance in the priesthood of the believer in all matters of decision and to exercise distinctly Christian actions in all deliberations”
—Paul Pressler, one of the architects of the Fundamentalist Movement, registered as SBC messenger from a church to which he did not belong.
—Wayne Dehoney, former SBC president, drew warm applause when he went to the microphone, pointed to a “sky room” at the top of the convention hall as being campaign headquarters for Paul Pressler. Dehoney also accused Pressler of being an “illegal messenger” who was not properly certified.
—Motion by Wayne Dehoney and approved by convention reaffirming the section of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message dealing with the Bible.
—A constitutional amendment to prevent ordained women from serving on the home or foreign mission field was defeated.
—Reaffirmed restrained 1976 resolution on abortion.
July 31. Porter W Routh retires and is succeeded by Harold C. Bennett as executive secretary-treasurer of the SBC executive committee.


January. SBC president Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, and Paige Patterson join with Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, and others in urging removal of the issue of prayer in schools from jurisdiction of federal courts.
April. Fundamentalist publication The Southern Baptist Journal moves from Buchanan GA, where William A. Powell was editor to Columbia SC, where Russell Kaemmerling, Paige Patterson’s brother-in-law, becomes editor.
May. Baptist Press reports Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler had revealed a plan for long-range control of SBC.
May 6. SBC president Adrian Rogers announces he will not seek a second one-year term because of local church responsibilities.
May 22.The Christian Index reports that W. A. Criswell, pastor, First Baptist, Dallas, had announced that Paige Patterson, president of Criswell Center for Biblical Studies, would withdraw from Fundamentalist effort to control SBC by electing presidents. Criswell said the methods used by Patterson and others are “those of a different world,” that Baptists traditionally disdain.
June 10-12. SBC, St. Louis, I3,844 messengers, Adrian Rogers presiding.
— SBC Pastors’ Conference elects Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, president.
—Fundamentalist Bailey Smith elected president with 51.67% of the vote on first ballot over five independent candidates.
–Resolution adopted “On Doctrinal Integrity” which foretells much of what was to come for the next decade. In part it read as follows; “Be it further resolved, That we exhort the trustees of seminaries and other institutions affiliated with or supported by the Southern Baptist Convention to faithfully discharge their responsibility to carefully preserve the doctrinal integrity of our institutions and to assure that seminaries and other institutions receiving our support only employ, and continue the employment of, faculty members and professional staff who believe in the divine inspiration of the whole Bible, infallibility of the original manuscripts, and that the Bible is truth without any error.”
August. SBC President Bailey Smith creates a Furor with his statement that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.”
September 1. R. Keith Parks succeeds Baker James Cauthen as executive director of the Foreign Mission Board.
September 12-13. In a speech at the Old Forest Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg VA, Paul Pressler announces that the Fundamentalists “need to go for the jugular—we need to go for the trustees.” Said Pressler, “We are going for having knowledgeable. Bible-centered, Christ-honoring trustees of all of our institutions who are not going to sit there like a bunch of dummies and rubber stamp everything that’s presented to them.” In answer to a question about giving to the Cooperative Program, Pressler said, “Work within the framework of the Cooperative Program.” He added, “Give at least enough to have the maximum number of messengers [to the SBC].”
September 25-26. Moderate Movement begins in Gatlinburg TN, when Cecil Sherman calls together a group of seventeen ministers to counter the Fundamentalist assault on the SBC.
October. James M. Dunn elected as executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs to succeed James Wood.


June. Fifteen Southern Baptist historians appeal for defense and protection of denominational heritage relating to Baptist distinctives, the purpose of the SBC, the centrality of the Bible, and the Baptist aversion to creedalism.
June 9-11. SBC, Los Angeles, 13,529 messengers, Bailey Smith presiding.
–Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church. Houston, elected president of Pastors’ Conference.
-Bailey Smith reelected president with 60,24% of the vote over Moderate Abner McCall with 39.30%.
—Motion of Moderates to limit SBC president’s power in the appointment of the Committee on Committees fails. The failure of the motion highlights the power of the presidency in die Fundamentalist strategy to dominate the boards and agencies of the SBC.
—Motion by Herschel H. Hobbs, former SBC president and primary author of the 1963 “Baptist Faith and Message,” that the SBC “reaffirm our historic Baptist position that the Holy Bible, which has truth without any mixture of error for its matter, is our adequate rule of faith and practice, and that we reaffirm our belief in ‘The Baptist Faith and Message’ adopted in 1963, including all seventeen articles, plus the preamble which protects the conscience of the individual and guards us from a creedal faith.” The apparent intent of Hobbs’s motion was to reaffirm the noncreedal and voluntary nature of “The Baptist Faith and Message” while appeasing the Fundamentalist insistence on inerrancy. During later debate on the motion Adrian Rogers asked that some of Hobbs’s comments which reflected the inerrantist tendency be read into the record. Later Hobbs’s comments would he cited by Fundamentalists as evidence that “The Baptist Faith and Message” article on the Bible was an inerrantist statement. This marks another step in the growing creedalistic usage of the 1963 confessional statement. Fundamentalists used Hobbs’s statements which “‘leaned” toward inerrancy to better effect than Moderates used Hobbs’s statement about the noncreedal and voluntary nature of “The Baptist Faith and Message.”


February. Roy L. Honeycutt succeeds Duke K, McCall as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

May. Fundamentalist Adrian Rogers stated in an interview with Jack Harwell, editor of The Christian Index, that the point of tension in Southern Baptist life was “the Cooperative Program; we’re trying to get everybody to support everything the same way.” As Fundamentalists gain increasing power in the SBC, they will affirm the CP; conversely Moderates will echo Rogers’s earlier criticism of the way CP is used.

May 27. The Christian Index reports that Duke K. McCall would be nominated for the presidency of the SBC.

June 15- 17. SBC, New Orleans, 20,456 messengers, Bailey Smith presiding.

—Fred Wolfe, Mobile pastor, elected president of the Pastors’ Conference.

 —Fundamentalist Jimmy Draper elected president on second ballot with 56.97% of the vote over Moderate Duke McCall with 43.03%

Resolutions approved endorsing scientific creationism, supporting a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion, and sanctioning an amendment regarding voluntary prayer in public schools. These resolutions mark a deviation from past SBC actions regarding government involvement in religious matters, and mark a sharp turn to the right in SBC life.

November 29. Moderate group meeting at Atlanta airport decides to launch newspaper (SBC Today, later Baptists Today).


April. First issue of SBC Today.

June. Formation of “Women in Ministry. SBC” (later “Southern Baptist Women in Ministry”)

June 14-16. SBC, Pittsburgh, 13,740 messengers, Jimmy Draper presiding.

—Jimmy Draper is unopposed for reelection as president.

—Moderates hold “reception,” the forerunner to the SBC’ Forum.

—Fundamentalist Charles Stanley, who would become the next president of the SBC, became visible at the SBC as the new president of the SBC Pastors Conference and chair of the Committee on Boards. Previous efforts by Moderates to challenge nominations from this committee had been successful, but failed in Pittsburgh.


June 12-14. SBC, Kansas City MO, 17,101 messengers, Jimmy Draper presiding.

—Fundamentalist Charles Stanley elected president with 52.18% of the vote over Moderate Grady Cothen with 26.28% and independent John Sullivan with 21.53%.

—Resolution “On Ordination and the Role of Women in Ministry” adopted 58.03% to 41.97%, and reads in part: “WHEREAS, The Scriptures attest to God’s delegated order of authority (God the head of Christ, Christ the head of man, man the head of woman, man and woman dependent one upon the other to the glory of God), distinguishing the roles of men and women in public prayer and prophecy (1 Cor 11:2-5); and WHEREAS, The Scriptures teach that women are not in public worship to assume a role of authority over men lest confusion reign in the local church (1 Cor 14:33-36); and WHEREAS, While Paul commends women and men alike in other roles of ministry and service (Titus 2:1-10), he excludes women from pastoral leadership (l Tim 2:12) to preserve a submission God requires because the man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall (1 Tim 2:I3ff.).”

—Motion to eliminate funding for Baptist Joint Committee defeated, but is an indication of what is to come

—First meeting of the SBC Forum

—Paul Pressler elected to serve on the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

June and following. Denominational executives, especially seminary presidents Russell Dilday, Roy L. Honeycutt, Jr., and Randall Lolley, launch all-out attack on Fundamentalists. Dilday preached a fiery sermon at the SBC in Kansas City deploring the political machinations of Pressler and Patterson; Honeycutt used the “Holy War” metaphor from the Old Testament; Randall Lolley defended in a spirited manner the role of women in ministry. All these efforts pointed toward the next SBC (Dallas) and toward unseating incumbent president Stanley.


June 11-13. SBC, Dallas, 45,519 messengers (largest in SBC history), Charles Stanley presiding.
–Charles Stanley reelected president with 55.3% of the vote over Moderate Winfred Moore with 44.7%.
–Appointment of the “Peace Committee,” with Charles Fuller as chair, “to determine the sources of the controversies in our Convention, and make findings and recommendations regarding these controversies.”

–Charles Stanley overrules the SBC regarding the Slatton motion. James H. Slatton’s motion would have amended the Committee on Committees’ report by substituting state convention presidents and state WMU presidents as a more inclusive and representative group to serve Southern Baptists as the Committee on Boards.

December 5. Robert and Julia Crowder of Birmingham and Henry C. Cooper of Windsor MO, file a lawsuit against the denomination and its executive committee because of Charles Stanley’s ruling on the Slatton motion.


May 5. U.S. district judge in favor of SBC in the Crowder lawsuit, saying the first amendment of the U.S.
Constitution prevents intrusion of secular courts into internal church disputes.

May 5. William G. Tanner, president of the Home Mission Board, elected executive director-treasurer of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention.

May. Foy Valentine, executive director of the SBC Christian Life Commission, requests that a search process be initiated to select his successor. Search Committee appointed.

May. Theologian Clark Pinnock issues apology for fueling controversy over inerrancy, a position he now claims is not “well supported exegetically.”

June 10-15. SBC. Atlanta, 40,987 messengers (second largest in SBC history), Charles Stanley presiding.
—Fundamentalist Adrian Rogers elected president with 54.22% of the vote over Moderate Winfred Moore 45.78%. (Both were members of the SBC Peace Committee)
—Fundamentalist motion to deny binding to Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs resulted in “Fact Finding Committee” to study relationship of BJCPA to SBC.

June. Paige Patterson, in a statement following the Fundamentalist victory in Atlanta, indicates that Fundamentalists are expected to tie their positions on abortion, euthanasia, school prayer, and federal budget reduction to the hiring of denominational employees. Speaking of the Fundamentalist social and moral agenda within the SBC, Patterson was quoted as saying, “I think it’ll go over nearly as well as the inerrancy thing.”

August. Moderate meeting in Macon, where differing strategies for the future surface. Marks the beginning idea of the Southern Baptist Alliance.

August 6. As a result of trustee elections at the Atlanta SBC, Fundamentalists capture the balance of power on the Home Mission Board and force the resignation of a presidential search committee.

October 22. SBC seminary presidents present the “Glorieta Statement” which was affirmed by the Peace Committee and widely interpreted as a capitulation to the growing Fundamentalist power within the SBC. Leading Moderate spokesman Cecil Sherman resigns in protest from the Peace Committee.

October 24. An eight-point peace proposal made by Moderates rejected by Fundamentalist leaders.

December 1-2. Providence Baptist Church, Charlotte. Motion made to organize and incorporate the Southern Baptist Alliance.


January. Baptist Press reports the beginning of new missions organization by Fundamentalists.

January. Moderate Larry Baker elected to head the SBC Christian Life Commission by a 16-13 vote of the trustees.

Early 1987. “No Lord but Christ, No Creed but the Bible” statement released by Moderates.

February. Patterson-Pressler issue statement to the SBC peace committee lauding developments in the SBC and noting their support for the Glorieta Statement and the Cooperative Program.

February 2-4. Trustees of the Sunday School Board authorize multivolume inerrancy commentary on the Bible.

February 12. Announcement of formation of the Southern Baptist Alliance.

April 10. Fundamentalist Larry L. Lewis elected president of the Home Mission Board

May 14-15. First Convocation of the Southern Baptist Alliance, Meredith College, Raleigh.

June 16-18. SBC, St. Louis, 25,607 messengers, Adrian Rogers presiding.
—Fundamentalist Adrian Rogers reelected president with 59.97% of the vote over Moderate Richard Jackson with 40.03%.

—Adopted Fundamentalist-dominated Peace Committee Report which takes on creedal nature in Southern Baptist life.

September 15. Moderate Larry Baker, executive-director of live Christian Life Commission of the SBC, avoids dismissal by a 15-15 tie vote. (Fundamentalist trustees sought Baker’s dismissal because of displeasure with his views on abortion, capital punishment, and women in ministry.)

November 17. Southeastern Seminary President Randall Lolley and Dean Morris Ashcraft resign their positions rather than implement restrictive hiring policies of Fundamentalist trustees.

December. Bill Moyers’s PBS documentary entitled “God and Politics” which highlighted tie SBC controversy and brought Daniel Vestal to the forefront of Moderate leadership.


March. Paige Patterson proposes agency status for WMU.

March 14. Lewis Drummond elected president of Southeastern Seminary by Fundamentalist trustees.

May 15. Moderate Larry Baker, director of Christian Life Commission, accepts pastorate of First Baptist Church, Pineville LA, sixteen months after accepting the CLC post.

June 1. Jack U. Harwell becomes editor of SBC Today, succeeding Walker L. Knight.

June 14-16. SBC, San Antonio, 32,727 messengers, Adrian Rogers presiding.

—At SBC Pastors’ Conference, W. A. Criswell groups “moderates” with “liberals” saying, “A skunk by any other name still stinks.”
—Fundamentalist Jerry Vines elected president with 50.53% of the vote over Moderate candidate Richard Jackson (48.32%) and two other independent candidates.

—Resolution “On the Priesthood of the Believer” adopted by 54.75% to 45.25% of the vote and read in part: “WHEREAS, the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer can be used to justify the undermining of pastoral authority in the local church, Be it further RESOLVED, Thai the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer in no way contradicts the biblical understanding of the role, responsibility and authority of the pastor which is seen in the command to the local church in Hebrews 13:17,  ‘Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they watch over your souls, as those who will give an account’; and Be finally RESOLVED, That we affirm the truth that elders, or pastors, are called of God to lead the local church (Acts 20:28).”

July 2l. SBC Foreign Mission Board terminates Michael E. Willett, missionary to Venezuela, because of Willett’s “doctrinal ambiguity.”

September 12. Fundamentalist Richard Land elected head of the SBC Christian Life Commission following Moderate Larry Baker’s resignation in the spring.

December 15-16. Continuation of the Moderate political network through the formation of “Baptists Committed to the Southern Baptist Convention.”


January 1. Stan Hastey becomes the first permanent executive-director of the Southern Baptist Alliance.

March 1-3. Third annual convocation of the Southern Baptist Alliance.

—SBA approves opening of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.

April  10-11. Moderate Jimmy Allen resigns as presided of the SBC Radio and Television Commission.

June. SBC, Las Vegas, 20,411 messengers, Jerry Vines presiding.

—Fundamentalist Jerry Vines reelected president with 56.58% of the vote over Daniel Vestal with 43.39%.

July 22. Dellana W. O’Brien elected WMU national executive director.

June 27. Greg and Katrina Pennington rejected for missionary appointment by the SBC Foreign Mission Board, because she was ordained.
August 7. Baptist Sunday School Board trustees rebuke president Loyd Elder for alleged denominational politics but turn back attempt to fire him.


June 12-14. SBC, New Orleans. 38,403 messengers, Jerry Vines presiding.

—Fundamentalist Morris Chapman elected president with 57.68% of the vote over Daniel Vestal with 42.32%.
—SBC cuts budget support for BPCPA from $391,000 to $50,000.

July 17. In closed session behind aimed security guards, Fundamentalist-dominated SBC executive committee fires Al Shackleford, director of Baptist Press, and Dan Martin, Baptist Press news editor; immediately Nashville attorney Jeff Mobley announces the beginning of Associated Baptist Press.

August. Meetings by concerned Baptist professors, pastors, arid laypersons to consider forming an alternative Baptist publishing house (Smyth & Helwys).

August 13-15. Fundamentalist-dominated Sunday School Board trustees vote to destroy all copies but one of a manuscript of that board’s centennial history written by Southwestern Seminary church historian Leon McBeth.

August 23-25. Consultation of Concerned SOuthern Baptists, the Inforum, Atlanta, called by Daniel Vestal, presided over by Jimmy Allen, head of Baptists Committed.

–Formation of the Baptist Cooperative Missions Program, Inc. (BCMP), a funding mechanism for Moderate SBC causes.

–Daniel Vestal elected moderator to lead 06-member interim steering committee.

September 21. BCMP offices open in SBC Today facilities in Decatur GA.

September 21. Baylor University amends charter to replace trustees with regents who will have sole governance of the institution. The change established three-fourths of the board of regents as self-perpetuating, with only one-fourth of the regents elected by the Texas Baptist Convention.

September 24-25. Fundamentalist-dominated board of trustees imposes Peace Committee report as new creedal statement for hiring at Southern Seminary.

October 15. Furman University amends charter to give the board of trustees rather than the South Carolina Baptist Convention the power to elect trustees.

November 9. News release announces beginning of Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., a free press for Baptists.


January 7. Thomas H. Graves elected president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.

January 17. Loyd Elder, president of the Baptist Sunday School Board, forced to retire by Fundamentalist-dominated board of trustees.

February. Smyth & Helwys announces commitment to publish alternative church curriculum resources.

March 14-16. The Southern Baptist Alliance eliminates reference to the Southern Baptist Convention in its statement of purpose.

April 8. Trustees of Southern Seminary adopt a “Covenant Renewal Between Trustees, Faculty, and Administration” which replaces the SBC Peace Committee report as guidelines for hiring faculty but commits faculty and trustees to a document other than the historic “Abstract of Principles.”

May 9-11. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship convocation, Omni Coliseum, Atlanta, Daniel Vestal, presiding.

–”An Address to the Public” presented by the Fellowship’s interim steering committee (see appendix 2).

–The Fellowship adopts the name “The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship” rather than the recommended “United Baptist Fellowship.”

–John H. Hewett, pastor, First Baptist Church, Asheville, elected CBF moderator.

May 20. News release announces Cecil P. Staton, Jr. has become first full-time publisher ofo Smyth & Helwys.

May. SBC Today changes to Baptists Today.

May. Meeting held at Woodmont Baptist Church in Nashville, at which was born the Baptist Center for Ethics. (The name “Southern Baptist Center for Ethics” rejected as too provincial.)

June 4-6. SBC, Atlanta, 23, 465 messengers, Morris Chapman presiding.

–Fundamentalist Morris Chapman unopposed for president and reelected by acclamation.

–SBC dropped all financial support for the BJCPA.

July 18. Fundamentalist James T. Draper elected president of the Baptist Sunday School Board.

September. Smyth & Helwys moves to the campus of Mercer University and begins period of cooperation with Mercer University Press; Cecil P. Staton, Jr. becomes publisher of MUP as well as of S&H.

September 10. Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond begins classes.

October 9. Fundamentalist-dominated Foreign Mission Board trustees vote to delete from budget $365,000 previously promised to the Baptist Theological Seminary in Rüschlikon, Switzerland.


January 7. FMB Vice-President Isam Ballenger and Area Director for Europe G. Keith Parker announce early retirement in protest of trustees’ defunding seminary at Rüschlikon.

January 9. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship coordinating council calls Cecil E. Sherman as first fulltime Coordinator.

February 17. Fundamentalist Morris Chapman elected president of the SBC executive committee.

April 1. Baptist Cooperative Missions Program, Inc. becomes part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

April 30-May 2. CBF general assembly, Ft. Worth.

–John David and Jo Ann Hopper and Charles and Kathy Thomas resign from SBC Foreign Mission Board to become first missioners for the CBF.

March 5-7. Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the Southern Baptist Alliance dropped “Southern” from its name.

March 20. R. Keith Parks, SBC Foreign Mission Board president, announces retirement on October 31 because of differences with FMB trustees.

May 14. Fundamentalist Paige Patterson elected president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

October 9. Formation by Moderates of the William H. Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society at Mercer University.

November 30. Keith Parks, former president of SBC Foreign Mission Board, announces he will become missions head for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.


January 10. Woman’s Mission Union votes to steer a new course and open the door to work with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

January. Former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn Carter endorse the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

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