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North Carolina Moderate Meeting Draws 500

Moderates in North Carolina didn’t take a formal vote on starting a new organization but began what is likely to be a continuing conversation about finding ways to cooperate apart from the conservative-led Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

About 500 people gathered Friday and Saturday in Greensboro, N.C., to discuss moderates’ options in a state convention that many feel no longer offers them a place.

“I’m still hearing there’s no desire to start another organization, but I am also hearing, ‘We don’t want to have meetings where we argue–we want to work with people who want to work with us,” Ken Massey, pastor of First Baptist Church in Greensboro, which was the host of the meetings, told the Winston-Salem Journal.

David Hughes, pastor of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, who proposed the meeting after losing a bid to become president of the state convention last fall, outlined a number of options that he said moderates should consider. They included starting a new Baptist network, joining another national Baptist convention or remaining independent moderate churches.

“I believe God wants us to stick together in some fashion,” Hughes said, according to a report of the meeting in Sunday’s Journal.

Hughes said losing control of the Baptist state convention might turn out to be a blessing. His “definitive defeat” in November forced moderates to step back, ask new questions and think in new ways, he said in the Biblical Recorder.

“As God’s people, our first charge is not to subsidize institutions and conventions,” he said, but to be faithful to the ministry of Christ. “Only the ministry of Christ is entitled,” Hughes said. “All else is negotiable.”

“Jesus didn’t die on the cross so we could play political games at the state convention…. He wants us to raise our sights much higher than that. He wants us to take on the world in Christ’s name,” Hughes said.

The Baptist Center for Ethics’ Robert Parham, a panelist at the meeting, said churches are already forming relationships across denominational lines. “The age of churches sending their money to someone they may or may not know, to decide how it is spent, is over,” Parham said in a quote by the Greensboro News & Record. “The future is more about churches deciding” just how to spend their mission money.

While moderates believe the North Carolina convention is moving toward becoming a mirror of the fundamentalist-led Southern Baptist Convention, it’s unclear how many are ready to make a clean break.

“This church is not going to leave,” Massey told the Greensboro newspaper. “The members feel like they would leave employees and ministries hanging out to dry…. There has to be another option without starting another bureaucracy.”

One flash point of contention emerged in an exchange between the pastor of a church disfellowshipped last year for baptizing two men believed to be gay and the state convention’s executive director, Jim Royston, a panelist.

“You excommunicated us,” Steve Ayers, the pastor of McGill Baptist Church in Concord, N.C., said to Royston during a session, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. “We baptized people who came and told us they accepted Jesus Christ as their savior…. Why, Jim, did you throw us out?”

Royston said the decision was painful but came in response to what appeared to be a “public blessing” of homosexuality by the church. Ayers denied there was an open affirmation of homosexuality. “It may have been a passive endorsement,” Royston replied.

The state convention’s conservative president, David Horton, attended the meeting the meeting in Greensboro. He told the Biblical Recorder that he came because he wants to be the president of all North Carolina Baptists.

Horton said after the meetings that he believes the BSC can stay together. “I want to see us work together,” he said. “I simply believe we can accomplish more together than separately.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

See our advance story and editorial about last weekend’s meeting in Greensboro.