Southern Baptists: A House Divided?

By: Gary Loe
By: Gary Loe

Knoxville (WVLT) - A Southern Baptist meeting next year is dividing conservatives and moderates. Two East Tennessee churches are a prime example of how Southern Baptists are now a house divided.

Southern Baptists attend church religiously on Sunday, but church leaders say the difference in what they believe is driving a wedge between moderates and conservatives.

"This group is not about prescribing to believers how they should interpret the Bible," Pastor Bill Shiell says.

Pastor Shiell of First Baptist Downtown Knoxville says his church of moderate members has joined the "New Baptist Covenant" to bring all Baptists together.

Instead, the New Covenant, made up of 40 Baptists groups and led by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, may be having the opposite effect.

"I think it's all a political maneuvering to get the religious vote," Pastor Ron Stewart says.

Pastor Stewart of Conservative Grace Baptist in Karns is the president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. He says the planned January 2008 meeting in Atlanta is aimed at reaching a large segment of voters who base their votes on their religious convictions, including moderate issues of same sex marriage, pro-abortion, and women in ministry.

Pastor Shiell disagrees.

"Baptists aren't aligned with any political party, but rather, Baptists are aligned with Jesus," he says.

Spiritual leaders on both sides blame a theological problem for Baptists becoming a house divided. It centers on Bible interpretation.

"And always, always at the center of everything we do as Southern Baptists is sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Pastor Stewart says.

"There are some Baptists who spend a good deal of time telling people that God is angry at them, and God is out to get them. This is not that kind of Baptist," Pastor Shiell says.

Whether dividing or uniting Southern Baptists will be determined early next year.

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