http://www.abpnews.com/www/1725.article Debate over SBC cooperation, direction marks Baptist Identity conference By Phillip Jordan Published: February 16, 2007 JACKSON, Tenn. (ABP) -- The future should be bright for Southern Baptists, but it won't be if they continue their infighting, said Southern Baptist Convention president Frank Page Feb. 15 at a conference on Baptist identity. Page, pastor of First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C., urged Southern Baptists -- who have been squabbling over narrowing doctrinal parameters and other issues -- to stick together. “But if we continue to break into factions that continue to fight each other and focus on turf-protectionism, the future will not be bright,” Page said. Page spoke during the “Baptist Identity II: Convention, Cooperation and Controversy” conference Feb. 15-17 at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He wove a theme of unity throughout his message, which focused on the need for Baptists to remain together despite disagreements. Page cautioned that dissent and debate should not devolve into anything that would reproach the gospel. “[The Apostle] Paul didn’t say, ‘Whose side are you on?’” Page said. “He asked, ‘Are you preaching Jesus Christ?’” The conference comes amid intra-denominational disagreements among Southern Baptist conservatives, who have controlled the 16 million-member SBC for almost three decades. Recently, internal differences -- over issues such as control and cooperation, speaking in tongues, the place of women in leadership roles, censorship and alcohol use -- have signaled some unraveling at the edges of the denomination. For well over a year, some conservatives have expressed their displeasure with what they perceive as narrowing fundamentalism in some SBC circles. Page was elected as SBC president last June with support from those who want more flexibility and transparency in the convention. The three-day conference at Union University was organized in an attempt to discuss what the future of Southern Baptist life might look like. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson began the second day of the conference by asserting contemporary Baptists could learn much about how to relate to each other from Anabaptists -- the Reformation-era ancestors of modern Baptists. “If modern Baptists are to find a way out of our current malaise, we must, like the Anabaptists did, find a way to make church membership more meaningful,” said Patterson, himself a former SBC president. He said Baptist churches -- both in the Anabaptists' time and today -- are lacking in their ability to effectively discipline and provide guidance to new converts. "We are showing a lack of care with new converts," Patterson said. "And a disciplined church is necessary for the church's witness." Patterson, the key figure in conservatives' rise to SBC power, noted that Anabaptists’ refusal to change their minds on issues unless convinced by Scripture should also be a testament to contemporary Baptists. During his address, Patterson said only God can know people’s religious motivations, and he chastised those who spread slander and gossip from within Baptist ranks. “That should be shameful among any Baptists today,” Patterson said. His remarks come less than a month after it became known that Patterson dismissed a female professor from her position at Southwestern’s School of Theology solely because she is a woman. In January, Baptist blogger Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., wrote a widely circulated essay on kerussocharis.blogspot.com that denounced Patterson for dismissing Hebrew professor Sheri Klouda. Patterson adheres to a strict interpretation of biblical texts that he believes mean women should not be allowed to teach men, even in seminary. While Patterson avoided the topic during his speech, there were members of the audience who wished the subject had been addressed, including Baptist bloggers who have played a key role in recent SBC dissent and Page's election. Interaction with the bloggers was a part of the conference program, and several were in attendance. Benjamin Cole, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church, in Arlington, Texas, and another blogger who has written about Klouda (baptistblog.wordpress.com), said he wished Patterson had more time to answer questions. Patterson only answered two questions after his presentation. Cole had planned to ask Patterson if he agreed with a thesis by author Roland H. Bainton that Anabaptists had been among the earliest reformers to advocate for women’s education, suffrage, ordination and the holding of church office. “I wanted to ask him about what contemporary Baptists could learn from Anabaptists in that area,” Cole said. “Anabaptists were among the first to support women’s suffrage, and by the early 20th century they supported the election of women to serve in the faculties of their schools.” Other presentations at the conference were delivered by Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway Christian Resources, and Mike Day, director of missions for the Mid-South Baptist Association in Memphis. More than 300 people are attending the conference, which will continue through Saturday, Feb. 17. Other scheduled speakers include Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; David Dockery, president of Union University; Ed Stetzer, missiologist and research team director at the North American Mission Board; and Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. The first Baptist Identity conference was held in April 2004.