Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Baptist Gathering Draws Fewer `Messengers'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Baptist Gathering Draws Fewer `Messengers'

Article excerpt

TEAMS OF Southern Baptists from Missouri and Illinois are on their way to the Louisiana Superdome.

They are "messengers" - teams of church delegates - to the Southern Baptist Convention's 139th annual meeting. It opens Tuesday in New Orleans.

They'll elect a new president and share ideas for keeping baby boomers involved, enlisting Hispanic members and eliminating racism.

Much of the work at the three-day meeting will be about money. They are expected to spend hours hashing out details of a controversial plan to streamline the denominational structure.

"A lot of people are hurting over this," said the Rev. Robert L. Griffin, pastor of Parker Road Baptist Church in Florissant.

About 19,000 messengers have pre-registered. With 15.6 million members, Southern Baptists are the nation's second-largest Christian denomination after Catholics.

Despite a major schism over the past 20 years, the Nashville-based denomination is the largest of the 27 Baptist denominations in this country. The second-largest, the National Baptist Convention of America, has 8.2 million members and will hold its annual Christian Education Conference in St. Louis, June 18-21. About 25,000 are expected.

In New Orleans Tuesday, Southern Baptist Convention president the Rev. Jim Henry will conclude his second one-year term with a farewell address. He is expected to push for one of the church agencies - probably the Christian Life Commission - to encourage racial inclusion within the denomination.

When it comes to racism, Henry said pastors must do more than just preach that it's a sin. He and other leaders were disturbed this winter when a deacon in Georgia allegedly objected to the burial of a mixed-race infant in a Southern Baptist cemetery. The convention is expected to condemn recent arson fires of black churches in the South.

Last year, the most dramatic moment came when the convention asked black Americans to forgive the denomination for racism. The Convention was founded 151 years ago when slave-owning Southerners split with Northern Baptists over slavery.

Missing Boomers

The tendency of boomers to switch from one Christian denomination to another also concerns Henry. He worries that many young Baptists are working for non-denominational Christian mission groups. That leaves Southern Baptist missions short-handed.

Dropouts also are a concern. Entire congregations are skipping the annual meeting.

In 1990, the last time the convention was held in New Orleans, 38,403 "messengers" registered - double the number expected this year.

Some attribute the dissatisfaction to the a conservative resurgence that began in 1979. Strict adherence to literal interpretation of the Bible - especially at seminaries - has driven some from the fold. Many Southern Baptists now work together with the newer Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. …

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