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Woglutions… ikated 3une 291h, 2007 by Cetegatiesi Hu.n1 ,3r . As we at. Baptist Slogger approach the mid-year mark, we decided to come up July 2007 SMTWTF S 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Q 1fl . IA 13114 “If you cut me, I bleed Southern Baptist, pretty much.” In 1985, a skinny, blond kid walked into an after-school program in Longview, Texas, run by two evangelists, Billy and Wintry Foote. He was 9 years old and living with an alcoholic father, whom he hated 111.11 he bartender may well be the loneliest person in this hotel on San Antonio’s Riverwalk. Just feet away from the darkened bar, people mill around the lobby with plastic glasses of lemon ade in hand. “Oh, they’re all Baptists,” says Ben Cole, a 31-year-old pastor from Arlington, Texas. Or as he pronounces it, Babdists. Cole points out the dean of a Baptist seminary, then a man in a dark suit who Cole says is the armed bodyguard of a prominent seminary president. We’ve crowded into chairs with another pastor, Wade Burleson from Oklahoma, his wife Rachelle, and a pastor from Alabama, C.B. Scott, who knows hired muscle when he sees it. That used to be Scott’s line of work. It’s Sunday afternoon, June 10, and talk turns to what to watch on television tonight: the first game of the NBA finals or the last episode of “The Sopranos.” “Actually, I’ve learned a lot about how to be a Southern Baptist from ‘The Sopranos:” Cole says. “Hold your friends close but your enemies closer. The person who sets up the meeting between you and your enemy is working for your enemy. You know, the whole ‘Godfather’ thing.” Cole is boyish, slim and blond, given to wearing crisp pinstripe suits and sunglasses tipped back on his head, though to the thousands who have come to San Antonio for the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual gathering, he’s known more by his reputation than his face. He, Burleson, and a few others have decided they must save the nation’s largest Protestant denomination from the dangerous political and theological excesses of its leadership. For several years, they have challenged the aging conservatives who have guided the SBC since staging their own successful insurgency three decades ago. The challengers’ quarrel is not with the SBC’s conservatism, which they embrace. They believe every word of the Bible, they believe homosexuality is a sin, and they despise abortion. But they also believe that power has become too concentrated in a denomination that prides itself on having no hierarchy. These young, conservative pastors want their independence backthey want to be Baptist again, which to them means belonging to a denomination in which everyone agrees on a few theological basics and argues, endlessly and lustily, about the details: drinking alcohol, the role of women in churches, whether rock hymns are holy enough. To wage their battle, they have taken up the newest tool for loudmouths and deep-thinking outsiders of all stripes and faithsblogs. Much of Cole’s visibility to ordinary Southern been through his blog, , one of a handful written by reform-minded pastors that have sprung up in the past two years. The missives are widely read by many SBC leaders and are linked to by countless other bloggers, probably thousands, who add to the discussion. All this blogging energy has created a new power base within the SBC that circumvents the establishment, particularly the traditional Baptist media, and attracts fellow travelers. “You and I may have met at the coffee shop and talked about how frustrated we were with the Southern Baptist structure, but with blogs the conversation happens so that thousands of people can see they’re not the only ones who thought that way,” says Marty Duren, a pastor in Georgia who ran an influential blog, www. , until recently. Bloggers have become the new Baptist bogeymen. For non-Baptists, their ascendance may well mean that the voice of the Southern Baptist Convention, a potent political force for decades, will become more diffuse, less able to coordinate its attacks on secular culture, and less powerful in national politics. At this convention, the young renegades have a plan for the next step in their campaign. It will be led by Cole, using skills he mastered when he was a protg of the very leaders he now attacks. JULY 13, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7