Appearing by video, President Bush throws SBC messengers red meat. pew. During his speech in San Antonio, Patterson employed a nautical metaphor to insist that the SBC was at risk of being swept downstream by its own liberal laxity. The crowd cheered. In the San Antonio convention center, ranks upon ranks of chairs are set up in a room 200 yards long and 90 yards deep, where 8,618 delegates, or “messengers,” from churches across the United States gather. Giant video screens hang over the aisles so messengers can see people speaking on the platform or from the floor. This is the arena for Cole’s next moveand many people’s first introduction to his appearance. When he introduces himself from the floor, a mutter of disapproving recognition swells in the crowd. He’s written a motion to put before the messengers a legalistic bulwark that will, he hopes, brake the SBC’s slide into ever narrower fundamentalism. Since he’s become one of the most divisive figures in the SBC, getting it passed will require mustering all his rhetorical skill, tactical savvy, and parliamentary knowledge. The night before the convention starts, wives, and three journalists cram into Cole’s and Burleson’s Marriott suite. Spirits are high, but not giddy, as Cole explains his plans. The next morning, someone else will introduce a motion asking the convention to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message, a consensus statement of Baptist beliefs, as a sufficient document for Baptist life. It’s more than a symbolic move. Rather than trying to fend off the fundamentalists on any single issue, such as private prayer language, the reformers want the convention to support the notion that no one can introduce new constrictions on being Baptist. The vote looks promising, but the intended effect seems like a long shot. Will it, as Cole hopes, keep the IMB, the seminaries, and other Baptist institutions from drawing theological lines in the sand wherever they please? As the assembled bloggers see it, Baptist institutions had been handed to people who were freely going beyond the consensus statement whenever their agenda dictated. During the meeting, Cole explains his rationale, then turns to tactics. For more than 20 minutes he holds the room’s rapt attention, inspiring them for a battle that he promises will make previous debates “look like a little fireworks showy’ The meeting ends with a prayer punctuated by the beeps of text messages arriving on cell phones. The next morning, on a street corner outside the conven tion center, members of the Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests hand out leaflets warning Southern Baptists to pay attention to sexual abuse by some of their pastors. All spring the issue has made news: In April, the ABC news program “20/20” broadcast a report about the wave of unreported sexual abuse among SBC pastors. David Clohessy, the SNAP national director, describes how Baptists’ decentralized churches are especially vulnerable to sexual predators. “When accountability is dispersed, nobody has to take responsibility for anything,” he says. In response, Burleson submitted a motion asking for a feasibility study of a database of SBC offenders so that churches can check on new pastors. \(It Inside the vast hall, thousands of men in shirtsleeves or suits, and a few women, begin two days of praying, doing business, and consuming propaganda. Heads of the various SBC institutions, which include six seminaries, two mission 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 13, 2007
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