A Southern Baptist seminary president said here this week that although his church is "facing the most serious crisis" in its history, he is optimistic that mainstream Baptists will fend off fundamentalist takeover attempts at next month's convention in Dallas.
The Rev. Dr. Russell Dilday said he is "very confident" that a Baptist loyalist will be elected president of the nation's largest Protestant denomination, despite SBC tradition that would normally assure reelection of the Rev. Charles Stanley.
Stanley, of Atlanta, was elected in a fairly close vote last year, and has been widely criticized for his failure to support denominational institutions and budgets. "He and his church do not support the Southern Baptist Convention; he is not involved in convention life," said Dilday, who heads the church's largest seminary, Southwestern Baptist in Fort Worth.
Dilday said that if every church in the convention followed the example of the current president in their financial support, mission funding would be decreased by 75 percent."
"It's like choosing deacons," he said. "You may have someone who's a wonderful man, a good Christian, but who doesn't attend church and who's not involved in your church program. You don't make him chairman of your board of deacons."
Dilday, who preached last Sunday at First Baptist Church and then answered questions at a noon forum attended by Baptists from around the area, said he thinks moderates in the convention will back the candidacy of the Rev. Winfred Moore of Amarillo, Tex. Moore is president of the powerful Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Dilday said the dissension that has gripped the Southern Baptist Convention in recent years is "really not theological. There's not that much theological difference between Southern Baptists . . . . We don't have closet liberals in our denomination."
The real issue, he continued, "is what kind of a convention are we going to be." The group seeking to take over the convention are "people more at home in the Falwell mode," supporters of "moral majority and civil religion," who pick and choose their causes.
While Southern Baptists believe strongly in congregational autonomy, "they come together to do missions" and expect local congregations to support the cooperative mission program, Dilday said.
This is in contrast to independent Baptists such as Falwell, who is not a member of the SBC, and some within the convention who Dilday said are holding mission contributions hostage to the election of a fundamentalist president.