The Southern Baptist Alliance, an unofficial movement of moderate churches, has voted to explore the possibilities of establishing a seminary that would be a refuge for faculty and students at the fundamentalist-dominated Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
The Rev. Henry Crouch, the Charlotte, N.C., pastor who heads the alliance, said he has already held discussions with officials at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem about creating a divinity school on that campus.
Other possible sites for such a venture include Mercer University in Macon, Ga.; Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., and the University of Richmond. All four are Baptist-related schools.
Earlier this fall, the board of trustees at Southeastern, dominated for the first time by fundamentalists, signaled its intentions of making a commitment to biblical inerrancy a criterion for faculty hiring at the school. Seminary President Randall Lolley, Academic Dean Morris Ashcraft and four administrators at the North Carolina seminary have resigned in protest.
Current faculty, who see the imposition of a single viewpoint as both contrary to Baptist tradition and a threat to academic freedom, have formed a chapter of the American Association of University Professors, a move unprecedented in Southern Baptist academic circles.
"I think the money is there; I think the leadership is there," said Crouch in speaking of the possible establishment of a new school.
The alliance, which was formally established in May as a loose fellowship of churches and individual Southern Baptists committed to the moderate theological position, holds that the Bible was divinely inspired but subject to individual interpretations.
Crouch said any new school would embody this principle, along with the alliance's commitment to women in ministry and cooperation with other churches and faiths.
In last month's round of Southern Baptist state meetings, three conventions passed resolutions critical of the changes being instituted at Southeastern, according to a survey by Baptist Press.
The Virginia convention also adopted a resolution asking for exploration of the establishment of the kind of university-based seminary or divinity school that the alliance has since proposed.
The survey disclosed that seven state conventions adopted resolutions that rapped the knuckles of the denomination's Public Affairs Committee for issuing an endorsement of Robert H. Bork, the unsuccessful nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Only the AIDS crisis generated more resolutions in the state conventions, with most of the actions recommending more comprehensive education about the disease. The resolutions tended to urge compassion for AIDS sufferers and their families and urged greater stress on moral responsibility in matters of sexual relationships to combat spread of the disease.
At least five state conventions dealt with the recommendation of the fundamentalist-oriented Public Affairs Committee calling for the denomination to withdraw from the multidenominational Baptist Joint Committee for Public Affairs, based here. All rejected the idea.
Several state conventions took actions to clear the way for contributions directly to the joint committee if next year's national convention in San Antonio should vote to sever its ties with the cooperative agency.