The Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly rejected singer Anita Bryant as first vice president yesterday, choosing instead a Knoxville, Tenn., pastor who a year ago drew some criticism from fellow pastors for ordaining a women to the ministry.
Denominational officials were stunned by the vote, which gave the Rev. A. Douglas Watterson a better than 2-to-1 majority over the anti-homosexual campaigner, who had drawn repeated ovations from a pre-convention session Sunday night.
While Baptists are unequivocal in their judgment of homosexual practice as sin, many leaders of the 13-million-member denomination sharply disagree with what they see as Bryant's disregard of the civil rights of gays.
Minutes before the voting results were announced yesterday afternoon, the Rev. Jimmy Allen of San Antonio, just reelcted to his second term as president, answered questions at a press conference assuming that Bryant would be a member of his leadership team.
Later, he said he was "very pleased" with the election of Watterson, who like Allen is known throughout the denomination as a liberal. Allen said he thought the election was "decided on the basis of good judgment as to who can best handle the job."
Bryant, who cites the Bible as the basis for her anti-gay convictions, had the backing of a right-wing group within the Southern Baptist Convention the Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship, which has attacked denominational seminaries for failing to teach the "total inerrancy" of the Bible.
The dispute over whether the Bible is to be accepted literally or viewed within its historical, cultural and literary context, as most modern scholars do, has already split the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and looms as a serious area of controversy for a number of other denominations, including the Baptists.
The Faith and Message Fellowship's newly elected president, Dr Harold Lindsell, author and former editor of the influential evangelical journal Christianity Today, proposed a purge of seminary professors who use the modern scholarship, known as textual and historical criticism.
"When you have a man like Dr. [Robert] Alley, who says that Jesus is not God, then . . . he ought to be defrocked, "Lindsell said. Last December, Alley lost his position as head of the religion department of the University of Richmond, a Baptist-related school, when controversy erupted over his telling an off-campus group that Jesus never claimed to be the son of God.
In his presidential address here this morning, Allen referred to the division, urging Baptists to stop "tearing to each other's vitals over whether their beliefs are being described in.
An all-time record number of 21,290 "messengers," as delegates to the convention are called, adopted a $75 million budget for next year.
The largest amounts to go mission efforts aimed at furthering the denomination's emphasis, adopted last year, called Bold Mission Thrust.Its objective is to "enable every person in the world to have opportunity to hear and to respond to the gospel of Christ by the year 2000."
Late yesterday afternoon, a White House staff member called convention headquarters to inquire about the outcome of the vice presidential race. President Carter is scheduled to address his fellow Baptists here Friday morning.