For the second time in as many years, the Baptist General Convention of Texas has denied exhibit space at its annual convention to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
BGCT President Albert Reyes wrote in a letter to the seminary Sept. 29 that the school did not meet the qualifications required to be a BGCT exhibitor. The seminary, he wrote, had not affirmed “support of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, its mission and its leadership.”
To the contrary, seminary officials cited a letter sent to the BGCT Aug. 1 that did just that. In the letter requesting exhibit space in Austin Nov. 14-15, Gary Redding, director of alumni relations at Southwestern, wrote that the seminary supports the mission statement of the Texas convention.
“By providing theological education for pastors, staff members, and members of churches affiliated with the BGCT, Southwestern Seminary not only affirms, but assists the BGCT and its leadership in its mission as it ‘encourages, facilitates and connects churches in their work to fulfill God’s mission of reconciling the world to himself,” Redding wrote, citing the BGCT’s mission statement on its Web site.
The letter requesting exhibit space also included a note of recommendation from Elwin Collom, a past member of the BGCT Executive Board and current pastor of First Baptist Church of Coahoma, a BGCT-affiliated church. Collom is president of the seminary’s BGCT Alumni Association.
Last year, Kenneth Hall, then president of the BGCT, and John Petty, vice chair of the BGCT’s committee on order of business, denied exhibit space to the Southwestern and other Southern Baptist Convention seminaries. The BGCT leadership cited “disheartening changes” in the SBC and its “unsupportive direction” toward the Texas convention as the reason for the denial.
Redding said Southwestern decided to appeal the decision as a good faith effort toward the BGCT, offering the statement of support for its mission of reaching the lost for Christ. But the request for cooperation this year was denied by the BGCT.
Reyes wrote that he was grieved that “a more harmonious relationship does not currently exist between SWBTS and the BGCT.” He advocated dialogue between the seminary leadership and the BGCT to consider issues of concern “that have prevented and continue to hinder” a positive relationship between the seminary and the Texas convention.
But Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson said the seminary had already extended a hand of fellowship to the BGCT on a number of occasions.“Dr. Reyes cannot be serious,” Patterson said. “He has himself been invited to speak in chapel and Southwestern has offered a presidential scholarship to a student of his choice to attend Southwestern. Other invitations have gone to BGCT leaders although they have been declined. This must be a form letter rather than a thoughtful, fair response from a brother.”