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Patterson predicts SBC divisioncomment (0)

January 6, 2000

Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson has predicted that some kind of division is in the near future for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, but he expects less than a tenth of SBC churches will actually depart.

“Inevitably, there will come a divide in what is today known as the Southern Baptist Convention,” Patterson predicted  in an article he wrote for the millennial issue of the Biblical Recorder, the news journal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

“No one knows exactly what form that will take.”

Patterson said a possible result could be an entity composed of churches affiliated with the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or “churches desiring greater allowance for diversity in doctrinal and ethical matters and reacting in part out of disenchantment with certain conservative leadership.”

“Despite his declaration that a division is “inevitable,” Patterson’s estimate of the size of a split is wide-ranging.

“That breaking away of churches will take between 600, at the least, and 3,500 at the most, of the denomination’s 40,000 churches,” he predicted. “Several new entities and relationships will evolve as a result of this action.”

His article titled “The SBC on the Brink of the New Millennium,” was submitted after the newspaper requested that he and others forecast the denomination’s future for its Jan. 1 issue.

In an interview also published in the newspaper, Patterson expanded on his comments. He said that the 3,500 figure would be likely only if the moderate-led Baptist General Convention of Texas – the largest state convention in the SBC – leads its churches out of the denomination.

“I don’t think it will be that large, but I decided to err on the side of the maximum number I could see,” he said.

The Texas convention is moving toward permitting churches from other states to join organization.

As for his more general prediction of a division, Patterson said in the interview that it might be for the best, given the continuing friction between moderate Baptists and the denomination’s conservative leadership, which has been in control since 1979.

He added that he could not predict when the division might happen.

“I don’t have a clue,” Patterson said. “I have to believe we’re probably on a three- to five-year play-out, but I don’t know.” (RNS)

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