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Let's learn to love everybody,' Patterson says in news conference
-- By Tammi Ledbetter & Norman Miller
    ATLANTA, June 15--Believing that "every single human being in the world responds to love at some point," Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson drove home his vision for taking the gospel message to the inner cities of America during a news conference June 15 following his re-election by acclamation.
    "Let's learn to love everybody and get our arms around every single person in this country," Patterson challenged Southern Baptists as he fielded questions from secular reporters and denominational writers from across the country. He later prayed for them as they covered the convention and expressed gratitude to God for "the contributions they make to our nation."
    Patterson praised the work of the North American Mission Board in naming "strategic focus cities" on which the denomination will concentrate its resources through that agency, associations and individual churches.
    He described the work of Frontliners, a group of young people who laid the groundwork for the 1,900-plus commitments to Christ reported during the Atlanta Metro Crossover evangelistic effort.
    "When I wandered around trying to share my faith, everyone said five people had already talked to them," Patterson said.
    Asked if African Americans would be skeptical of Southern Baptist outreach due to the support of slavery by some of the denomination's founders, Patterson said a formal apology for that mistake had already been asserted.
    "Now we are setting out in every tangible way we can figure to express to ethnic communities of all kinds that we're serious about having multiethnic churches," he said.
    Patterson was asked about earlier business session discussion of President Clinton's proclamation of June as "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month."
    "The Bible does not mince words about two things -- the fact that God genuinely loves everybody in this whole world, regardless of sexual orientation, and that he died for all of them in Jesus Christ."
    He discouraged actions that would be viewed as hatred toward anybody, while insisting, "The Bible is crystal clear that the practice of homosexuality is a sin, just as the practice of heterosexual adultery is a sin. We cannot call right what God says is wrong."
    With reference to Clinton as a member of a Southern Baptist church, Patterson said, "It is inconsistent for a person who is a member of an evangelical church to take a stand diametrically opposed to the clear teaching of the Word of God.
    "You can't call right wrong and wrong right," Patterson said. "And the president either does not know what the Bible says about [homosexuality] or else he has chosen to disregard what the Bible says about it and have a totally different view. And so I cannot go with the president on his endorsement."
    Patterson said a motion asking that Clinton's home church, Immanuel Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark., discipline him for supporting Gay and Lesbian Pride Month was ruled out of order for reasons specified in the SBC constitution and bylaws.
    "Truth is, this is of course a thorny situation." He called Immanuel Baptist "a very conservative, Bible-believing church full of people that love the Lord Jesus." He said there "must be a great deal of confusion" among its members.
    "They want on the one hand to be lovingly responsive to every member of their church. ... By the same token, I'm sure there must be many of them that are very troubled by it," Patterson said.
    When asked to account for a minor decline in the 15.7-million-member denomination after 72 years of growth, Patterson said further study over several years is necessary to draw definite conclusions.
    "I suspect it's more of a hiccup than a drop," Patterson said.
    He speculated that factors contributing to the decline could include the closing of some rural churches that had maintained non-resident members on their rolls; changes in reporting methods by some churches; a greater attempt to be "honest" in accounting as many churches no longer include non-resident members; and the departure of churches that are "not in substantial theological agreement."
    Patterson contended the membership figure is not as important in evaluating the denomination's health as the continued increase in baptisms, "radical" increase in church attendance and "unbelievable" level of record-setting contributions to the Cooperative Program.
    Patterson was asked if he thinks the SBC should break ranks with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an organization established in 1991 by moderate Southern Baptist in protest of the SBC leadership.
    "I don't really know the answer to that question. I'm a Baptist. I am pretty much in favor of folks having the freedom to do whatever they want to do," he said.
    However, he said he would advise the CBF to "be perfectly candid and honest --- be truthful with your people. If you're gonna support Southern Baptists, do it. If you're not, be honest enough and have enough integrity to say, 'We're not there anymore. We're out of here.'"
    Patterson said he holds "great respect" for churches that have left the SBC because they have acted out of conviction.
    Picking up on a reporter's question about his morning sermon which addressed various concerns, including charismatic practices in America, Patterson said he sought to "warn our people that we must be governed in whatever practices we indulge by the Word of God."
    He referenced the Toronto Blessing, the Brownsville Revival and more bizarre accounts such as "amalgam fillings in the teeth being turned to gold" as having no precedent in the Bible. "If it were my teeth, I believe I'd rather the Lord just heal the tooth altogether," he quipped.
    "We need to be careful we don't lose our focus on the thing God has blessed us with across the years -- a compassionate concern for the lost people of the world."
    Patterson reiterated a point made in his morning message, expressing disdain for narrative preaching. He also criticized a growing tendency among evangelicals "not to preach careful exposition" and instead "grab a topic out of the morning news and share one's ignorance."
    Looking out at the audience of reporters, Patterson said, "We should come listen to you folks if we want to hear the news. I'm arguing for getting back to preaching the Bible."
    As a part of his vision for reaching a wider spectrum of America, Patterson mentioned a dream of establishing "a superstation type of approach" to television outreach.
    Patterson said NAMB would be considering such a proposal in the coming months, recognizing that television "goes through brick walls and leaps across oceans where normally a person would never hear of Christ."

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