|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
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
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,"
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
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
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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