CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) â€” The Baptist General Convention of Texas faces a crucial choice: Whether or not to approve an unprecedented partial break with the Southern Baptist Convention on grounds it is too rigidly conservative.
The vote could deal a significant blow to the Southern Baptists, by far the nation's biggest Protestant body with 15.8 million members. Texas accounts for 17 percent of the members and 13 percent of the money that supports denominational programs.
``Texas Baptists are at a crossroads,'' Kenneth Camp, the state convention's news director, said Sunday. ``This meeting is the decisive turning point for the next century.''
About 7,000 representatives from the 5,975 Texas congregations were expected to attend the Monday meeting.
Leaders of the Texas convention consider the six Southern Baptist seminaries too narrow in theology and propose a $4 million funding cut next year, sending money instead to three moderate campuses in Texas.
A companion cut of $1 million would virtually end support for denominational headquarters and the social-issues agency in Nashville, Tenn.
The meeting will also decide on allowing full participation for Baptists from outside Texas. Observers say that opens the way for the Texas convention to become a regional body that could rival the national denomination.
The long-running conflict came to a head after last June's national convention approved revisions in the doctrinal platform.
The national leadership insists that seminaries and agencies uphold the platform and the Bible's ``inerrancy,'' or literal accuracy in historical details, interpreting Scripture in conservative terms. For instance, the revised platform says women cannot be pastors.
Critics in Texas and elsewhere say the national leaders are ``fundamentalists'' who violate traditional Baptist belief in freedom of Bible interpretation and the independence of local congregations.
For that reason, several congregations have quit, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter disassociated himself from the denomination Oct. 19.
Carter's statement was mailed to 75,000 Baptists by an organization that is campaigning for the Texas money cutback.
Fighting back on a new Southern Baptist Web site, the Rev. Paige Patterson, president of the seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., charges that a Texas investigation of the schools was ``inaccurate, biased and poorly researched in almost every detail.''
Responding for the Texas leadership, layman John Wilkerson of Lubbock says the national denomination ``has embraced creedalism, rejected the centrality of Christ as the interpretive guide to Scripture and interfered with the autonomy of the local church.''
``We have not moved. The S.B.C. has moved,'' says a report from Texas leaders to the annual meeting.
The Texans would still send some $19 million to the denomination, mostly for mission boards that the Texans are also investigating, with recommendations due next year.
On the Net:
Southern Baptist Convention: http://www.sbc.net
Baptist General Convention of Texas: http://www.bgct.org