NYT Regional Newspapers THERIOT June 10, 2001 - Jerry Moser's little Southern Baptist church is surrounded by South Louisiana swampland -- and by Catholic parishes.
Moser, pastor of Bayou DuLarge Baptist Church in Theriot, about 80 miles southwest of New Orleans, says Baptists and Catholics have for the past few generations managed to live side by side without problems. He calls it "peaceful coexistence."
But Moser is clear that he doesnt consider Catholics to be Christians on an equal footing. [What I said was that sacramental faith is not the biblical Gospel. Thus, since Catholicism officially teaches a sacramental system of faith, those who trust in the official teachings of Roman Catholicism are not truly Christians at all.] He said their beliefs are "diametrically opposed" to those of Southern Baptists and that there should be more evangelistic work among Catholics to convert them to an evangelical belief.
[What I said was, "the uncomfortable truth is that when it comes to the bedrock question of how a person is made right with God, the beliefs generally embraced by Southern Baptists and the beliefs promoted by the Roman Catholic Church are diametrically opposed. Though we use many of the same terms, we do not preach the same gospel message."]
"Evangelism is a work of love to reach people who have believed a different gospel. Reaching out to Catholics is foundational," he said.
Moser isnt alone in this conviction. During the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention that begins Tuesday in New Orleans, Southern Baptist leaders will report to the gathered delegates, or "messengers," that they have broken off a round of talks with representatives of the Catholic church that began in 1995.
It will be only a blip on the conventions agenda, which promises to be fairly untroubled by controversies this year. Convention leaders will focus attention on the family, with the report of a special council and an address by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and on missions and evangelism.
But the Southern Baptist Conventions annual pre-convention door-to-door evangelistic program, called "Crossover," in heavily Catholic south Louisiana serves as a reminder that the relationship between the two largest religious groups in the United States remains distant.
The talks with the Catholic church helped clarify areas of agreement and disagreement, without narrowing the gap, until Southern Baptist leaders unilaterally decided in February to discontinue them, a decision which the outspoken Moser may have influenced.
[As I told Mr. McMullen, I am sure that there were others who were also uncomfortable with continuing the RCC/SBC dialogue. One SBC executive in particular, Dr. Rudy Gonzalez, certainly played a key roll as the director of NAMBs Interfaith Evangelism Department. Mr. McMullen says that Timothy George blamed me for the decision. Mark Wingfield (BGCT newspaper) said much the same. I do not know whether this is true or not, but I dont really think I am the issue here.]
The talks were the result of a resolution passed at the 1994 convention that acknowledged areas of common concern in issues such as abortion and pornography.
That same year, two Southern Baptist Convention leaders, Richard Land and Larry Lewis, signed a document called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together." It was jointly produced by Charles Colson, the evangelical founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, and the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran minister turned Catholic priest who heads the Institute on Religion and Public Life.
The document, endorsed by prominent evangelicals such as Bill Bright and Pat Robertson, outlined areas of practical and theological agreement and disagreement. [Notice that he says the ECT "outlined areas of... THEOLOGICAL agreement...." The theological nature of this document, often denied by its SBC defenders, has been the key point of our contention.]
Moser said he doesnt mind cooperating with Catholics on moral issues, but he and others objected to "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" on the grounds that it tolerated views contrary Southern Baptist doctrine. He pointed, for example, to a statement that accepts the Catholic doctrine that baptism confers the grace of God onto a believer.
"To say that a person is a Christian who received salvation through the sacrament of baptism is 180 degrees from what Baptists have believed from day one," he said.
Protestants generally reject the Catholic view that sacraments such as baptism and the Lords Supper contain and convey the grace of God.
After registering protests with Southern Baptist Convention leaders including a public confrontation with Lewis that resulted in Moser being fired as pastor of a Southern Baptist mission church Land and Lewis removed their signatures from "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" in 1995, though they continue to endorse it. [Notice that Mr. McMullen, on his own, acknowledges the obvious... which is openly promoted by ECT co-authors Colson and Neuhaus... that Richard Land and Larry Lewis continue to endorse the ECT. This is self-evident in their April 6, 1995, joint statement in which they withdrew their signatures. They have been given every opportunity to correct this but have refused to say otherwise.]
The talks between Southern Baptist representatives and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops went ahead, with five areas of discussion planned.
Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., and a participant in the talks, said both sides were after mutual understanding. He noted a long history of hostility between the two religions.
"Theres been a lot of stereotyping on both sides," he said. "Theres still a lot of virulent anti-Catholicism in Southern culture. And Catholics still think of us as a sect." [Sounds like Dr. George is making some stereotypical statements of his own here. I was raised in Mississippi, and I was never exposed to whatever it is that Dr. George seems to think Southern folks are generally like. My experience with Roman Catholic individuals has come during the past 19 years serving as a missionary/pastor here in Catholic dominated south Louisiana.]
Since the Second Vatican Council in 1965, Catholic interest in interdenominational cooperation, or ecumenism, has increased. Pope John Paul IIs 1995 encyclical "Ut Unum Sint," or "That They May Be One," further encouraged ecumenical efforts.
THE TRUE CHURCH
However, last year a Vatican document "Dominus Iesus," reiterated the Catholic churchs position that it alone is the "true church." [Note that Timothy George has elsewhere affirmed this heretical document as beneficial!]
Although he was not a party to the talks, Richard John Neuhaus followed them and said relations between Catholics and evangelicals generally are better than they have ever been.
"Certainly theyre better than 25 years ago, even 10 years ago," he said from his office in New York. "The ECT document was the first that recognized one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. [Accepting practicing sacramentalists as Christians is an unbiblical stance.]
"From a Catholic standpoint that doesnt make headlines. But from the viewpoint of most evangelicals, it was a very important breakthrough. Twenty years ago, if you asked if Catholics were their brothers in Christ, the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists would say no." [Yes indeed, while Southern Baptists have been confronting one form of liberalism, ecumenism another form of liberalism - has been hard at work right under our noses within the SBC.]
GIVING AWAY THE STORE
Both Southern Baptist and Catholic representatives described the talks as candid.
"People would stand up and walk out of the room," chuckled Brother Jeffrey Gros, associate director of ecumenical and inter-religious affairs for the Catholic Conference. "There was no question about Baptists or Catholics giving away the store." [Certainly, the ECTs affirmation of sacramental faith as valid does betray the gospel. I would say that is giving away the store... and Timothy George is a leading ECT participant.]
The talks produced a slender document comparing Baptist and Catholic views of scripture and proceeded to tackle the topic of salvation. Both sides agreed the meetings had been helpful. [This slender document was used by the RCC press to suggest to their readers that Southern Baptists see Roman Catholicism as a valid expression of Christian faith. Although alerted to this, our dialogue team members never countered this public media misrepresentation.]
But Moser and others complained that Catholics portrayed the talks as a cooperative relationship. [I dont really know where he got this statement. I called the "talks" what the SEIAs website has always called them, an "Official Ecumenical Dialogue." I also referred to this dialogue as an ecumenical entanglement.]
"They were being used as a propaganda tool, to say Southern Baptists were interested in ecumenical dialogue leading to unity, when thats not at all what we were hearing from our guys," Moser said. "Youve got to communicate with people, but to do so in an official manner with the Roman Catholic hierarchy behind closed doors is asking for misinterpretation of whats going on."
He kept up the pressure, writing letters, meeting with Southern Baptist leaders and setting up a Web site detailing his opposition to the talks. [Not sure where he got all this information, but the Dialogue was only one of several ecumenical entanglements that we have addressed.] Moser introduced proposals at Southern Baptist Convention meetings in 1999 and 2000 calling for reconsideration of joint activities with any group whose beliefs conflict with those of Southern Baptists.
WHY ARE WE HERE?
For Moser, it is a matter of maintaining his Baptist identity. [This is Mr. McMullens interpretation of my view, taken from his limited conversation with me. I am not so much worried about maintaining my Baptist identity as I am concerned about being faithful to contend for the Gospel. The purity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the issue to me. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am commanded by His inerrant Word to "refute" and "contend" with those who would pervert the Gospel.]
"The problem is that it affects evangelism and mission work in south Louisiana. At the grassroots level, were in a Catholic-dominated area. We dont need people misunderstanding why were here."
In March, the Southern Baptist Conventions North American Mission Board, whose Interfaith Witness Department represented the convention, notified Catholic officials that they would conclude the talks after a meeting scheduled for next year. [My point has been, why do you need two more meetings of something that has already run its course? And if this has become controversial, why risk two more privately held meetings that again may be misrepresented to the public?]
Phil Roberts, then the director of the Interfaith Witness Department, said, "Were not ecumenists. Were evangelicals committed to sharing the gospel."
Martin King, a spokesman for the North American Mission Board, said the decision to halt the talks was not due to pressure from Moser or others.
"The charge that some conservatives have forced us to stop is not true. We have not canceled all conversation. We told the Catholic leadership it was time to conclude the current round of talks and see where weve been and what weve accomplished. That has been the pattern of talks in the past," he said, referring to previous rounds of talks in the 1970s and 1980s.
ITS IMPORTANT TO PRAY
Timothy George, the Southern Baptist scholar, noted that the talks were never a high priority and said he hopes they will resume. But he called the criticisms of Moser and his allies "a nuisance" and said they did have an effect in ending the talks. He termed Mosers charge that the talks compromised the Baptist witness "malicious" and "false." [I will be talking with Dr. George about these comments.]
"Part of the problem is that for some people even to talk with Roman Catholics is a betrayal of our Baptist heritage. Thats a very defensive and unhelpful way of looking at it. [Dr. George is wrong to apply this negative and false characterization to myself or to the members of our church who have opposed the RCC/SBC dialogue. As Christians and as Southern Baptists we have every right and obligation to express our opinions about something that affects the work of the Gospel.] Its important to pray and work for true Christian unity in the truth of the gospel, in scripture and in Christ," he said.
"Timothy is more interested in ecumenism than a lot of Southern Baptists are," Moser said. "The talks had run their course. Im glad our guys decided the time had come to end them."
The Catholic Conferences Gros also downplayed the significance of the decision, although he experssed disappointment at it.
"I grew up in the South among Southern Baptists. I was surprised we were able to do as much as we did," Gros said. "Stereotypes were dispelled, charity increased. Part of the disappointment is that it had been going so well." [Gros is correct that the Dialogue was progressing in line with the RCCs ecumenical. That agenda, to dumb-down theology for the sake of a false "Christian unity," is contrary to Scripture.]
[And for those who may argue that the Dialogue was not intended to "dumb-down theology," let me say that intentions and motives are NOT the issue here. Regardless of good intentions, to give the world the impression that Southern Baptists accept practicing sacramentalists as Christians is, in effect, a compromise of the Gospel and a dumbing-down of foundational biblical theology.]