Wrangling among Southern Baptists is nothing new. But the controversy swirling around James Dunn is extraordinarily intense.

The combative Texan is executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs (BJC). The Washington, D.C.—based group conducts research, reports news, and serves as a government liaison on issues related to church and state. It is funded by nine Baptist denominations, but the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) provides more than 80 percent of its support.

Some SBC leaders are fuming about the controversial positions Dunn has taken on issues close to conservatives’ hearts. At the denomination’s annual meeting last year, messengers voted to support President Reagan’s proposed constitutional amendment to restore oral prayer in public schools. But Dunn testified against the measure in Congress, denouncing Reagan for “despicable demagoguery” and for “playing petty politics with prayer.” The statements placed Dunn high on the hit list of Southern Baptist conservatives.

“I part company with them at the point of tampering with the Constitution by adding another amendment that would put upon the Constitution the inflexibility of the moment,” Dunn told CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

But no matter what his reasoning, SBC conservatives oppose him. In fact, they oppose the very idea of a Baptist Joint Committee. “We pay 85 percent of the BJC’s budget. We fail to see why we shouldn’t have our own representative in Washington,” says Paige Patterson of the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies in Dallas.

Patterson says a motion for separate Southern Baptist representation in Washington is likely to surface at the SBC’s June meeting in Kansas City. Meanwhile, he says Southern Baptist conservative leaders simply go over ...

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