As many as 12,000 independent, fundamental Baptists gathered in Washington, D.C., last month. But they met to discuss God, not government. At the meeting, called Baptist Fundamentalism ‘84, even a visit from President Reagan was uncharacteristically nonpolitical.

The President read a letter from a Jewish army chaplain who assisted injured U.S. Marines after last October’s terrorist bombing in Beirut. Reagan’s theme of interfaith cooperation—emphasized in the rabbi’s letter—was an uncommon subject for this theologically conservative crowd. But it caught the essence of Baptist Fundamentalism ‘84.

Many fundamentalists want to shed the embattled image of their past and move closer to the mainstream of Christian thought and life. “Fundamentalists have been castigated far too long as fanatics and bigots,” Jerry Falwell has written.

Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, was a central figure at the recent convention. And he was the primary target of criticism from a few groups that opposed the meeting. In 1982 the leaders of two major groups, World Baptist Fellowship and Baptist Bible Fellowship, set aside divisions from the past and met with Falwell and others to plan the conference (CT, Sept. 17, 1982, p. 44).

Truman Dollar, a pastor active with Baptist Bible Fellowship, said Baptist Fundamentalism ‘84 signaled a restructuring of the entire movement. “A new breed of fundamentalists emerged who will spend more time cooperating together on issues of the day,” he said.

Convention participants heard 19 sermons, the closing presidential homily, and talks from U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Vice President George Bush. Dollar spoke in defense of human rights, warning his listeners of the pitfalls of being ...

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