Two of the memorable moments in this week's Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, had little to do with official actions by the nation's largest Protestant denomination. Both moments, when police ejected gay protestors from the hall and when a former convention president called Muhammad a "pedophile" gave newspapers their headline material.
But internally, SBC convention goers hailed a durable spirit of unity at the annual meeting. Delegates (called messengers) elected as president Jack Graham, pastor of the 20,000 member Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and as first vice president Texas judge Paul Pressler, one of the architects of the conservative resurgence who became a lightning rod in the bitter, decade-long battle for control of the denomination. Both men were elected without opposition.
Messengers approved with little discussion new initiatives to encourage evangelism at the local church level and to strengthen families, passed a resolution sharply critical of Today's New International Version of the Bible, and urged local congregations to be vigilant in protecting children from sexual abuse.
In a denomination where unity is news, the harmony of this annual meeting was upstaged first by gay demonstrators and then by attacks on Islam.
Messengers to the convention are accustomed to demonstrations by a variety of outside groups on the sidewalks around the meeting place, including in recent years a big chicken and the vegetarian Jesus (animal rights activists in costume). This is the first time demonstrators entered the meeting place and attempted to disrupt the convention business session.
The interruption by gay demonstrators was brief, and in the din of the domed stadium in St. Louis, ...1
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