It's anybody's guess what messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual June meeting intended when they approved a motion on the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM). This much at least is clear: Messengers meeting in San Antonio recognized the landmark 2000 document as "neither a creed nor a complete statement of our faith nor final or infallible."

That's where the water turns murky, and the main dispute concerns how to deal with issues not addressed in the BFM. Some Southern Baptists now insist that the BFM should be the only criterion for hiring and firing. They focus on a phrase in the motion that describes the BFM as "sufficient in its current form." They have loudly protested moves by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the International Mission Board to bar employees over non-BFM issues, namely private prayer languages.

But other convention leaders point out that the motion says the BFM should "guide trustees" in policymaking. They want to reserve the right of convention agencies to hire and fire employees for reasons not covered in the BFM, such as Calvinism and speaking in tongues.

"The motion will remain open for interpretation," SBC president Frank Page said. While he encouraged trustees not to apply standards beyond the BFM, Page said, "It will be an object of discussion for years to come. By and large, the messengers were saying, 'Let's be careful not to become too narrow, too legalistic.'"

Richard Land disagrees. As president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Land said he still plans to hire and fire for reasons outside the BFM, offering divorce and alcoholism as examples. Other interpretations of the motion are merely the false bluster of bloggers, Land said. Commonly credited last ...

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