A Riverside pastor was elected the new president of a Southern Baptist seminary near San Francisco on Monday while a professor at another Southern Baptist seminary in Kansas City, Mo., was cleared of heresy charges.
Both issues had been closely watched for signs that the teaching of theology within the nation's largest Protestant denomination would reflect more fundamentalist thinking. While the Southern Baptist Convention remains a predominantly conservative body, both decisions were interpreted as losses for the most active fundamentalist elements within the denomination.
Riverside Pastor William Crews, 50, a self-described theological conservative who says he avoids partisan struggles between fundamentalist and moderate leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention, was elected president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley by a 24-5 vote of the board of trustees.
Crews, a member of the Southern Baptists' national "peace committee" seeking an end to disputes between fundamentalists and moderates within the denomination, was nominated for the post by the trustees' search committee.
The presidency of Golden Gate seminary, vacant since last March, was sought by fundamentalist leaders, who suggested their own candidates to the board of trustees earlier this year. Crews was not among them.
Fundamentalist candidates for president of the denomination have won annually since 1969. For all the balloting success at the annual meetings, however, fundamentalist activists have been unable to win a major administrative post in the Southern Baptist bureaucracy or to oust a seminary professor they targeted for alleged "liberal" views of the Bible.
Among those targeted was G. Temp Sparkman, 54, a professor of religious education at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. On Monday, however, Sparkman was cleared of teaching heresy in a 21-11 vote by the seminary's board of trustees. Earlier, the seminary's seven-member instructional committee had recommended that Sparkman, a faculty member for 15 years, be retained.
The most damaging allegation against Sparkman was that he is a universalist, one who believes that everyone, regardless of religious orientation, can gain heaven without repenting their sins. That runs counter to the key Southern Baptist belief that individuals must make a conscious decision to accept Jesus Christ as their God to find salvation.
Sparkman said the primary conflict was over "my belief that we all are created children of God--a status given at birth." That belief, he said, has been misinterpreted by some to mean that no one ever needs to be redeemed or saved.
After Sparkman was cleared, Midwestern trustees said the professor has controversial theological views but that they "are nevertheless within the context of the seminary's Articles of Faith."
But Sid Peterson of Bakersfield, one of the 11 trustees who opposed Sparkman, told the Associated Press that he was "disappointed that we are going to continue with the same false teachings."
Peterson echoed the views of other fundamentalists at the meeting who said the issue would not be resolved until Sparkman was dismissed. They said the issue could be taken up again at next year's annual convention in St. Louis.