Southern Baptists, Catholics to work together

June 17, 1994|By Dallas Morning News

ORLANDO, Fla. -- On abortion, pornography and other social issues, Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics often fight on the same side.

In that spirit, the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution yesterday stating that because of decaying morality and ethics, "cooperative efforts" with Roman Catholics and other Christian groups are needed "to present united support for pressing social and moral concerns."

In the past, Baptists have resisted moves toward ecumenism, fearing that it might compromise their beliefs. Southern Baptist officials involved in drafting the resolution called its approval a significant move.

"In recent years, we've found ourselves in the same foxhole, so to speak, with Roman Catholics," said Tommy Lea, resolutions chairman for the Southern Baptist Convention.

"The fact that we have developed a common agenda at this point has made us recognize we are dependent on one another.

"When you recognize that, it's going to promote a certain understanding, and a certain tolerance, and a certain appreciation of one's differences."

A field representative for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Nashville, Tenn., said the resolution is intended to promote cooperation, not change religious beliefs.

"When we get together, it's not for compromise," said the Rev. Frank Ruff, field representative of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. "It's for sharing deep, deep convictions.

"Some people get very much afraid of ecumenicalism and unity because . . . it often gets linked to union. And I think those two words are very, very different . . . I think no New Testament Christian has to apologize for wanting Christian unity," said Mr. Ruff, who acts as a liaison between Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics.

Southern Baptist leaders said they do not promote proselytizing between the two religious bodies. But they did not rule out open, but respectful, exchanges about doctrine.

The resolution affirms Baptists' "commitment to evangelism and missionary witness among populations and individuals not characterized by genuine faith in Christ alone."

It adds: "We reject any suggestion that such witness be characterized as 'sheep stealing,' proselytizing or a wasteful use of resources."

Mr. Ruff said there has been some proselytizing of Roman Catholics.

"I don't think it's a big problem in this country, but I've seen it in this country," he said. "That is hurtful to us, and it's hurtful to the relationship."

But Mr. Ruff praised Southern Baptists for affirming evangelism and, by implication, excluding proselytizing.

The resolution acknowledges theological differences between Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics. Those include papal infallibility and doctrines on baptism, communion, the view of the Virgin Mary and the saints and the structure of church government.

Since 1971, Roman Catholics and the Interfaith Witness Department of the Southern Baptist Convention's Home Mission Board have conducted talks. But when "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," an unofficial document framed by evangelical leaders and Roman Catholics, was released, some Southern Baptists expressed concerns.

Earlier this year, Foreign Mission Board trustees said the document "is subject to interpretations harmful to Southern Baptist work of global witness and missionary outreach."

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