WASHINGTON (October 22, 2001) -- In October, the cochairs of the Southern Baptist-Catholic Conversation announced the ending of the current round of formal Conversations between these two communities. The attached statement gives the background of the Conversation and of the decision that was made.
The statement makes clear that this is not a cessation of relationships between these two largest ecclesiastical bodies in the United States. The decision was taken by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. In its October 10 meeting the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs regretfully concurred in this decision.
The cochairs for this round of the Conversations were Rev. Dr. Rudy Gonzalez, Director, Interfaith Evangelism, North American Mission Board, for the Southern Baptist Convention and Bishop J. Kendrick Williams of Lexington (KY) for the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The scholars representing the Southern Baptist Convention included: Dr. Timothy F. George, Dean, Beeson Divinity School; Dr. William E. Gordon, Jr., North American Mission Board; Dr. Don Kammerdiener, Foreign Mission Board; Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Dr. Paige Patterson, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Dr. Philip Roberts, President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Rev. Mark Dever, Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church.
The members of the Catholic team, appointed by the USCCB, included: Maryknoll Sister Joan Delaney; Jesuit Father Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Catholic University; Jesuit Father Thomas P. Rausch, Loyola Marymount University; Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz, St. John's University; Father Stephen J. Duffy, Loyola University; staff: Christian Brother Jeffrey Gros, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB, Father Frank Ruff, Glenmary Home Missioners.
Full text of Statement:
The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops announces that the current round of Conversations, begun in 1995, between scholars appointed by the two communities, has finished as of the September, 2001 meeting.
The decision to bring this round of conversations to closure was made by the North American Mission Board. Thankful for the opportunity to bear witness to a Baptist understanding of Holy Scripture and Salvation Baptist leaders who participated were appreciative for the frank and honest discussions held with key thinkers in the Roman Catholic community. There is no doubt but that these conversations will help each ecclesiastical community bring to its flock a more true to life characterization of the other.
As stated from the outset, the purpose of the Conversation has been the honest clarification of differences between the two largest ecclesiastical communities in North America, thus assisting the two communities to understand one another fairly and accurately. There has been no hint of compromise or hope of coming to some united conclusion.
The Conversation was initiated after a 1994 resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention. The theme of Scripture was completed in 1998, and a report was submitted to the sponsoring bodies in 1999.
The second issue, Baptist and Catholic different understandings of salvation, was discussed over a four year period, but no report was produced. In this conversation such issues were discussed as Catholic and Baptist differences on justification and good works, sin and grace, the sacraments, the salvation of members of other religions, conversion and Christian assurance of salvation.
The relationship between Catholics and Southern Baptists takes many forms: congregational cooperation on local levels, efforts to support marriage and the family, joint educational projects in a variety of academic contexts, joint efforts in social service and public policy concerns, and the like. This Conversation, for mutual understanding, is only one small aspect of the many avenues of communication, and should not be seen as a diminished commitment in either community to continued collaboration whenever possible.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been working with the Interfaith Evangelism Department (formerly, Interfaith Witness), since 1971, and in regular conversations since 1978. It has welcomed the 1994 Convention resolution, which initiated the recent round of Conversations. It will remain open to conversation, on whatever issues and at such a time as may seem appropriate should the occasion arise in the future.
Since 1969 the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has had a staff person in the field to enhance understanding between Catholics and Southern Baptists, and will continue to do so. The Glenmary Home Missioners have provided this ministry for these two communities, on occasion assisted by staff from the Interfaith office of the Convention. Father Frank Ruff currently serves in this ministry.
The North American Mission Board, for its part is committed to fulfilling its mandate to present the Gospel to everyone in North America. The overwhelming weight of this mission drives all its decisions.
Dr. Robert Reccord
North American Mission Board
Bishop Kendrick Williams
Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs