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Baptists send a message to Clinton

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In what may be the loudest thundering of the so-called religious right yet this year, Southern Baptists put President Clinton and other government leaders on notice Thursday that they're tired of liberal policy-making and questionable moral character.

The 8,500-plus messengers gathered for their final day of meetings in the Salt Palace, determined to send a message to Washington and the world that they're frustrated with political and social policy that is out of step with biblical principles.Resolutions approved by the messengers called on President Clinton and Congress to:

- Stop taxpayer funding for "anti-Christian religious bigotry" through the National Endowment for the Arts and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

- Restrict military combat service to males only.

- Reverse the president's executive order prohibiting discrimination against homosexual federal employees.

A proposed amendment to that resolution, calling on Clinton's own Southern Baptist congregation in Little Rock, Ark., to sanction him publicly for his support of gay-friendly policies, was narrowly defeated. The resolution as passed charges that "homosexual politics" is masquerading today as "civil rights," even though "sexual deviance has nothing in common" with legitimate efforts to end racial discrimination.

James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, concluded the convention by railing against political and social policies that he said encourage pornography, gambling, homosexuality and a host of other evils because leaders at all levels, including many Christian churches, are afraid to label such behavior as sin. "If the church won't defend righteousness" no other organization will step in to fill the gap, he said.

His message hit home with Southern Baptists, whose conservative bent and confrontational nature on moral issues stand in sharp contrast to most other Protestant denominations.

Messengers also approved a resolution on strengthening the marriage covenant, which defines marriage as "the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime." The measure applauds "Covenant Marriage" statues that have been enacted in some states, which provide pre-marital counseling for couples and make divorce more difficult to obtain than under many "no fault" laws. It urges states to examine and enact similar policies to strengthen traditional marriages and families.

Thursday's action followed a resolution passed by the convention on Wednesday regarding the moral character of public officials, urging that they adhere to high standards of personal integrity. Though messengers refused a motion to name President Clinton personally in connection with the resolution, there was no question that he tops the list of those Southern Baptists believe are out of step with Christian principles.

A Southern Baptist, Clinton used his denominational ties to help secure his bid for the presidency. "Character counts to God and it should count to us, even in the polling place," said Michael Whitehead, chairman of the resolutions committee.

On Wednesday, the convention also passed a resolution regarding the distinct nature of Baptist belief about Christianity. Although it did not name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints specifically, the measure was intended to clarify the Baptist position that "there is one God and one way to know him through Jesus Christ," according to Whitehead.

Messengers were repeatedly reminded during the convention that while they share many moral positions with LDS Church members, the theological doctrines of the two denominations are worlds apart, rendering Latter-day Saints "non-Christians" in need of salvation.

The resolution that generated the most media discussion during the three-day event centered around a new article on the family that messengers voted to add to the Baptist Faith and Message - a set of 18 articles on doctrinal and moral issues with which many Southern Baptists agree.

The new addition contains a statement that "a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband." The text was the subject of some dispute on the convention floor as several messengers offered alternate wording of the resolution to soften the submission statement.

Ultimately, the measure passed as worded, prompting a chuckle from President Clinton in Washington, D.C., who wondered aloud how he would break the news to his wife, Hillary.

Reporters questioned newly elected SBC President Paige Patterson and his wife about how they could support such wording. Patterson's wife, Dorothy, served on the committee that recommended the resolution. Both said such submission is outlined in the Bible and therefore is binding on those who profess a belief in its teachings.