$110,000 SBC Study of Freemasonry

The following quote is from Rob James and Gary Leazer's The Fundamentalist Takeover in the Southern Baptist Convention: a Brief History (Impact Media, 1999): 114-115.  The quote outlines the history of the $110,000 SBC study of Freemasonry, which was abbreviated and summed in 1993 SBC Report to 8 positive and 8 negative points, ending in a respect of conscience.  Since 1993, the study was "deep-sixed" according SBC expert Bill Gordon -- no longer available.  From the abbreviated version in 1993 SBC Report, Bill Gordon as the SBC expert from now North American Mission Board's Interfaith Witness Department used only the 8 negative points to launch his Closer Look at Freemasonry.  Gordon's Closer Look mutilation is one Frankenstein dismantled in the my book above, Character Counts

Here is the quote:

page 114

The Houston Convention [1993] also approved a controversial report on Freemasonry presented by the HMB after a 2-year, $110,000 study.  James Larry Holly, a Beaumont, Texas Physician, had introduced a resolution at the 1991 SBC to condemn Freemasonry.  Holly earlier took credit for helping force the early retirement of Sunday School Board president Lloyd Elder.1  The HMB [then Home Mission Board, now North American Mission Board (NAMB)] declined to conduct a study after the resolution was forwarded to the agency, since the agency had responded to a similar resolution in 1985.  However, messengers to the 1992 SBC directed the HMB to conduct the study and bring a report to the 1993 Convention.

The HMB report to the Houston convention [1993] listed eight points which it stated were "not compatible with Christianity or Southern Baptist doctrine," but stopped short of condemning Freemasonry.  The report concluded that membership in the Masonic fraternity is a personal matter for individuals and local churches to decide, not the SBC.

begin page 115

Baptist critics took Freemasonry to task over several issues, including the misuse of religious language and teachings or assumptions incompatible with Christianity.  One such criticism concerned the use of the title, "Worshipful Master."  Masons responded that "worshipful" means "honorable or respected."  For example, the mayor of London, England, is referred to as "Worshipful Lord Mayor."  English reformer John Wycliff (1324-1384) translated Exodus 30:12, "Thou shalt worship the father and thy mother, that thou be long lived upon earth."2  Masons explained that the so-called "bloody oaths" are symbolic and remind the Mason of the evils of religious and political tyranny.  The Masonic term "light" was taken by some Baptist critics as a reference to salvation.  Fundamentalists did not trust Masonic insistence that the term referred to knowledge or truth.  Masons pointed to the fact that the motto of the Baltimore Sun is "Light for all," which is hardly a reference to salvation.  The motto of Yale University is "LUX," a Latin word for "light."  Few Masons knew what the HMB report was referring to when it condemned Freemasonry for the "heresy of universalism," as they insist the fraternity is not a religion and therefore offers no teaching on salvation.

Defenders of Masonic membership pointed out that many devout Southern Baptist leaders of long-standing positive influence had been Masons.  Famous Southern Baptist Masons have included George W. Truett, long-time pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas;  Herschell H. Hobbs, one of the most popular and respected Southern Baptist Pastors, theologians and leaders;  and Bernard W. Spilman, who founded the Ridgrecrest Baptist Assembly near Black Mountain, N.C.

Gary Leazer, a member of the Interfaith Witness Department staff since February 1979, had supervised the committee which conducted the original study on Freemasonry.  He was forced to resign from the Home Mission Board in October 1993 after he gave a speech to a Masonic group to explain the meaning of the vote at the Houston SBC [June 1993].  Even though his job description permitted him to speak to non-SBC groups to explain Southern Baptist theology and polity, Leazer was accused of "gross insubordination" for speaking at the Masonic meeting.



1 Letter on file.

2 Melvin Cammack, John Wyclif and the English Bible (New York: American Tract Society, 1938): 75.


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