Southern Baptists focus on divorce within own churches

Posted: Friday, June 15, 2001

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Disturbed by high divorce rates, the Southern Baptist Convention is developing a blueprint for pastors on preventing divorce and ministering to single parents.

Few details of the strategy have been finalized, but the aim is to strengthen the church and have Southern Baptist families serve as models for non-Christian couples, said the Rev. Thomas Elliff, who leads the convention's Council on Family Life.

The country's largest Protestant group, with almost 16 million members, plans to conclude its two-day annual meeting Wednesday by sending churchgoers home to heal broken marriages within their own congregations.

The national divorce rate is estimated to be between 40 percent and 50 percent.

''It is our conviction that a healthy God-centered family ... is a winsome testimony,'' Elliff said at the meeting in the Louisiana Superdome.

The denomination that sees itself at war with American culture over abortion, gay rights and the place of faith in daily life will turn a critical eye on itself and present its plan at next year's meeting.

The estimated 9,100 church representatives were to vote Wednesday on a resolution asking congregations to promote covenant marriage, in which couples voluntarily impose limits on their ability to divorce.

Other resolutions concern opposition to euthanasia and human cloning, and blocking Internet pornography, said Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Even with the focus on divorce in the church, the Rev. James Merritt, convention president, said he won't stop working to change society at large.

In his annual address Tuesday, he accused network TV shows of ''making a mockery of Christians.'' He warned that the denomination's critics will try to silence opposition to homosexuality and abortion with ''heat-seeking missiles of tolerance and political correctness.''

''One president commits sexual sin in the Oval Office and the Christian Right is told to shut up,'' Merritt said. ''Another president speaks openly of his faith in God and his trust in Christ and he is told to shut up.''

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