CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas, Oct. 30 (AP)--Texas' 2.7 million Southern Baptists dealt a severe blow to their national denomination Monday by voting to withdraw $5 million in funding on the grounds that the Southern Baptist Convention is becoming too conservative.
After a brief, civil debate, the 6,000 representatives of the Texas Baptists approved the move by a sizable majority by holding up voting cards.
The vote is considered a watershed by both sides in the doctrinal conflict that has long roiled the nation's largest Protestant denomination, with 15.8 million members.
Texas accounts for 17% of the members and 13% of the money that supports Southern Baptist Convention programs.
"Texas Baptists are at a crossroads," said Kenneth Camp, the state convention's news director. "This meeting is the decisive turning point for the next century."
Earlier this month, former President Carter severed ties to the Southern Baptist Convention because of its "increasingly rigid" creed.
In recent years, the Southern Baptists have barred women pastors, declared that wives should "submit graciously" to their husbands, boycotted Disney and issued resolutions condemning homosexuality.
Many moderate congregations have broken away from the Southern Baptist Convention because of its shift to the right.
On Monday, the Texans voted to cut the amount of money they give to Southern Baptist seminaries by about 80% next year and send the $4 million instead to three moderate campuses in Texas. Also, the Texans virtually cut off support for the denomination's headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., and its social-issues agency--a cut amounting to $1 million.
The Texans will still send some $19 million to the denomination, mostly for missionary work in the United States and abroad.
At issue: how strictly to interpret the Bible.
The Rev. Bob Campbell of Houston charged that professors at the Southern Baptist seminaries are being required to uphold the denomination's increasingly conservative doctrinal platform.
Campbell said the seminaries "want your money. They do not want you."
The Rev. Charles Wade, executive director of the Texas convention, told the meeting: "Jesus took his stand against religious authoritarianism, moral judgmentalism and dogmatic fundamentalism."
The Texas Baptists will decide later on at the meeting whether to allow full participation for Baptists from outside Texas. Observers say that opens the way for the Texas convention to become a regional body that could rival the national denomination.
The national leadership insists on the the Bible's "inerrancy," or literal accuracy, and interpreting Scripture in conservative terms.