The two men stood, snapping at each other, in the foyer of the Southern Baptist Convention Building in Nashville, Tenn.
The argument reflected, in miniature, the frayed emotions of a long and persistent conflict in the country's largest Protestant body between moderates and now dominant fundamentalists.Paul Pressler, an architect of the fundamentalist ascendancy, told the Rev. Richard Jackson, a Phoenix moderate that his comments were "an attack and a slur on my character. You owe me an apology."
Jackson countered, "I don't owe you an apology." Then he repeated four times, "You don't have one." Jackson, who failed last year by a hairbreadth to win the presidency of the 14.8 million-member denomination, added:
"Somebody finally needed to stand face to face with you and say these things."
The recorded flareup came last month after a subcommittee recommended a fundamentalist-pushed project to undercut Baptist representation in Washington by setting up a separate office.
The argument ranged over differences dating back over a decade about Pressler's role as strategist for gaining fundamentalist predominance by successively winning the presidency since 1979.
The president's power to appoint determines trustees of the denomination's huge network of agencies and institutions, on a gradual basis, and last year's presidential outcome marked the shift to general fundamentalist control.
That includes a majority of the Religious Liberty Committee, which voted to set up the separate Washington agency. The committee would serve as "an alternative" to the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, a longtime religious liberty watchdog for nine Baptist bodies in the nation's capital.
Under the plan, the denomination would continue a "relationship" with the inter-Baptist office, but also run its own activities.
The action remains subject to two successive annual conventions, the first one this June in Las Vegas, Nev.