IMB regional leader declines to sign BFM form, steps down
RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--A Southern Baptist International Mission Board regional leader stepped down from his position May 21 after declining to sign a document affirming the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in June 2000. His resignation will not affect his status as a missionary.
"My inability to sign the prescribed form is a matter of personal conscience related to signing such a form and has nothing to do with the content of the Baptist Faith and Message," said Bill Phillips, regional leader for IMB work in West Africa.
"As I stated verbally and in writing to International Mission Board leadership and trustees, I affirm the Baptist Faith and Message as a Baptist statement of doctrine for life, work and leadership," Phillips added. "My wife, MaryDean, and I both continue to fully support the global mission of IMB missionaries, staff leadership and trustees."
IMB President Jerry Rankin affirmed Phillips' doctrinal beliefs and expressed regret at his decision to step down.
"We are grateful for Bill and MaryDean's outstanding leadership in West Africa and their passion for reaching a lost world, especially the multitude of unreached people groups in their region," Rankin said. "I personally regret their decision to step down from their leadership position. Their doctrinal soundness and support of the IMB and our strategies is unquestioned.
"It is appropriate, however, for Southern Baptists to expect leadership to be willing to affirm commitment to the Baptist Faith and Message statement adopted by the SBC, and we regret Bill's decision not to affirm that commitment as requested by the IMB board and administration."
IMB policy requires new missionaries and elected leaders to sign statements affirming their agreement with the recently revised Baptist Faith and Message and committing themselves to carry out their responsibilities "in accordance with and not contrary to" the statement of faith. The form also gives them the opportunity to state any areas of disagreement with the BFM.
In January, IMB trustees affirmed the agency's missionaries and stateside staff members, saying their beliefs already had been adequately screened during the selection process and that nothing more should be required of them.
Phillips' resignation from the regional leader's position, effective June 30, was accepted by Avery Willis, IMB senior vice president for overseas operations. The resignation will not affect their status as missionaries.
"We are thankful for the 10 years Bill Phillips has served as area director and regional leader for West Africa," Willis said. "Bill and his wife, MaryDean, have led the region in significant advances among West Africa's people groups.
"We regret that Bill, as a matter of conscience, has chosen not to sign the affirmation, although he has given a clear statement in support of the recently revised BFM and leading in accordance with it."
After June 30, Bill Bullington, IMB vice president for overseas services, will serve as interim regional leader for West Africa until a successor to Phillips is elected. Bullington led IMB work in West Africa prior to Phillips' election and served as IMB regional vice president for work on the entire continent.
"Our work in West Africa should continue in the direction that Bill and his colleagues have set," Bullington said. "I love the peoples, our personnel and our Baptist partners in West Africa. God is doing a great work in West Africa, and that has been the focus of Bill Phillips' leadership. I am committed to supporting that focus and momentum."
The IMB policy approved in January was based on a longstanding practice of asking missionary candidates to state whether they are in agreement with the BFM and to explain any area of difference. That action was taken in response to a motion made during the June 2000 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention that asked agencies of the convention not to require personnel to sign the current version of the Baptist Faith and Message.
In that January meeting, trustees delivered a "wholehearted" endorsement of the recently revised Baptist Faith and Message statement as "the standard for carrying out the program and ministries" of the IMB. They also strongly affirmed the doctrinal soundness of the agency's missionaries and stateside staff members.
All other elected IMB leaders have signed the affirmation of the Baptist Faith and Message.
Natives of Lamesa and Stamford, Texas, respectively, Bill and MaryDean Phillips were appointed by the IMB in 1978 as missionaries to Zambia, where they served until 1985, when he became associate director of Southern Baptist work in eastern and southern Africa. He was named director of work in West Africa in 1991 and became regional leader with the IMB reorganization in 1997.
Editors' note: Prior to missionary appointment, Bill Phillips served as minister of education at First Baptist Church in Stamford, Texas; pastor of Heron Drive Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas; and pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Breckenridge, Texas. The Phillipses also served as missionaries in residence at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1982.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BILL PHILLIPS.