BGCT board recommends $1.28M shift from SBC N. American missions agency

by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, posted Wednesday, May 23, 2001 (17 years ago)

DALLAS (BP)--Messengers to the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas will consider an executive board recommendation to withhold $1.28 million in funding typically sent in Cooperative Program contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention from member churches. Board members May 22 unanimously approved the recommendation of the BGCT's Missions-Sending Agencies Study Committee to retain in Texas the amount of money being spent by the North American Mission Board in the state and to renegotiate the cooperative agreement between BGCT and NAMB by the end of the year.

"Is there any question about Texas Baptists' ruling passion?" committee chairman Jim Denison of Dallas asked in his closing statements in favor of the recommendation. "We exist together to do missions," he emphasized to an attentive crowd. "We are dealing with that cause which is more dear to our hearts than any other and I call upon you to join me in praying God will use this process to help us do our single most important work even more effectively, and if he does he will deserve all the glory."

Denison said the NAMB funding recommendation "would not require any NAMB missionary in Texas to change his or her appointment status." He added, "This is in no sense defunding, but simply administering more efficiently that portion of Texas funds which would be already returned to Texas under the agreement. There is no change in NAMB's use of remaining gifts from Texas and in no way affects ongoing promotion of Annie Armstrong [Offering for North American Missions] and will in no way affect BGCT support of the International Mission Board."

The 19-member committee was created by BGCT messengers in 1999 to study the BGCT's relationship and funding of missions-sending agencies, including those of the Southern Baptist Convention and the SBC-breakaway Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The motion does not propose a change in funding to CBF or the International Mission Board. It does, however put the IMB on notice regarding dissatisfaction with the IMB's "New Directions" initiative, which was described as giving the "highest priority to a church planting movement, emphasizing the rapid multiplication of indigenous churches."

The subcommittee that studied the IMB was chaired by Ron Lyle of Pasadena, Texas, met for two days with IMB President Jerry Rankin and staff. "They were exceedingly cordial and helpful," Denison said of the IMB, "answering every question, and when they couldn't, they got the answer. It was a wonderful experience of dialog and we're extremely grateful for the work they invested," Denison said.

While emphasizing "enormous gratitude for all God has done and is doing in mission work through Texas Baptists and Southern Baptists," Denison stated that the committee was charged with offering specific findings and concerns relative to the agencies.

Denison said the committee through the course of its research and conversation had been made aware of the fact that the IMB is redirecting personnel and financial support on an accelerated basis from such institutions as hospitals, schools and seminaries. He related the frustration of career missionaries who prepared for agricultural or medical missions and then being told, "such work is not important and won't be funded." Denison said, "The alternative is to accept an assignment to a ministry to which they don't feel called," adding that the BGCT is providing support for such individuals while asking the IMB to help in their relocation.

The report also cited dissatisfaction with the use of the Baptist Faith and Message during the process of evaluating missionary candidates, asking the IMB to measure candidates by Scripture alone. "For the first time, the Southern Baptist international missions agency is examining candidates with reference to a specific theological document with which many Texas Baptists disagree and which the BGCT has chosen not to endorse."

Other concerns relating to the IMB dealt with a reduction in the number of career missionaries, with a growing dependence on two-year missionaries and short-term volunteers; the "less significant role of career missionaries in planning and strategic decision making"; limited used of women in administrative leadership; and the need for a strengthened relationship with Woman's Missionary Union.

The subcommittee examining the BGCT's relationship with NAMB was chaired by Ophelia Humphrey of Amarillo, Texas, and met with NAMB President Robert E. Reccord and staff members for four to five hours, Dennison said. Expressing concern about the status of the BGCT's cooperative agreement relationship with NAMB as last negotiated in 1991, the report notes that Texas is the second most populous state in the nation, warranting an increase in the portion NAMB provides for project funding beyond the current 45 percent level.

"The documentation which NAMB requires in order to forward agreed upon funding is sometimes tedious and time consuming," the report noted. Some funding delays have made it necessary for BGCT to advance funds for mission projects while NAMB processes requests, according to the information presented by Denison. He claimed that similar concerns by Mississippi Baptists had prompted a similar decision to retain Cooperative Program funds commensurate with the amount that would be returned to the state by NAMB.

"There are concerns voiced by a number of state conventions as regards the working arrangements and relationships they have with NAMB," Denison said. "These do not relate to politics or theology, only to matters of efficiency and effectiveness of the business partnership which we have."

Of particular concern to the committee is the new requirement that NAMB missionary candidates who do not agree with the Baptist Faith and Message will receive "significantly greater scrutiny as part of the application for endorsement." More restrictive, Denison said, is the requirement that current and future chaplains endorsed by NAMB will be required to sign the BFM statement. Such actions violate the cooperative nature of their relationship, the report noted, since "one entity may not unilaterally change the document."

Dennison recalled, "Dr. Rankin made it clear it is not a categorical denial of missionary appointment simply not to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. We were told the same situation exists if applying for the North American Mission Board. But if you are a chaplain and you will not sign 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, you cannot be endorsed as a chaplain." Anticipating a refusal to sign the new statement by the majority of the 45 chaplains in the Texas prison system, Denison said BGCT has been asked to become a chaplaincy commissioning entity.

The committee also questioned the accuracy of missionary personnel counted by NAMB, questioning how many of the 5,000 missionaries are fully funded. Denison said the committee repeatedly asked NAMB for answers but was told "they could not give us that information." When last informed on the matter "some five years ago," Denison said the number of fully funded NAMB missionaries in Texas was at 40. Restructuring within the SBC also was cited as the cause of several concerns, including a failure to provide "timely and acceptable curriculum materials" and a decrease in Mission Service Corps support staff.

The subcommittee studying the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was chaired by Mitch Randall of Bedford and found the missionary appointment process adequate in expressing an applicant's theological beliefs, opportunities for women in mission leadership and ministry, commitment to the truthfulness of Scripture and essentials of Christian faith and historic Baptist doctrines. Other aspects of CBF's management of global missions missionaries were deemed satisfactory.

With 303 BGCT churches funding CBF through their Cooperative Program allocations, the committee recommended that the convention "continue to honor the designations" of such churches.

The board approved disbanding the study committee and assigning responsibility of monitoring relationships to a group to be named by the BGCT president, executive board chairman and the executive director. Several board members commended the report and encouraged the continued participation of committee members in the monitoring process.

The only question raised asked whether the withheld funds would be used "in the same way that NAMB would have used it had they sent it back to us." Denison said, "If we were to couch Recommendation Four in such a way that these funds could only be used for projects that would have been approved by NAMB's strategic priorities, we would have done ourselves no help. We would have the same level of frustration in getting these projects endorsed as we currently experienced," he said, referring to delays in project approval.

Denison said the report would be distributed to all Texas Baptist churches and publicized through the Baptist Standard. "One of the real frustrations we have in Texas Baptist life today is what I call intentional ignorance -- a desire on the part of some pastors not to know what has happened." He encouraged board members to help share the details of the committee's recommendations as approved for consideration next fall.

However, he said, the committee did not intend for Texas Baptists "to do things with the money which we should not have done and could not have done otherwise. The matter of our joint relationship as it relates to NAMB is not a matter of theology. It's a matter of facilitation and efficiency."

Early in the meeting, BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade expressed disappointment in a May 21 Baptist Press report about information prepared by Missouri layman Roger Moran concerning supporters of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. "Our convention and our leadership have again been attacked by people who know better. I've got to believe they know better. My heart is heavy over this. I'm not asking you to do anything," he said, pledging continued research of the matter, an expression of his "deep sense of outrage" to Southern Baptist leaders, and a response from the BGCT's Committee on Integrity.

Wade said he had hoped "the conciliatory language of our mission-sending report" and the focus of a strategic planning report would lead to advances in the relationship between the BGCT and SBC. "We're going to continue that journey and not going to be distracted by this kind of behavior."

Noting the presence of the writer of the BP article in the executive board meeting, Wade said, "I am distressed that she knows so little about us and speaks so authoritatively using malicious comments of a Missouri Baptist who is discredited in his own state and elevated to a position of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention." Adding the article "spread lies and misinformation," Wade said, "Scripture has some things to say about trying to speak well of one another. And we're trying to do that today, but we will not allow lies to go unchallenged," he restated.

BGCT President Clyde Glazener of Fort Worth spoke of the "negative spin" that had been put on the committee's report, calling Baptist Press "the propaganda arm of the Southern Baptist Convention." He added, "When [Dan] Martin and [Al] Shackleford were fired, the national Baptist vision was broken." Glazener said similar attempts to suppress the work of Texas journalists Toby Druin and Marv Knox at the Baptist Standard had not been tolerated. "The Baptist Standard does a magnificent job," he said.

Describing responses by NAMB President Robert E. Reccord and SBC Executive Committee Vice President David Hankins to the mission report, Glazener said, "They gave their spins about the thing. I do think we've got enough money to send out subscriptions to 'Hooked on Phonics' for some people."

He called "every Baptist vote" a vote for freedom to keep alive the Baptist vision. "What they do is what they will do, but we will move on in Texas to try to remain true Baptists, upholding the Baptist vision and standing on Baptist principles and lifting up the gospel light." The BGCT president added that "Baptist guns will be leveled at us regularly," offering a comparison to communist suppression. "We're a little bit to them like Taiwan is to China. But we will be free, we will be Baptist, we will love Jesus and we'll even love them."

BGCT Treasurer Roger Hall reported that he expects the current month to be good for the Cooperative Program, with mid-May financial reports indicating that BGCT is receiving 95 percent of the overall Cooperative Program-wide budget, with the Texas needs portion at 89 percent. The April report indicated that receipts are coming in at 12.1 percent behind the same period last year on total CP funds and 9.3 percent behind the previous year on the Texas CP portion.

The number of churches committing to the convention-approved budget has grown to approximately 26 percent, with 41 percent retaining the earlier designations of 67 percent for the BGCT and 33 percent to the SBC, while 33 percent of the churches are customizing their giving to various causes, ranging from Criswell College to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in addition to BGCT and SBC giving.

"For those areas administered through this building [BGCT] we are in the midst of 90 percent spending limit that we put in operation at the first of the year," Hall said, "not to cause pain and anguish, but simply to live within our resources." He said a similar practice was instituted in the mid-1980s to carefully manage cash flow.

Hall projected funding for various BGCT institutions in the coming year and indicated that the $1 million cap on funding for SBC seminaries had been reached in April. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary received 86.2 percent of that $1 million allotment to SBC seminaries.

"There are some trying to make much more out of this. When that cap is received then the next dollar in the new plan for seminary support goes to Texas seminaries rather than continuing along to the SBC. We are at that point and those funds are proceeding and it may result in more funds coming for Texas [seminaries'] support."

However, he made clear the fact that a church may continue to fund SBC seminaries by selecting a second or third financial giving option. "Those monies will go in their entirety as budgeted on to the SBC seminary support as they are so noted. We have provided that information to churches, answered questions by phone and e-mail, and are trying to be of help, knowing that churches have choices as they follow their convictions."

A new mission statement approved by the executive board states, "The mission of BGCT is to assist churches and related ministries to be the presence of Christ in the world." Related core values address biblical authority, missions and evangelism, prayer and spiritual vitality, inclusion and diversity, the worth of all persons, as well as Baptist heritage and polity doctrine.

In stating the value of biblical authority, the approved language reads, "We value the Bible as our authoritative guide for life and ministry," citing 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Bobby Broyles of Earth, Texas, said, "It really bugs me to hear these people called liberals who don't believe the Bible," referring to the earlier comments about Baptist Press reporting. Having served in various board and commission assignments with the BGCT, he said, "There's never been any hint that abortion is the right moral choice ever in any meeting. There's never been any hint of any idea that homosexuality is not immoral. There's never been any discussion about whether the Bible is authoritative for faith and practice. It's understood that it is."

Broyles added, "I've wanted to tell somebody for so long that these folks are lying about these guys. They love God and love people." He told of a group of West Texas pastors planning to have conferences "where pastors can come and straighten things out."

Phil Lineberger of Sugarland, Texas, described seven facets to the work of BGCT growing out of the mission statement and core values, with mandates to reach all people, start churches, improve church health, encourage healthy families, meet human needs, equip laity and expand theological education.

Christian Life Commission director Phil Strickland offered further reaction from the BGCT Committee on Baptist Integrity, expressing his regret that "these attacks continue as we are trying to move on to a different understanding of God's will for our state," referring to the strategic planning report of a new mission statement. Strickland questioned the credibility of the recent Baptist Press report, observing that the writer is married to the public relations director of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and describing the subject of the report, Missouri Baptist Laymen's Association research director Roger Moran as "an often-sued and often-married businessman who prepared the slanderous attack against BGCT."

Regarding Baptist Press' presentation of information deemed critical of the BGCT-funded Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Strickland said, "It has my full and unqualified support mainly because I still believe passionately in religious liberty and the separation of church and state." Receiving strong applause from the audience for his remarks, Strickland credited the BJC with protecting churches in matters relating to tax-exempt status, discrimination in hiring and protection against unreasonable zoning.

"Ironically, it was the BJC who last week was defending Ashcroft's right to have Bible studies in his office," Strickland continued, also noting BJC support for religious freedom legislation in Congress and raising concerns regarding a program "that seeks to have churches become contract agents for the government."

Strickland criticized the information related in the BP article which "enables people to engage in guilt by association and use it to demonize [David] Currie, Charles [Wade] and me." He added, "During this legislative session I have worked with many people on gambling, childcare and other issues," insisting that such cooperative efforts do not define him or his beliefs "any more than being at a Sun Myung Moon breakfast defines the faith of Southern Baptist leaders."

He pled for help from board members to "challenge the lies" and create opportunities for BGCT officials to speak to churches. "Be a Baptist. Fight for those things that we fought for all of our lives," he urged, adding a word of appreciation for "the good and responsible reporting" of the Baptist Standard, the BGCT's official newspaper.

The board heard a report from the Houston Baptist University Response Committee regarding discussions about last year's decision by HBU trustees to "unilaterally amend their charter and bylaws" so that 75 percent of trustees are elected by HBU with the remaining 25 percent elected through the BGCT. While not expecting a change in HBU's position, the committee will continue to seek a mutually acceptable relationship and a decision as to whether escrowed funds for HBU will be released.

In a related matter, the committee reported a request from Buckner Baptist Benevolences to change the process of trustee selection so that only 33 percent of members will be named through BGCT. A recommendation on the request is expected in time for the BGCT executive board's fall meeting.

Board members also heard reports relating to the upcoming Mary Hill Davis State Missions Offering with a goal of raising $5,750,505 for ministry in Texas, a new Texas Baptist Men initiative ministering to victims of crime, various staff changes and retirements, and received word of a "very positive, clean audit."

The administrative committee declined to follow up on a motion made at the 2000 BGCT annual meeting seeking establishment of a mediation task force between BGCT and SBC, preferring encouragement of further dialog. The committee also declined to recommend a motion establishing a day of prayer and fasting between the two groups at a designated location, preferring instead to set aside a particular day for concentrated prayer wherever participants reside.

A task force assigned to study retirement and insurance plans for employees and ministers offered the majority of their findings as information. Only two recommendations were offered, including a pilot program providing up to $25,000 in non-CP money from endowment funds to assist BGCT pastors who are no longer serving churches of the SBC and thus disqualified for continued retirement and insurance funds through the Annuity Board. A second fund of a similar amount will assist ministers and families experiencing difficulty due to "insurance premium problems.

Hall said the BGCT will continue to utilize services of the SBC Annuity Board for retirement and insurance needs. He indicated that the committee studied the plan used by CBF through the Missionaries and Ministers Benefit Board of the American Baptist Convention but felt since it was in its formative stages that it would not "strengthen our position to provide better service" at this time.

"We do not envision assuming a greater responsibility for providing insurance for all ministers and personnel," Hall said, adding, "That's prohibitive. This may be way of assisting."


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