Messengers approve wording revision of Ad Hoc Committee report on CP giving

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)--Messengers approved a request by the Executive Committee June 13 to amend its earlier recommendation to the Southern Baptist Convention aimed at strengthening Cooperative Program giving.

The action followed a vote of 35-27 by Executive Committee members June 12 to revise two of its nine recommendations to the convention regarding the final report of the Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee issued in February.

One of the recommendations now encourages churches “to give an increasing percentage of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program” but no longer specifies a 10-percent goal for supporting the missions and ministries of state Baptist conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Another now encourages the election of leaders whose churches “systematically and enthusiastically lead by example in giving sacrificially and proportionally through the Cooperative Program,” again without mention of a 10 percent target.

The original wording was part of a report by the Ad Hoc Committee, a 10-member group of state executives, Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman and Bob Rodgers, the Executive Committee’s vice president for Cooperative Program.

Executive Committee officers suggested the amendments after receiving feedback from large and small churches across the convention, including many who perceived the recommendations as a mandate from convention leaders infringing on the autonomy of the local church.

Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, told messengers he believes this is one of the finest hours in the history of the convention and church members have a responsibility to step forward and reach the world with the Gospel. But, he added, he also believes the convention is “on the brink of defaulting in our responsibility.”

“In 1980 the Southern Baptist Convention gave 10.7 percent per church of undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program,” Jordan said. “Today that number is 6.6 percent. In the greatest hour of opportunity, we’re walking away from our responsibility to fund the greatest missionary force in the evangelical history of Christendom.”

Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., brought a motion to amend the recommendation “to reflect the original intent of the final report of the Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee” by inserting language specifying a 10 percent goal.

“I believe that we are at a historic juncture in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Stone said. “Much as we needed strong convicted leadership theologically in 1979, I believe we need that same level of challenging ourselves not so much theologically but now missiologically.”

Rob Zinn, chairman of the Executive Committee, told the messengers he did not want the recommendation to be misconstrued.

“We are all pro-Cooperative Program. We believe in the Cooperative Program,” Zinn said. “But we also are getting phone calls, and we are trying to be sensitive to all of our churches and our messengers and our people and our pastors. And we believe by putting a percentage there, it is being misconstrued and perceived that we are mandating what to give. We are simply encouraging all churches to give.”

Jack Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church and a former president of the convention, stood to speak against Stone’s motion to specify 10-percent giving.

“As a member of the Executive Committee, I know this has been a big discussion among our group, and as a pastor, over the years it’s been a frustration for all of us who pastor churches that our people do not give their tithes and do not support the work of the church. That’s one of the great frustrations that we all have as pastors,” Graham said.

“But I’ve found over the years as pastor that the way to motivate people to give is not by coercion in any way but simply to give the biblical mandates for giving, to encourage people in their stewardship, to give the moral and spiritual and biblical position on giving, and people have responded,” Graham added. “... If we put percentages above the people we’re trying to reach and the churches that need to support Southern Baptists, I’m convinced this will be damaging to the Cooperative Program. It will not produce more giving but less giving.”

David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and a messenger from Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria, La., then spoke in favor of Stone’s motion.

“The Louisiana Baptist Convention is committed to moving toward a 50/50 distribution to the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s our heart,” Hankins said. “We have been joined by all the state executives that were in the Canada meeting in implementing some kind of plan to reach that goal of equitable division, and we’re glad to accept the challenge. I would urge the messengers to go ahead and talk about increasing percentages and use the language that was originally from the Ad Hoc Committee, and let’s challenge ourselves and encourage one another.”

Zinn said the Executive Committee had discussed the wording issue at length and sought to reach a broad spectrum of opinions in the convention with a positive impact.

“I’m asking you to support what we have given to you and defeat this amendment,” Zinn said.

Jerry Vines, another former convention president and a messenger from First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., rose to remind messengers that he served as a member of the Southern Baptist Peace Committee, which in 1987 brought a report to the convention addressing, among other topics, the matter of the Cooperative Program.

“There are two sentences which I believe are pertinent to our discussion this morning and where we are as a denomination,” Vines said. “The first sentence addresses the matter of our methodology and the second sentence addresses the matter of our theology, specifically our doctrine of the church: ‘We recognize the historic right of each Southern Baptist church to give to the work of the agencies in keeping with its deeply held convictions without intimidation or criticism.’

“Our Executive Committee has done a very good job being sensitive to the importance of our methodology and also the importance of our theology,” Vines said. “I believe these men have studied about it, they have prayed about it. I would urge that we vote no on the amendment.”

Vines called for a vote on the motion, and Stone’s suggestion was defeated by messengers before the convention approved the Executive Committee’s recommendation.

During the Executive Committee meeting the previous day, much discussion preceded the 35-27 vote.

“We believe what we need right now is a win-win situation, where the pastors, the churches and the state execs can all come together and say, ‘We believe in the Cooperative Program, we believe we need to encourage the Cooperative Program, and we believe we need to push the Cooperative Program and get off going down [in giving] and start back up,’” Zinn, the chairman, said. “That’s where we need to go.”

Zinn added that in a local church, pastors can urge members to tithe 10 percent because the Bible mandates it, but the Bible does not mandate giving 10 percent through the Cooperative Program.

Darrell Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, Fla., proposed a motion to further amend the wording in order to call on churches to “strive” to give 10 percent, but his suggestion was defeated.

Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention and a member of the Ad Hoc Committee, referred to statistics that show Cooperative Program giving has steadily decreased in recent years from an average of just over 10 percent to below 7 percent. He voiced concern about what will happen to the convention, including the seminaries and missionaries, if the decline continues.

“There is a significant concern out in the field among Southern Baptists that our president and our vice presidents come from churches that strongly support the Cooperative Program,” White said, referring to the original recommendation which encouraged the election of state and national convention officers whose churches give at least 10 percent through the Cooperative Program.

Chapman congratulated members on a “spirited discussion.”

“You know when we go before the Lord and we deal fairly and straightly with each other, then we trust that God will guide us in the way from there,” Chapman said. “... This is not a matter of what is right or wrong; it’s just a matter of what some would think is best and others would think is best. You just can’t come out wrong on this.”

The convention also took the following action during the Executive Committee report:

-- approved a 2006-07 SBC Operating Budget of $9,022,028.

-- approved a 2006-07 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of $195,948,423.

-- approved an amendment to the Restated Articles of Incorporation of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

-- recognized James Guenther for nearly half a century of service as the convention’s attorney and counselor.

The Executive Committee elected William Harrell, pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., as chairman; Roy Sparkman, a member of First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas, as vice chairman; and Melissa Gay, a member of First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., as secretary.


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