The president of the Baptist Medical/Dental Fellowship says he is resigning his office immediately and withdrawing as a member of the volunteer organization because of a recent agreement expanding and formalizing the group’s partnership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Dr. Danny Barnhill, a medical doctor from Shreveport, La., said in an e-mail dated Sunday that he is resigning as president only a week after taking office, because of facts about which he was not aware when he was elected at the BMDF’s annual meeting held April 2 in Callaway Gardens, Ga.
At that meeting, BMDF Executive Director James Williams and CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal signed a six-point agreement formalizing and expanding a partnership aimed at increasing involvement of Fellowship churches in medical and dental mission opportunities.
In his e-mail, Barnhill said current BMDF leadership “appears to desire” to end ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, and that the Atlanta-based CBF has become “a major indirect financial contributor” to the medical/dental fellowship. He cited the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Mainstream Baptists of Oklahoma as “two very liberal religious groups closely linked to the CBF,” which he said contributed $100,000 annually to the BMDF to pay the salary of Assistant Executive Director Fred Loper, who is set to become acting executive director when Williams retires May 1.
“My personal beliefs match perfectly with those stated by the SBC,” Barnhill said in the e-mail memo addressed to executive officers, the executive committee and general membership of the Baptist Medical/Dental Fellowship. “On the other hand, the CBF has many liberal social and political philosophies and agendas with which I do not agree. Because of that, I am not comfortable being an officer in or financially supporting the new CBF-affiliated BMDF.”
Barnhill said the renewal document was presented to the BMDF executive committee before being signed publicly, but members did not understand “the full impact” of the agreement at the time. He said Williams discouraged discussion on the matter, saying it was based on a “handshake agreement” between him and Vestal. Immediately following the meeting, reports of the partnership agreement appeared on several CBF-related Web sites, Barnhill said.
Contacted by phone Tuesday morning, Williams said he was surprised by Barnhill’s resignation and didn’t know of his apparently deep-seated feelings about the CBF partnership. Williams said the BMDF has no desire to end its relationships with the Southern Baptist Convention International and North American Mission boards, and that a statement clarifying the CBF partnership agreement was being sent to Baptist news media. Williams said he has tried to phone Barnhill but hadn’t yet been able to reach him.
Williams said his own retirement, which was announced at the BMDF annual meeting, is unrelated to the CBF partnership, which he described as a “renewal” of an informal relationship that already exists. Before joining the BMDF, Williams was executive director of the SBC Brotherhood Commission, an agency discontinued in a restructuring and downsizing of the denomination in the 1990s.
The CBF and BMDF have worked together before on purchasing and distributing medicine and medical supplies in North Korea, according to CBF news release announcing the expanded partnership agreement. The six-point agreement includes establishing medical/dental clinics in Gambia, providing medical and dental care in impoverished rural counties in the United States and working together in the appointment of healthcare missionaries.
“BMDF is eager to continue amplifying our partnership in healthcare missions with CBF,” Loper said, quoted in the CBF news release after Williams announced that he was stepping aside effective May 1.
Loper, a physician in Oklahoma City, joined the BMDF staff in October 2002 after 16 years as a national medical missionary with the SBC North American Mission Board. At the time Loper said he and his wife, Lavada, left NAMB for several reasons, but the “tip of the iceberg” was a requirement for missionaries to endorse the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, which Loper said he couldn’t do in good conscience.
According to a news story about Loper’s hiring, the BGCT and Mainstream Baptist of Oklahoma provided start-up funding for Loper’s position. Part of the money came from the Texas convention’s missionary-transition fund, to which the Mainstream group had contributed. The fund was established for SBC missionaries who could no longer serve in good conscience because their mission boards required that they affirm changes in 2000 to the Baptist Faith & Message.
Other financial support also was reportedly provided by partnership-mission funds from the two state organizations.
Based in Memphis, Tenn., the Baptist Medical/Dental Fellowship is a professional fellowship of Baptist physicians and dentists for the purpose of enhancing their Christian growth, church involvement and support of Christian missions, according to a mission statement on the group’s Web site.
Among available programs and opportunities on the Web site, the BMDF lists the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board of the SBC, Woman’s Missionary Union, CBF, Baptist World Alliance and others.
The CBF describes itself as “a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice.”
The CBF is frequently criticized by SBC leaders for being liberal or for trying to steal Southern Baptist churches. The CBF has a special section on its Web site titled “Truth About CBF” with articles aimed at “keeping the record straight.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.