A Baptist World Alliance officer from Australia is asking that a proposed pullout by Southern Baptist Convention be postponed to allow concerns cited in the recommendation to be discussed “openly and fairly” within the BWA.
A report recommending the withdrawal complains that the BWA doesn’t allow full discussion of issues important to Southern Baptists such as abortion, women’s ordination and distribution of world aid.
Geoff Pound of the Baptist Union of Australia said the commission he chairs–one of six sponsored by the BWA to study different areas of theology, church life and mission–would be a proper forum for addressing those issues, but Southern Baptist leaders have never suggested them.
“I have never received any suggestions of topics or presenters from Southern Baptist leaders, and certainly no requests to facilitate discussion on the interpretation of Baptist doctrines about which you are expressing angst,” Pound said a letter dated Monday to SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman.
Pound urged that the SBC/BWA Study Committee report calling for withdrawal from and defunding of the BWA be tabled “to give members of the BWA adequate time to discuss and respond to the report.” He also recommended that leaders of the BWA “be requested to give opportunities for the report of the SBC/BWA Study Committee to be openly and fairly discussed.”
Pound reminded Chapman that a membership application from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was delayed three years, at the SBC’s request, to discuss issues related to the admission of new members.
“It is only fitting that the SBC committee should grant a similar period of time to allow BWA members to discuss its report and respond to its serious and far-reaching proposals to withdraw from membership,” he said.
Chapman, who chaired the SBC/BWA Study Committee, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on Pound’s letter.
BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz was out of the country and unavailable for comment, according to a spokesman.
The SBC/BWA Study Committee report, reportedly approved in October but made public Dec. 19, cites “increasing influence of positions contrary to the New Testament and Baptist doctrines,” a “decided anti-American tone” in recent years and criticism of the SBC International Mission Board as reasons for the proposed withdrawal. It also mentions “refusal to allow open discussion on issues such as abortion, and the funding of questionable enterprises through Baptist World Aid” as “just a surface sampling of what has transpired in recent years.”
“If every issue about which highly objectionable theologies are advocated were to be openly discussed with equal time provided for more biblical positions, and if a less Byzantine form of governing the fellowship could be developed, then Southern Baptists might feel more comfortable,” the report says.
“Though repeated attempts to secure a just forum have been made by ecclesiastical statesmen such as Jimmy Draper, Morris Chapman, and a host of others, the situation has only worsened.”
The report, which awaits vote by the SBC Executive Committee Feb. 16-17, asks the SBC to withdraw its membership from the BWA effective Oct. 1. It also reallocates $300,000 that Southern Baptists currently contribute to the BWA–which was reduced this year from $425,000–to “execute a new an innovative strategy for continuing to build strong relationships with conservative evangelical Christians around the world….”
It envisions “the possible emergence of a new fellowship with an unqualified adherence to the absolute Lordship of Christ, the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, salvation based on the substitutionary atonement of Christ appropriated through repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, commitment to the sanctity of all human life, and advocacy of absolute religious liberty for all men everywhere including an open marketplace of discussion and self-determination.”
Chapman said in a Dec. 30 letter to a Baptist leader in Croatia that the Study Committee proposal is not intended to bring disunity.
“While Southern Baptists certainly believe one of our objectives should be to promote unity in the body, we also wish to concentrate upon other matters critical to the spiritual well-being of every nation in the world, including our own,” Chapman said in a response to Branko Lovrec, a BWA vice president and former president of the Baptist Union of Croatia.
Lovrec wrote Chapman Dec. 29 saying: “I have personally been very proud of our Baptist identity and unity, since we have been more than others united in one body of believers called Baptist. Now how can I present the truth to our media and other denominations that are falling apart in my country of Croatia? Should I tell them that on the international level similar things are happening, the division over peripheral matters? Or should I just keep silent and say we are still together as one body united for close to 100 years?”
Chapman said the committee wishes continued success and will continue to pray for the BWA. “At the same time, we have come to the conviction that funds previously allocated to the BWA should be directed toward the promotion of missions and evangelism,” he wrote.
He said the committee hopes to use the money formerly earmarked for BWA to coordinate and lead conferences in other countries, as invited, on topics including Bible study, evangelism and church growth.
The executive committee of the European Baptist Federation also released a statement Monday criticizing the SBC proposal. “In Europe and the Middle East Baptists are a minority facing often the opposition from much bigger denominations or even other religions,” they said. “We need to stay together and demonstrate that we are one family, brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The Baptist General Convention of Texas contributed more than $175,000 to the work of the BWA in 2003, and the BGCT executive board will be asked to increase that support in 2004, BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade said in this week’s Baptist Standard. He also encouraged churches and individuals to consider supporting the BWA directly.
BGCT president Ken Hall described his first reaction to the proposed defunding and withdrawal as “grief for the broad Baptist family.”
“I hope Texas Baptists rally around the Baptist World Alliance, not only as an organization, but also rallying around the national Baptists around the world the BWA represents,” said Hall, chief executive officer of Buckner Baptist Benevolences.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.