DALLAS–A confidential e-mail address has been established to collect information from Southern Baptist Convention missionaries who are concerned about signing an affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.
The Missions Review and Initiative Committee of the Baptist General Convention of Texas is coordinating the e-mail survey. It was announced in a widely circulated e-mail written by Keith Parks, a member of that committee and former president of the SBC Foreign Mission Board as well as former coordinator of global missions for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The committee’s request was sparked by news that Jerry Rankin, president of the SBC International Mission Board, has asked all IMB missionaries to sign an affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.
That faith statement, which was drafted by a small SBC committee without input from state Baptist conventions, has not been accepted by the BGCT and some other Baptist bodies. Common concerns include charges that the statement elevates loyalty to the Bible over loyalty to Jesus, downplays Baptist doctrines of the priesthood of the believer and autonomy of the local church and defines itself as an “instrument of doctrinal accountability.”
Exactly what will happen to IMB missionaries who do not sign the required affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message is not clear. Rankin told Baptist newspaper editors Feb. 13 that missionaries will be allowed to note areas of disagreement and then will be counseled by regional IMB leaders. While denying that missionaries would be fired for disagreeing with points of the faith statement, he said IMB administrators had not yet determined how to handle such situations.
Rankin told the editors he hopes 100 percent of IMB missionaries will sign the affirmation.
However, initial reports from missionaries outside the United States indicate this is not likely. Talk of at least some missionary resignations continues to circulate in e-mails and private conversations.
Parks reported that in the first few days after his e-mail began circulating, “a pretty steady stream of folks” wrote to the committee via the special address. Interviewed on Feb. 19, Parks said the committee had heard from more than 30 people the day before alone.
Exactly where the BGCT committee is headed with the data being gathered has not been announced. The committee met in subgroups and as a full group Feb. 18 and 19 in Dallas and is expected to bring a report to the BGCT Executive Board Feb. 25.
The main thing, Parks said, is “we wanted to say to missionaries who share our convictions, ‘Don’t feel forced to compromise your own understanding of what it means to be a Baptist.'”
A Feb. 19 Baptist Press story quoted Rankin as downplaying the efforts of the Texas missions committee. Rankin told Baptist Press that Texas and moderate Baptist leaders “are going to be surprised when so few, if any, IMB missionaries take them up on their offer of an alternate support base.”
Rankin also said he believes some are presenting a “distortion of facts to advance their anti-SBC agenda.”
“The presumption seems to be made that it is the IMB administration and trustees who are attacking missionaries,” Rankin said. “To the contrary, we have absolute confidence in the doctrinal integrity of our missionaries and their commitment to Southern Baptist convictions as outlined in the Baptist Faith & Message. After all, their own statement of beliefs was examined thoroughly and they affirmed the Baptist Faith & Message when they were appointed.
“To dispel any question by others, we are just giving them an opportunity to reaffirm what they have already done and said,” he added. “Most of our missionaries understand that this request was to give protection and credibility to them so we can get on with our task.”
In the e-mail announcing the confidential electronic address for communicating with the committee, Parks explains that “all of us who value our heritage of ‘no creed but the Bible’ are incensed by this demand for creedal conformity. This is one of the most extreme (although expected) actions in the ongoing destruction of cooperative Baptist mission efforts to which many of us have given our lives, prayers and money.”
Some IMB missionaries will “refuse to compromise their belief in the priesthood of the believer,” Parks wrote. “Texas Baptists, and many other Baptists, refuse to abandon these missionaries to the unacceptable choice of compromising either their convictions or their calling.
Information gathered through the e-mail address will help the BGCT committee explore ways to create a “genuine Baptist option” for these missionaries, he wrote. “We are confident that our Baptist people will respond to a cry for help from the missionaries as they always have.
The e-mail address for communicating with the BGCT committee is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Wingfield is managing editor of the Baptist Standard, from which this article was reprinted with permission.
Executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global and the author of Why Churches Need to Talk About Sexuality.