Baptist editors were critical of the Southern Baptist Convention’s anticipated defunding of and withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance in the first wave of editorials since news of the recommendation broke just before Christmas.
An SBC/BWA study committee announced Dec. 19 it would recommend cutting ties with the worldwide Baptist organization, accusing the BWA of having an anti-American tone and harboring liberalism. If approved by the SBC Executive Committee Feb. 16-17 and at the annual convention meeting in Indianapolis in June, the withdrawal would take effect in October.
Release of the recommendation came after most newspapers owned by SBC-affiliated Baptist state conventions had shut down for the holidays, meaning editors didn’t get an opportunity to address the issue until after the first of the year.
Charlie Warren of the Arkansas Baptist News acknowledged that like many of his readers, he is tired of hearing about issues dividing Baptists, but they have a right to know.
“I personally believe Southern Baptists, who were instrumental in founding BWA in 1905, should continue working with them, even though we can’t control them,” he editorialized.
“If there indeed are theological problems and concerns as the study committee claims, Southern Baptists should stay and try to make a difference, not ‘take our money’ and run,” wrote Tennessee editor Lonnie Wilkey in the Baptist and Reflector.
Marv Knox of the Texas Baptist Standard said the defunding proposal follows a pattern of how Southern Baptists have previously reacted to groups that include representation from other Baptists which Southern Baptists couldn’t control.
“Make no mistake, the new SBC is a convention dominated by fundamentalist leaders, and fundamentalists must control. What they cannot control, they abandon and undermine.”
While it wasn’t mentioned in the SBC study committee report, Western Recorder Editor Trennis Henderson speculated the main issue behind the decision was a BWA vote last summer accepting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into membership.
“The overall tone and content of the report … suggest that committee members had a predetermined outcome in mind and then sought out examples to justify their conclusions,” Henderson wrote.
Henderson took a different perspective on one anecdote cited by the committee, which he said he witnessed personally at a BWA meeting last year in Brazil.
Rather than an SBC pastor being treated “rudely” as the SBC study committee suggests, Henderson said, it was the pastor and other SBC representatives that came across as “brusque and accusatory as they gathered ammunition to make their case for leaving the BWA.”
While BWA representatives from around the world privately expressed concerns about SBC tactics, “none of them treated the Southern Baptist representatives rudely during the conference dialogue,” Henderson recalled.
Word & Way Editor Bill Webb of Missouri said SBC leaders on the study committee “fail to fully grasp the reasons that BWA remains important to Baptists in the world.”
The BWA helps people in poverty, defends human rights and promotes unity among the world’s Baptists, Webb said.
“There is no question that BWA work will be curtailed if Southern Baptists pull their support, but the Baptist World Alliance will continue,” he said. “Challenges are nothing new to most of the world’s Baptists. Baptists need each other now more than ever. And the fact is Southern Baptists need the Baptist World Alliance more than some apparently realize.”
Biblical Recorder Editor Tony Cartledge said the schism marks the end of nearly a century of international Baptist cooperation amid diversity.
“For all the rhetoric, the truth of the matter seems clear: when it became apparent that SBC leaders could not have their way with the BWA, they decided to take their sizeable ball and go home,” Cartledge wrote. “They will draw from the BWA’s membership other Baptist groups that favor a fundamentalist approach to Christianity, and start a new organization that they can control.”
Other editors contacted by EthicsDaily.com said they planned future editorials on the pullout proposal.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.