A retired physician from Florida is staging a one-man protest of the Southern Baptist Convention’s expected withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance by fasting and marching around SBC headquarters carrying a cross made out of grapevines harvested from his neighbor’s property.
“To me the cross is very symbolic and has a lot of meaning,” Bob Casey of Gainesville, Fla., told EthicsDaily.com Thursday, the third day of a seven-day fast. “It says in the Bible that I am the Vine and you are the branches and God is the tender of the vine grove.”
Casey, 73, is abstaining from both food and liquids while walking daily around neighboring complexes in downtown Nashville, Tenn., that house offices of the SBC Executive Committee and LifeWay Christian Resources. He plans to make the trek daily for six days and then walk the route seven times on the seventh day, just like the Bible says Joshua’s army marched around Jericho before the walls fell at the blast of a trumpet and shouts.
“I’m not after destruction of the Southern Baptist Convention, but I am after destruction of some of their thinking,” Casey said, quoted in Thursday’s Nashville Tennessean.
Casey also hopes to present a resolution passed by his church, Parkview Baptist Church in Gainesville, Fla., asking the SBC Executive Committee to defeat any recommendation to withdraw fellowship and funding from the BWA when the committee meets Monday and Tuesday in Nashville.
The Executive Committee is expected at the meeting to receive the report of an SBC/BWA Study Committee, made public in December, calling for Southern Baptists to leave membership of the BWA and withhold $300,000 a year in annual funding, beginning this October. Should it pass, as most believe it will, messengers to this SBC annual meeting, scheduled June 15-16 in Indianapolis, would have to agree for the proposal to take effect.
The committee’s report cites “aberrant theology” and “anti-American” sentiment in a list of grievances against the BWA. Though not in the formal report, many speculate that a major factor in the committee’s decision was last year’s vote BWA leaders to accept the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into membership. One member of the study committee, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin, confirmed the CBF membership vote influenced the recommendation, Baptist Press reported last week, because it was perceived as “endorsing” a schism within the SBC.
With a reported 16 million members, the SBC is by far the largest of the BWA’s 211 member unions and conventions, representing 47 million baptized church members, and its largest financial contributor.
The Parkview resolution asks the Executive Committee not only to reject any recommendation to sever BWA ties, but also to present a report at the convention in June “pledging continued membership of the SBC with our Baptist families, brothers, sisters and children around the world through fellowship with the BWA.”
The resolution also “respectfully requests” that any discussions on the issue at the Executive Committee meeting be discussed “openly and fairly” in an open session “with a recorded, roll-call vote.”
Several churches have reportedly passed similar resolutions, and Baptist leaders from around the world have issued pleas for the SBC to reconsider or delay action on the proposal to sever ties.
As of Thursday afternoon, Casey said he did not yet know if he would be permitted to address the Executive Committee. The committee’s president and CEO, Morris Chapman, was out of town and expected to return Friday, Casey said, but he had talked several times with one of Chapman’s executives, Augie Boto.
Casey said he talked Thursday with the Executive Committee’s chairman, Texas pastor Gary Smith, who told him he would consider whether to put Casey’s documents into Executive Committee members’ notebooks and whether he will allow him to speak. Either way, Casey said, Smith told him he would be free to put his material before committee members himself and attend work group and subcommittee meetings, during which Casey said he plans to do “some heavy lobbying.”
“They’ve all treated me very kindly and courteously and biblically, and I appreciate that,” Casey said.
Casey, an ordained minister, is a former Marine who fought in Korea. He retired after 30 years of family practice in Gainesville and served 10 years, 1989-1999, in the Florida House of Representatives.
He told EthicsDaily.com that attending a recent church service in Plano, Texas, featuring BWA president Billy Kim and a Korean children’s choir helped move him to action. “I’m a freedom fighter,” he said. “Being with those Koreans reminded me of why I went to Korea [in the war]. And it reminds me of why I’m here fighting. It’s a one-man stand, but if it’s God and me I think that’s enough.”
This isn’t Casey’s first foray into SBC activism.
Two years ago he introduced a motion at the SBC annual meeting that international missionaries not be required the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message. The motion, along with another one similar to it, were referred to the SBC International Mission Board, which instead moved to require all missionaries to affirm the statement, eventually firing 13 who refused last May.
Casey, who suffers from adult-onset diabetes, said his food-and-water fast poses him “no danger” medically. He said he is able to monitor his blood-sugar levels and has medication to treat any imbalance.
He said he endured a 15-day fast in 2000 related to his action on the IMB/Baptist Faith & Message issue with no ill effects. He said his wife and others encouraged him to at least take liquids, but he declined because “that’s not a biblical fast.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.