Words have been flying hot and heavy in the land of Southern Baptists since an appointed “Great Commission Resurgence Task Force” (GCRTF) gave a list of recommendations to the SBC executive committee on Feb. 22. When I summarized their six “components of the vision” in a Feb. 24 blog, I made the easy prediction that there would be considerable pushback to the report, especially from state conventions.
The GCRTF, which took its name seriously and seems to have focused entirely on ways to increase evangelism, recommended that the increasingly dysfunctional North American Mission Board (NAMB) be decentralized, reorganized, and “released” from longstanding contracts with state Baptist conventions through which it jointly funds “missionaries” who actually work for the state conventions in a variety of roles, mostly related to evangelism and starting new churches.
About a quarter of all SBC Cooperative Program funds go to NAMB for ministries in North America. In the old days, those included a number of social ministries along with “pioneer” evangelism efforts in places where there were few Southern Baptist churches. In more recent years, social ministries (except for the coordination of disaster relief) took a back seat as NAMB dove whole-hog into evangelism. The GCRTF wants to see that go even further, taking money that’s normally flipped back to the state conventions and putting it into more evangelism in pioneer areas.
That money is a very large chunk of change that state conventions rely on in order to meet their budgets. Thus, there should have been no surprise when the evangelism director of the Alabama state convention complained that “it would devastate us” and the executive director of the Iowa Baptist Convention pleaded for reconsideration “before writing us (the state conventions) off” as partners in evangelism.
Such responses should have been fully expected, but GCRTF chair Ronnie Floyd said recently that he was surprised by the criticism. The only surprise is that he should be surprised by an uproar from those who would lose their place at the SBC trough — especially since they’re the same people who provide the feed. If that part of the GCRTF report gets approved — and that’s a big if — you can look for state conventions to simply cut the percentage of funds they send to the SBC in the same way service-deprived churches have been cutting the amount of Cooperative Program money they send through the states. That’s just human nature.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the fallout following the report has been the ranting (and apologizing) of International Mission Board president Jerry Rankin, who plans to retire this summer after 17 years as head of the SBC’s massive missions agency. The task force’s recommendations were kind in every way to the IMB, including a recommendation that it get an additional percent of SBC Cooperative Program funds so that its total would be 51 percent, indicating the convention’s commitment to worldwide evangelism.
Rather than expressing appreciation for the additional percent and leaving it at that, Rankin wrote a series of apparent “I’m-retiring-so-I-can-say-what-I-want” blogs in which he accused SBC leaders of being in denial, having convoluted priorities, and failing to ask the right questions. Along the way, he vented against SBC Executive committee CEO Morris Chapman, sharply charging that Chapman elevates maintaining SBC cooperation over fulfilling the Great Commission and requires the mission agencies to jump through administrative hoops for no apparent purpose. “Cooperation is about us,” Rankin wrote: “it is self-centered, self-promoting and maintaining everything every entity is doing without any concern for priorities or results.”
Chapman, naturally, responded with disappointment and a defense of his role, which is in fact to oversee cooperation between the SBC’s various feuding agencies (most of the money that doesn’t go to the IMB and NAMB goes to the six SBC seminaries, and they’re always angling to get more). Tennessee editor Lonnie Wilkey wrote an editorial pointing out cooperation is an essential element in gathering the funds for mission agencies to play their roles in carrying out the Great Commission. Indeed, in its glory days, cooperation was the hallmark of the SBC, the attribute that enabled it to fund mission efforts around the world.
Facing heat from multiple directions, Rankin finally backed down and apologized to Chapman for his intemperate remarks, saying in his most recent blog that he is still “learning the landmines of blogging.” I doubt many readers will believe that Rankin didn’t know full well what the effect would be when made the initial charges.
All of this sniping is one inevitable consequence of seeing the entire gospel enterprise as being wrapped in a single command of Jesus (to be done in the way our agency thinks is right), while ignoring the Master’s many other teachings.
Among them, “love one another” comes to mind.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.