Is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to blame for the Southern Baptist Convention’s proposal to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance?

A recommendation due to come before the SBC Executive Committee today calls on the denomination to leave membership of the BWA and reallocate $300,000 in annual support to other causes. Grievances cited by an SBC/BWA study committee bringing the recommendation include allegations of “anti-American” sentiment and “aberrant” theology at BWA gatherings.

While it isn’t mentioned in the report, some observers believe the driving motivation is anger over a vote last July by the BWA general council to accept a membership application from the CBF. The SBC delegation strongly opposed admitting the CBF as a BWA member and viewed the vote as a slap in the face.

“Despite the accusations of liberalism that comprise the core of the Southern Baptist
complaint against the BWA, the real reason was the latter’s decision last year to approve the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a member body of the worldwide fellowship,” wrote Alliance of Baptists leader Stan Hastey in the February 2004 issue of the Alliance’s newsletter.

Not everyone agrees. Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics believes the pullout would have occurred sooner or later even without the CBF membership controversy.

“CBF is being made the scapegoat for the SBC’s decision to defund and disengage from the BWA,” Parham said. “Such a charge … diverts attention away from the root of the SBC’s action, which is religious purity.”

Several commentators have cited the CBF membership issue in their analysis of the impending breakup.

Alabama Baptist Editor Bob Terry, who leads the BWA communications committee, lamented “indictments” of the BWA in the study committee report, which he said aren’t the real issue.

“Instead of saying the SBC refuses to be a part of an organization in which the CBF participates, the report indicts the theology and ministries of BWA members around the world as justification for the decision to pull out of the BWA,” Terry wrote in his Jan. 22 editorial.

“The truth is that had CBF been denied BWA membership, the question of SBC continued participation would not be an issue,” Terry said. “Even though the official report does not mention CBF, it is the central reason for the recommendation.”

Western Recorder Editor Trennis Henderson also speculated the main issue behind the decision was the vote accepting the CBF 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, who also serves on the BWA communications commission, wrote last month.

The CBF connection alleged by critics of the SBC pullout is corroborated by some who support it.

Jerry Rankin, president of the SBC International Mission Board and a member of the BWA study group, said during a Feb. 2 trustee meeting that while it wasn’t mentioned in the task force recommendation, the acceptance of CBF played a role in the decision. Rankin said the BWA membership vote “in violation of established processes and bylaws,” in effect endorsed a schism among Southern Baptists, according to Baptist Press.

The editor of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Pathway news journal treated the CBF issue in a lengthy article carried as a “first person” commentary in Baptist Press. Editor Don Hinkle said the BWA departed from its usual practice of delaying acceptance of applicants in “public disagreement” with a member body until everything possible has been done to deal with the conflict.

Hinkle quoted figures that about 150 churches relate uniquely to the CBF, while the rest of the churches that contribute to the CBF also remain tied to the SBC. “The depths of anti-SBC sentiment in the BWA must indeed run deep when you vote to accept 150 churches and lose 42,000,” Hinkle concluded.

The Alabama Baptist’s Terry reported in his editorial that members of the SBC delegation were so angry at the July 2003 vote to accept CBF into membership that some of them moved out of the BWA hotel for the remainder of the general council meeting.

While SBC leaders were clearly displeased with the decision to allow CBF into the BWA fold, not everyone agrees it is the wedge issue driving the recommendation to dissolve ties.

While viewing the CBF membership vote as a “tipping point,” Baptist Standard Editor Marv Knox said withdrawing from the BWA follows a familiar pattern set by Southern Baptist leaders who pulled out of the Baptist Joint Committee in the early 1990s and more recently disengaged from the District of Columbia Baptist Convention. Like the BWA, both, he said, included representation from other Baptist bodies and neither could be controlled by the SBC.

“Make no mistake, the new SBC is a convention dominated by fundamentalist leaders, and fundamentalists must control,” Knox wrote in his Jan. 9 editorial. “What they cannot control, they abandon. And undermine. You can expect the SBC will use the money it has provided to the BWA ($300,000 this year; $425,000 before) to start another ‘international’ Baptist organization. Perhaps that money can buy the allegiance of fundamentalist groups who will take the SBC’s bullying in return for its bankroll.”

Interviewed by just after the SBC/BWA study report became public in late December, CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal acknowledged that the membership application played a role in the SBC leaders’ decision to leave the BWA, but he said it wasn’t the main reason. A more significant factor, he said, is that SBC leadership “fails to understand that being a Baptist means allowing differences but still finding ways to cooperate.”

“I think the most telling statement was they can’t tolerate any differences with Baptists globally, and they expect everyone else to conform to them,” Vestal said.

The BCE’s Parham said Southern Baptist leaders don’t want to have anything to do with anyone that doesn’t conform to their fundamentalist views.

“The SBC wants to retreat into a 19th century cultural castle of theological, political, sexual and relational purity,” Parham said. “The BWA is too diverse, too inclusive, too independent and too healthy to buckle under to the purity drive. Blaming CBF enables the SBC to camouflage its core nature and true destination. Let’s stop blaming CBF.”

The Alliance’s Hastey said the BWA, despite the loss in funding, is better off without the SBC.

“Spiritually the Southern Baptist Convention had become a cancer on the worldwide body of Baptists,” he wrote. “Its representatives on the BWA were constantly carping and criticizing. Their tactics with BWA were identical to those employed earlier in the disengagement from the BJC. People of supreme power in the convention, headed by the always malicious and ever-vindictive Paul Pressler, drove the process. During the earlier drive to leave the BJC, the same Pressler was the principal inquisitor, just as he turned out to be this time around.

“For Pressler and his cohorts, the issue now and always has been control, pure and simple. One of Pressler’s proteges, SBC executive Richard Land, declared during the process leading to
withdrawal from the BJC that he once heard W.A. Criswell advocate that ‘not one dime of Southern Baptist money should be beyond the control of Southern Baptists.’ That was and is a
cancerous attitude.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

See previous related stories:
SBC Vote on BWA Withdrawal Scheduled Tuesday
Floridian Marching to Protest Proposed BWA Pullout by SBC
Former BWA Leader Labels SBC Fundamentalism ‘Heresy’
SBC Leader Says BWA is Obsolete
WMU Executive Board Affirms Ties With BWA
Questionable Enterprises?
BWA Leader Requests Delay in SBC Withdrawal
Editorials Critical of SBC/BWA Schism
Latin American Baptist Leaders Protest SBC Pullout of BWA
German Professor Denies SBC Study Committee Account of Comment
International Baptist Leaders Express Shock at SBC Plan to Leave BWA
SBC Recommends Defunding BWA

Share This