The head of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention said while a referred motion from last year’s convention is still being studied, he doubts the SBC will invite the Woman’s Missionary Union to become a convention entity.
“I know the WMU is quite happy as an auxiliary,” Morris Chapman, Executive Committee president and CEO, told the Associated Press.
The Executive Committee is expected to act on a referred motion to bring the 118-year-old missions auxiliary–or “helper“–under direct control of the convention at a meeting just prior to start of the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., in June. Currently WMU elects its own leadership and doesn’t receive funding from the denomination.
Observers say turning control over to the predominately male-led SBC would force WMU to adopt more conservative positions in its publications and to stop working with groups like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which is not part of the SBC.
“The WMU has been the one organization controlled and run by women,” said Robert Parham, executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics. “Taking control of the WMU solidifies male dominance of the SBC.”
Leslie Stock, a preacher’s wife from Missouri, made the motion to absorb the women’s group at the annual SBC meeting last June. She told the AP that as a conservative, she was concerned because the WMU was working with moderate Baptist churches. She noted that WMU Executive Director Wanda Lee spoke at a meeting of the moderate Baptist General Convention of Missouri last May.
“If we’re in cooperation, then we should be in cooperation theologically,” said Stock, whose husband was pastor at the Santa Fe Trail Baptist Church in Boonville, Mo., until leaving recently to work as an itinerant minister.
The Baptist General Convention of Missouri broke away from the more conservative SBC-affiliated Missouri Baptist Convention in 2002.
The editor of the conservative convention’s newspaper called Lee’s decision to speak to a group viewed as a competitor to an established state convention “a slap in the face to every Missouri Baptist.”
“Lee’s BGCM speaking engagement legitimizes a miniscule organization that has attempted to steal MBC churches,” Pathway Editor Don Hinkle wrote last March. “In addition, many BGCM members are involved in the legal battle over the five MBC agencies. [MBC Executive Director David] Clippard has rightly asked her not to attend, but he should not have had to ask. Lee ought to know better, and only time will time what the fallout will be.”
Lee defended her decision to speak to the group by saying many BGCM churches are still considered Southern Baptist churches and that WMU is committed to working with all churches concerned with missions.
Hinkle went on to comment, “This is not the first time Lee has taken sides against Southern Baptists.” He criticized her organization for affirming its relationship with the Baptist World Alliance, which the SBC left in 2004 over alleged liberalism.
She also refused to condemn Virginia WMU for adopting a “Declaration of the Dignity of Women” statement in 2004, which rejected “blanket discrimination against women in the work of Christian ministry” in the Baptist Faith & Message as adopted by the SBC in 2000.
An family article in the Baptist Faith & Message says, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”
Another article on the church includes the phrase, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
National WMU has not acted to affirm or endorse the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, spokeswoman Julie Walters told EthicsDaily.com.
The Baptist Faith & Message preamble describes the document as an “instrument of doctrinal accountability.”
Professors at all six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention are required to affirm the statement in order to be allowed to teach. LifeWay Christian Resources requires program personnel to conduct their work in accordance with the statement.
Missionaries of both the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board must affirm the statement. Several dozen international missionaries resigned instead of signing an affirmation of the statement and 13 were fired.
But Chapman of the SBC Executive Committee told the AP he doesn’t think the issue is fueling the current discussion over status of WMU.
“I don’t really sense that’s on the horizon today,” he said. “It might have been a question some time ago. I do not think an issue of women’s involvement in ministry is any longer a high priority.”
Making WMU a convention entity could also open the door for WMU to amend its charter to name the Southern Baptist Convention its “sole member,” specifying the convention’s right to elect all trustees and that WMU’s assets are owned by the SBC.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.