A German Baptist theologian has demanded, but apparently won’t receive, a public apology from Southern Baptist Convention leaders for “un-Christian behavior” in persuading Southern Baptists this summer to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance.
Erich Geldbach, professor of ecumenical studies at Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany, e-mailed SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman Wednesday, following up on an earlier complaint that quotes attributed to him in an official report as one reason for pulling out of the BWA were false.
“Not only have you misrepresented my views, but you have also painted a totally despicable picture of the BWA as reasons for your recommendation to the messengers of the convention to pull out of the BWA,” Geldbach said in the e-mail, which he also made public. “As far as I’m concerned, I hereby demand a public apology from you for your un-Christian behavior.”
Chapman chaired a study committee that first proposed withdrawal from the BWA to the Executive Committee and eventually at the SBC annual meeting in June. Along with losing its largest member, the 211-member-union BWA must replace $300,000 in annual funding from the SBC once the convention’s new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The study committee cited several reasons for leaving the BWA, including allegations of liberalism and anti-American sentiment. One example cited an unnamed German theologian who purportedly responded to a theological paper on Christ’s Great Commission by saying, ‘I am not even sure that there is any such thing as the Great Commission, but if there is I am confident that Jesus never said it.'”
Geldbach came forward in December, identifying himself as the individual alluded to in the report and insisting that is not what he said.
Geldbach’s version is that his response to a paper by SBC leader Ken Hemphill instead disputed Hemphill’s assertion that two verses in Matthew commonly called the Great Commission ought to be regarded as “the central focus of the entire seminary experience” and “the heart of theological education.”
Geldbach’s original complaint accused the study committee of “false witness” by using an unsubstantiated quote and called on Chapman to “repent and turn from your wicked ways.” Geldbach now says that was “pastoral advice,” which Chapman must have rejected, prompting his call for a formal apology.
Chapman replied to Geldbach in an e-mail saying that most Southern Baptists still disagree with his views of the centrality of the Great Commission, and also with another statement where Geldbach said he finds it difficult to accept that all the pastoral letters were written by the apostle Paul.
“In light of these comments, your argument, in my opinion, is with God and His Word, not with Southern Baptists,” Chapman said.
Geldbach told EthicsDaily.com that he was left “absolutely speechless” by Chapman’s charge that he was debating God and not Southern Baptists. “This is one way of avoiding all discussions,” he said.
Chapman said in a separate response to EthicsDaily.com that Geldbach’s statements “are contrary to the beliefs of Southern Baptists.” He pointed out that the study committee spoke only about a German scholar, and that Geldbach chose to identify himself publicly.
Chapman also disputed claims in Geldbach’s e-mail that the SBC “has completed its Falwellianization and gone the way of all fundamentalists into separation.” That, Chapman said, “is simply not so. The Southern Baptist Convention shall continue to cultivate friendships and fellowship with conservative Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus around the world.”
Geldbach’s new e-mail to Chapman also challenged another member of the study committee, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, whom Geldbach said first raised the issue about his paper.
Geldbach said Patterson wrote him in 1999 assuring that should Southern Baptists vote to leave the BWA, “it will not be because of you, what you said, what you did or what you believe.”
“The step that your committee found reason to choose indicates the contrary,” Geldbach said. Since Patterson was a member and apparently a driving force of the study committee, Geldbach concluded that the committee “was not telling the truth.”
“It is to me very disturbing that Baptists and Christians act the way your committee did,” Geldbach said.
Geldbach quoted words attributed recently to Patterson cautioning seminary graduates against the danger of moral failure. “He should adhere to his own words,” Geldbach said. “His behavior is that of one who distorts the truth, bears false witness and therefore has no right whatsoever to be as judgmental as he and your committee have been on the BWA, its activities or some individuals who take pride to be part of the BWA.”
Chapman said Patterson could choose to respond to Geldbach as an individual if he chooses, but the study committee has finished its work and plans no further public statements.
Patterson did not respond Wednesday to an e-mail seeking comment.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.