The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee voted 62-10 to pull out of the Baptist World Alliance Tuesday afternoon.
The leadership group approved recommendations of an SBC/BWA Study Committee revised in light of reaction to an earlier report released to the press Dec. 19, which chairman Morris Chapman said is now being described as an “interim” report.
In addition to calling for the SBC to withdraw from membership in the BWA and discontinue funding the global alliance, the “official report” also includes pledges to continue the SBC’s funding commitment to the BWA through Sept. 30–the end of the 2004 fiscal year–and to invite select members of the BWA to meet with the study committee in Nashville prior to May 1.
Chapman, who is also president and CEO of the Executive Committee, said the meeting is in response to a letter from BWA president Billy Kim, a pastor in South Korea, and regional vice presidents of the BWA requesting a meeting to discuss reconciliation.
Since the SBC’s growing discontent with the BWA dates back a number of years, Chapman said he doubted anything would happen at the meeting that would change the study committee’s mind. Should the BWA delegation “repent,” however, as one member put it in discussion, the Executive Committee would still have the option of reversing its vote at a meeting scheduled just prior to the start of the SBC annual meeting in June.
The study committee said negative reactions from other BWA member bodies since the December report “were actually a blessing, in that they served to demonstrate to all interested evangelicals why we had been experiencing increasing discomfort in attempting to define the SBC to the world through the BWA.”
Some responses mourned the anticipated loss of Southern Baptists, the report said. But others, including the BWA general secretary and other leaders, “took the opportunity to vent what appear to be pent-up feelings of hostility about our convention.”
“Due to these revelations, we need not now justify or vilify, but can simply do what we preferred to do in the first place, which is to politely withdraw from an organization that, at least for us, no longer efficiently communicates to the unsaved a crystal-clear gospel message that our Lord Jesus Christ is solely sufficient for salvation.”
The report also noted that much has been said about a BWA vote to include the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a member body. “One soaked by rain need not blame the last raindrop,” the committee said. “We strongly affirm the right of the BWA to determine its own membership and affiliations. It is that very right we now recommend that our convention exercise. The decision of the BWA to include the CBF merely served as a confirmation that we must, as a convention, allow the world to see us without having to look through a BWA lens–a lens which, for us, has become too cloudy.”
The recommendation to withdraw membership from the Baptist World Alliance also calls for continued study on “how the Southern Baptist Convention may establish an even closer bond of fellowship with conservative evangelical Christians around the world.”
It deletes the SBC $300,000-a-year contribution to the BWA effective Oct. 1, while reallocating the funds “to develop and execute a new and innovative strategy for continuing to build strong relationships” with such like-minded groups.
Chapman said the study committee does not envision a formal alternative organization to the BWA, but rather a looser network for using SBC resources to create a “teaching and learning” environment at the invitation of “conservative evangelical” Baptists in other parts of the world.
“In the long run [this] will be a much stronger contribution to our witness around the world,” Chapman said.
Despite the SBC’s long record of BWA membership and support, Chapman said: “In this generation–knowing that we’ve been a part of the Baptist World Alliance 99 years–in this generation–circumstances being as they are–does the BWA best represent who we are to Christians around the world, or has the time come when Southern Baptists can best represent themselves?”
Two Executive Committee members spoke in opposition to the recommendation.
Janet Hoffman, a pastor’s wife from Bernice, La., serves by virtue of her office as national president of SBC-auxiliary Woman’s Missionary Union. She took several minutes to describe a two-hour process of prayer and dialogue that culminated with a vote by the WMU executive board to continue their commitment to the BWA Women’s Department despite the convention’s withdrawal.
“I wish you could have been there, because it was as if they stood as one,” he said. “Not one sound made, and as I looked in their faces, tears streaming down their faces, it was love that I saw there. It was not anything that was in reaction to anybody. It was love for their sisters.”
Nancy McGuigan, a homemaker and school library assistant from Coatesville, Pa., read a resolution that she said was adopted unanimously the day before by an administrative committee of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey executive board. The resolution cited the regional convention’s diverse ethnic makeup and urged the Executive Committee and BWA “to begin immediately to find a way for reconciliation for the good of the Kingdom.” It carried the names of each member of the committee. “And I would like to add my name to the list,” she said.
Others suggested delaying the vote until June, to see if one more meeting with BWA leaders might change anything.
But Mike Trammell, senior pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Maryland, urged passage of the recommendations by reciting names of the individuals who composed the study committee: Morris Chapman, Jimmy Draper, Tom Elliff, Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, Jerry Rankin, Joe Reynolds, Gary Smith and Bob Sorrell.
“This is as fine and representative committee of Southern Baptists as we’ve ever had,” Trammell said. “We need to trust these fine Southern Baptists we have empowered to do this task.”
BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz told reporters immediately after the vote that he was “very sad” about the decision. He said he doesn’t understand why Southern Baptists don’t want to identify with Baptists who have struggled because of their beliefs in places like the former Soviet Union, South Africa, India and Bangladesh. Still, he added: “We live in hope. There are still 210 Baptist unions in the BWA.”
Lotz said Southern Baptists are still welcome at BWA meetings and will continue to be included on BWA commissions. Asked how losing the SBC would affect BWA finances, Lotz said: “The Lord gave us a surplus this year. This is not a question of money. This is a question of fellowship.”
Bob Casey, a retired physician from Florida who held a seven-day fast and vigil to protest the proposed BWA pullout, said he had been promised three minutes to speak at the meeting. But Executive Committee chairman Gary Smith said at the opening of the discussion that in the interest of giving members of the committee priority, he would not recognize guests from the gallery.
“Southern Baptists have a forum for any Baptist who is a messenger, and that is our convention,” said Smith, pastor of Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. “If you want to discuss this issue, I encourage you to come to the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis.”
Casey said he was disappointed that he wasn’t allowed to speak. “I did everything they asked me to do,” he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.