The Southern Baptist Convention, which four years ago withdrew from the Baptist World Alliance over theological and relational differences, isn’t likely to return to the fold any time soon, the denomination’s leaders indicated Tuesday.
The SBC Executive Committee declined to act on a motion referred from this summer’s SBC annual meeting asking the leadership group to “revisit, re-evaluate and reconsider” affiliation with the BWA.
Committee members instead voted unanimously to “encourage the convention to continue to relate to evangelicals and cooperate with them through the Global Evangelical Relations division of the Executive Committee, International Mission Board personnel and in other ways that promote strong cooperative evangelization, clear biblical convictions, and close relationships with like-minded evangelicals around the world.”
Southern Baptists, historically the BWA’s largest member body and most generous contributor, established Global Evangelical Relations office, led by former SBC President Bobby Welch, with funds formerly earmarked for BWA.
An SBC/BWA study committee in 2003 alleged the BWA was overly influenced by liberal European and North American conventions and criticized an “anti-American” tone in some of its meetings. BWA leaders called those charges false and unfair. Southern Baptist leaders also objected to the BWA’s decision to grant membership to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a coalition of moderates that SBC leaders regard a competitor.
The Executive Committee recommendation, which will come before next year’s convention in Louisville, Ky., as a report, said “the underlying reasons for withdrawal still exist” and therefore recommended against re-affiliating with the BWA.
The committee also declined another suggestion to add a prohibition on women pastors to the convention’s governing documents. This year’s convention referred the committee a motion from Chuck Sams, a messenger from Cincinnati, which urged amending the article defining membership in the SBC Constitution to declare churches with female senior pastors “not in cooperation” with the convention. The Executive Committee rejected a similar proposal in 2004.
In 1993 the SBC amended the membership article to exclude “churches which act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.” Executive Committee leaders supported that decision, but said in a committee open to the media but forbidding quotation or attribution that it would set a bad precedent to start adding a laundry list of moral principles to the constitution that are already addressed elsewhere, such as the Baptist Faith & Message.
In 2000 Southern Baptists amended their faith statement to declare, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
The Executive Committee determined the Baptist Faith & Message now “speaks clearly to the issue addressed by the suggested amendment.” An amendment is also unneeded, the response continued, because there is already a means to declare any church out of friendly cooperation on any grounds with a motion at the SBC annual meeting.
Leaders used similar reasoning to recommend against changing an SBC bylaw to require that persons nominated to serve on SBC committees, commissions or as directors or trustees of convention agencies “abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages and using any other recreational drugs.”
The Executive Committee voted rather to “continue the historical practice of inquiring about the Christian character and conduct of the candidates and their churches, and the affinity and commitment they exhibit in regard to the Baptist Faith & Message, the Cooperative Program and convention-adopted policies, practices and resolutions.”
One leader commented, however, that alcohol consumption is an issue that may need to be considered at some point. Due to a “Church Covenant” formerly part of the Baptist Hymnal that included a pledge to “abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage,” there once was a strong consensus that Southern Baptists were teetotalers, the leader said, but the covenant has fallen from use in most churches today.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.