The Southern Baptist Convention could ask Woman’s Missionary Union to surrender its auxiliary status and submit to convention control under a motion introduced last week at the SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
Another motion at this year’s SBC called for official recognition of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, while another requesting disclosure of SBC salaries was ruled out of order.
One motion asked the SBC to “extend an invitation” to WMU “become an entity of” the SBC, for the purpose of joining other convention agencies in the work of missions and to “enjoy the benefits of being an SBC entity.”
Proposed by Leslie Stock of Santa Fe Trail Baptist Church in Boonville, Mo., the motion was referred to the SBC Executive Committee, which will consider it and bring a recommendation back to the convention next year.
If the SBC should issue a formal invitation for WMU to become an entity rather than an auxiliary, it will be presented to the WMU executive board, WMU spokeswoman Julie Walters told EthicsDaily.com.
Based in Birmingham, Ala., WMU is governed by an executive board comprised of elected and employed leaders from state WMU organizations. That is different from SBC entities, whose trustees are elected by the convention.
The change would also give the convention authority to request that WMU adopt charter changes to designate the SBC “sole member” of the corporation, a step other SBC entities have already taken.
Formed by women in 1888 to mobilize Southern Baptist churches in support of home and foreign missions, the WMU tried to avoid taking sides in the power struggle between conservatives and moderates for control of the SBC in the 1980s. As a result, leaders of the so-called “conservative resurgence” have at times viewed WMU with suspicion that its sympathies secretly lie with the ousted moderates.
Stock isn’t the first to suggest that WMU’s autonomy ought to be reined in.
Former three-time SBC president Adrian Rogers made headlines in 1993 when he told a group of missionaries that WMU should be “hard-wired” into the convention structure or lose positions on policy-making bodies, such as the Executive Committee. By hard-wiring, Rogers said he meant that the convention ought to elect WMU’s board.
Resurgence leader Paige Patterson told a conservative student group at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1988 that he viewed WMU’s operation without agency status and a board elected by the SBC as “discriminatory toward women.”
“I would advocate we make them a full-scale agency, and that we give them a board of trustees and that board of trustees function exactly like the boards of all other [SBC] institutions and agencies,” Patterson said.
In an interview with a Baptist state newspaper, Patterson explained that WMU’s auxiliary status is not only discriminatory, but it also makes WMU unaccountable to the convention. “Although [WMU] has traditionally made a report to the convention, the convention has actually not one single thing to say about how it functions or anything else,” he said.
SBC leaders criticized WMU in 1995 for modifying its exclusive support of the SBC’s foreign and home mission boards by forging relationships with other evangelical groups, including the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The chairman of the SBC International Mission Board at the time compared WMU’s reaching out to the CBF to adultery.
“When they’ve done that, it will be similar to … a woman having been married to a man for many, many years and all of a sudden she says, ‘I have another man that I want to be married to as well. I know that we’ve had such a good working relationship, but I know that you won’t mind if I bring him into our bed,'” chairman John Jackson told the Chattanooga, Tenn., News-Free Press.
“Their attitude is, ‘Why can’t we have both bedfellows. We don’t see anything wrong with us going to bed with CBF as well as SBC,'” he said.
IMB President Jerry Rankin mailed a letter to 40,000 pastors criticizing the decision by WMU to produce materials for the CBF as “counterproductive” and asking church leaders to pray that WMU leaders would change their minds.
The SBC Executive Committee responded by asking WMU to affirm “singular cooperation” with the SBC.
It also came to light in May 1995 that the IMB had months earlier applied for a trademark on the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering without the knowledge of WMU leaders. The WMU had traditionally promoted the offering, named after a female missionary, jointly with the IMB. Leaders of the mission board said the failure to communicate was accidental and eventually dropped the trademark application.
A denominational reorganization plan in 1995 did not include an assignment for WMU, transferring responsibility for promotion of the mission offerings and education to the two mission boards. The committee recommending the change said the omission was not a snub, but since WMU desired to remain a self-governing auxiliary, the SBC could not assign it a mission statement.
Following protests by WMU supporters, a last-minute amendment to the recommendation said the SBC “welcomes the continued role of WMU in supporting missions.”
Another motion at the June 21-22 convention called for recognition of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship “as a formal evangelistic mission entity to Jewish people worldwide.”
The motion, made by Connie Saffle of Wichita, Kan., was also referred to the Executive Committee.
The SBC in 1996 passed a resolution pledging to “direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people,” the same year the Home Mission Board hired a full-time missionary to Jews in its interfaith witness department.
A motion ruled out of order for improper wording asked that all convention entities be required to disclose line-item expenditures, including executive salaries by name and position.
That followed a June 21 vote by the SBC Executive Committee adopting a policy allowing members of the committee to view an employee’s salary after filling out a form pledging confidentiality and stating their reason for making the request.
According to Baptist Press, the policy was in response to a request by committee member Dean Nichols, pastor of First Baptist Church in Kenai, Alaska, who has been conducting a study of salary structures at SBC entities.
“I got every entity’s salary structure that I asked for … except from this committee, the one I’m a trustee of,” Nichols said. “It is wrong for us to take the money of Southern Baptists and then tell them it’s none of your information what these salaries are. It is wrong. It is ethically immoral to do this.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.