The Woman’s Missionary Union’s executive board voted unanimously to affirm their historic relationship with the Women’s Department of the Baptist World Alliance, according to a news release distributed Monday.
The action came during a retreat last week at a board meeting at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega, Ala. It is in response to a recommendation by a study committee that the Southern Baptist Convention withdraw from membership in and stop funding the BWA effective Oct. 1, 2004.
According to the release, WMU is joining other Baptist leaders in the United States and around the world to pray for unity and reconciliation. “As members of the body of Christ, we need each other—to pray for one another, to encourage one another, to learn from one another—and to stand together in one accord as a strong and bold witness to a lost world,” said Wanda Lee, WMU executive director.
WMU, a self-governing auxiliary to the SBC that doesn’t receive funds through the Cooperative Program unified budget, relates to the BWA through the Women’s Department as a member body in the North American Baptist Women’s Union.
WMU involvement with BWA goes back to 1911 when WMU leader Edith Campbell Crane helped organize the first BWA women’s meeting. Lee said such relationships are foundational to WMU’s purpose as a missions organization.
“It is through fellowship with Christ and other Christians that we experience personal growth and develop a deeper understanding of the needs around the world,” she said. “In the context of our mission task, it is through this fellowship that we become more effective as we grow in our passion and a sense of urgency to be light in a dark world.”
The release said WMU will continue to participate in and support the Baptist Women’s World Day of Prayer and offering each November, the sole source of income for the Women’s Department, which functions as an auxiliary to the BWA.
The proposal for severing of SBC/BWA ties comes up for a vote at the SBC Executive Committee Feb. 16-17. It then would go to the SBC annual meeting in June for a final vote. The study committee making the recommendation cites an “anti-American tone” at BWA meetings and claims conferences are dominated by liberal theology.
A Baptist leader from Australia has written the Executive Committee’s president asking that the recommendation not be presented this year, saying the BWA membership needs an opportunity to discuss those charges.
Geoff Pound, secretary of the BWA’s Baptist Heritage & Identify Commission, said that while he understands there have been conversations between BWA and SBC leaders over differences, they have taken place at a top level rather than a “congregational” level. “This has left ordinary delegates like myself unaware, disenfranchised and concerned that such a radical step of withdrawal is being proposed without it ever being mentioned at the general meeting of the BWA,” Pound said.
SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman said Friday he planned to set up a conference call of the SBC/BWA Study Committee within the next two weeks to discuss responses to its recommendation, but it is likely the committee will remain committed to its published report.
The report prompted strong defense of the BWA and its leadership from around the world, but reaction for the most part has been muted from within the SBC. EthicsDaily.com attempted to contact several prominent Southern Baptists with BWA ties for statements. Some didn’t respond, and others declined to comment.
Union University President David Dockery, a member of the BWA Baptist Heritage & Identity Commission for 2000-2005, said he was watching and trying to understand the issues and did not have a comment “at this time.” David Gushee, a professor at the university who serves on the BWA’s Christian Ethics Commission, did not respond to e-mails requesting comment.
Former SBC president Jim Henry, also a BWA commission member, said last week through a spokesperson that he had no comment.
Timothy George, dean of the Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, who has been involved in BWA commissions and work groups for many years, said he had no comment on the squabble “except to say that I regret that we have come to this impasse and I hope that lines of communication and fellowship will remain open on both sides.” George said he would continue to be involved in the organization if invited.
George was the “prominent Southern Baptist” whose name was on an invitation to a German Baptist theologian asked to respond in 1997 to a theological paper by Ken Hempill, at the time president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The study committee cites that response, by Erich Geldbach of the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, as an illustration of aberrant theology being proffered by the BWA.
Geldbach, who has previously rebutted the study committee’s assertion that he was chosen by the BWA to deliver his paper, said in an e-mail interview that George invited him to respond to Hemphill’s paper. He said he had known George for decades, because they both studied at Harvard in the mid-1970s. Geldbach also has said the report misquotes what he said in his response to Hemphill, attaching what he claims is a manuscript of his remarks at the meeting in Vancouver, Canada.
Hemphill did not respond to an e-mail sent Jan. 9 inviting him to comment.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.