Woman’s Missionary Union leader Wanda Lee is drawing criticism for her scheduled appearance at a breakaway Missouri state convention refused recognition by the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Missouri Baptist Convention newspaper The Pathway reported March 22 that state WMU leaders had voted not to accept funds from the Baptist General Convention of Missouri in 2005-2006.
David Clippard, executive director of the MBC, called it a “courageous position” affirming ties to both the state and Southern Baptist conventions. The SBC Executive Committee took a similar vote in 2002, declining to enter into a relationship with the BGCM, which would have allowed the new group to collect funds for the Cooperative Program unified budget.
But, The Pathway observed, the March 15 vote by the Missouri WMU executive board “also puts the spotlight on [national] WMU Executive Director Wanda Lee, who is apparently going to keep her commitment to speak at the BGCM’s annual meeting.”
“We are thrilled Wanda Lee will be our missions speaker at our annual meeting,” Jim Hill, interim executive director of the BGCM, said in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com. “Since 1888, Woman’s Missionary Union has been committed to educate and involve adults, youth, children and preschoolers in the cause of Christian missions. WMU has led the charge of missions for Baptists for generations.”
The meeting is scheduled April 29-30 at Windermere Baptist Conference Center, one of five institutions in a current legal battle with the MBC over ownership prompted when their trustees voted to elect their own replacements instead of those nominated by the state convention.
Roger Moran, a Missouri representative to the SBC Executive Committee and frequent critic of the BGCM, was quoted in the Pathway article.
“I find it curious that Wanda would want to represent WMU at the meeting of a group which has made no effort to hide its hostility toward both the MBC and SBC,” said Moran.
A layman, Moran is research director of the Missouri Baptist Layman’s Association, a network credited with helping conservatives loyal to SBC leadership set the course for the MBC. Moran has long been active in efforts to discredit both the BGCM and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, another moderate group not supportive of the conservative leadership in the SBC.
“She may or may not be aware that she is about to be used to create an air of credibility and legitimacy to a renegade state convention that is not even recognized by the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said.
The BGCM was organized in 2002 as a home for Baptists weary of perennial battles between moderates and conservatives for control of the MBC. The group pledged to uphold traditional Baptist principles and to provide an alternative funding channel for the contested convention agencies, which were de-funded by the MBC after they moved to self-perpetuating boards of trustees.
The BGCM originally planned to also support Southern Baptist work at the national level. The SBC Executive Committee had previously recognized conservative breakaway groups in Virginia and Texas. But the Executive Committee decided it was not in Southern Baptists’ best interest to recognize a second partner in a state where the existing convention already strongly supported the SBC’s direction and leadership.
Lee, executive director of the SBC auxiliary since 2000, will be joined on the program of the upcoming BGCM annual meeting by Denton Lotz, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. The SBC left the BWA last summer amid allegations of liberalism. The BGCM supports the BWA financially and plans to be represented at this summer’s Baptist World Congress in England. BWA leaders deny the group is liberal, along with other allegations by an SBC/BWA study committee.
The Pathway article said current MBC exec David Clippard called Lee after hearing she was scheduled to speak at the BGCM meeting to relay his concerns, but she apparently is going to keep her commitment.
Lee did not respond to an e-mail inviting her to comment before Tuesday’s deadline.
Pathway Editor Don Hinkle noted in an editorial that national and state WMUs have “been slow to react to the seismic changes” in Southern Baptist life, with leaders either disinterested or opposed to changes implemented by the SBC’s new leaders.
“The WMU seems to want to ‘sit on the fence,’ which is a precarious place to be on a battlefield,” Hinkle wrote.
Lee, who has insisted that WMU is solely interested in missions and will work with anyone who shares that view, “seems unable—or unwilling—to see that she is about to step on a land mine,” Hinkle continued.
He said Clippard “rightly asked her not to attend” the BGCM meeting, “but he should not have had to ask. Lee ought to know better.”
Hinkle went on to say: “This is not the first time Lee has taken sides against Southern Baptists. Her organization has affirmed its relationship with the liberal Baptist World Alliance, an organization from which the SBC withdrew in 2004.”
Hinkle said that Lee also refused to criticize Virginia WMU for adopting a statement on “Declaration of the Dignity of Women,” which opposed portions of the Baptist Faith & Message, as revised by the SBC in 2000.
Hill called it “inconceivable that MBC leaders would attack Woman’s Missionary Union or their executive director.”
“I regret the political and financial pressure the Missouri Baptist Convention leadership has put on the Missouri WMU organization and their attacks on Wanda Lee,” said Hill, who previously was executive director of the MBC, but resigned in 2001 saying the elected convention leadership would no longer work with him and he did not want to be involved in litigation against Baptist institutions.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.