Here’s a newsy update on the increasingly strained relationship between Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina (WMU-NC) and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), a matter that WMU supporters across the country are watching closely.
WMU-NC has historically been an autonomous body, but grew into a symbiotic relationship with the BSC that left it somewhat less than independent. That was fine during an extended period of shared goals and mutual trust. As conservative/moderate tensions grew and trust levels dropped during the past few years, however, WMU-NC leaders perceived a need for several moves designed to ensure continued autonomy in future years.
BSC officials responded by asserting that the BSC executive director has final authority over WMU-NC staff, a position that WMU-NC leaders reject. At loggerheads over the issue, WMU-NC’s executive board voted Aug. 16 to relocate the organization’s offices from the Baptist Building in Cary and to assume greater financial responsibility for its staff.
In a meeting with Convention officials, WMU-NC executive director Ruby Fulbright requested confirmation that WMU-NC employees who qualify for retirement under current BSC policies would be able to do so, stated WMU-NC’s desire to continue as a promoter and recipient of the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO), and sought a nine-month transition period to make financial arrangements and complete the move.
In a called meeting of the BSC Executive Committee Sept. 10 — a meeting to which the Biblical Recorder was not invited, by the way — the Committee met with Fulbright for several hours and then spent more than two hours in closed session.
The Committee acknowledged that WMU-NC will receive its previously-designated share of the 2007 NCMO offering, but deferred consideration of future offerings to its Sept. 25 meeting, when the BSC budget committee is scheduled to report its recommendations for the next two-year budget cycle.
The Committee agreed that WMU-NC staffers who already qualify for retirement under BSC policies can do so, an action that affects three WMU-NC staff members, including Fulbright. They can now officially “retire” from the BSC and work on a contract basis for WMU-NC.
The Executive Committee cut the request for a nine-month transition period in half, determining that WMU-NC should become financially self-supporting by Jan. 1, 2008. If arrangements for relocating the offices are not complete by then, WMU-NC will be allowed to remain in the Baptist Building through May 2008, at a cost of $2,000 per month in rent.
Fulbright expressed appreciation for the Executive Committee’s cooperation.
For its part, the Executive Committee affirmed executive director Milton Hollifield’s position that the BSC constitution allots final authority over all BSC employees to him, and charged him to stick by Convention policies.
On Sept. 11, the BSC posted a lengthy statement on the Convention website. The statement is clearly designed to present the Convention’s actions in the best possible light, to portray WMU-NC in a less favorable light, and to justify the position taken by BSC officials.
WMU-NC posted a press release on its website Sept. 12. In that release, Fulbright apologizes for any grief or confusion that has emerged from the growing tension, but defends WMU-NC’s actions: “Our move has been necessary for us to maintain the freedom to follow the will of God as we understand it. It is my hope that this new working relationship will allow us to return our focus to God’s purposes for us and to new joy in ministry.”
We can only hope.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.