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99% of missionaries affirm BF&M; IMB leaders talking to last few

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Almost 99 percent of Southern Baptists’ overseas missionaries have affirmed the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, and International Mission Board leaders are asking the remaining few to decide soon whether they are going to affirm it as well.

Avery Willis, IMB senior vice president for overseas operations, is talking personally with those missionaries about their reasons for delaying.

“For 157 years, Southern Baptist missionaries have been expected to affirm that their beliefs are consistent with the beliefs of the churches that support them,” IMB President Jerry Rankin said. “It is a reasonable expectation.

“We have asked missionaries to affirm that their personal beliefs are consistent with the current Baptist Faith and Message or, in the case of minor disagreements, that they will work in accordance with and not contrary to the document. A few have been reluctant, for various reasons, to make that commitment. We do not feel it is appropriate for that situation to continue indefinitely.”

In January 2001, IMB trustees voted their “wholehearted” endorsement of the Baptist Faith and Message statement as “the standard for carrying out the program and ministries” of the IMB. They also strongly affirmed the personal beliefs of the agency’s missionaries and key stateside staff members.

A year later, Rankin sent a letter to missionaries, asking them to take the initiative of affirming the 2000 BF&M, just as they had affirmed earlier versions when they were appointed. In the ensuing nine months, overseas leaders have talked with missionaries who voiced questions and reservations and the vast majority have signed the affirmation.

Thirteen missionary units (26 people) have submitted resignations that cited the request as a factor in their decisions. The resignations of three other units (six people) are waiting for trustee action during the board’s November board meeting. Board officials estimate that slightly more than 1 percent of the missionaries have not announced their decisions.

A total of 5,437 missionaries currently are serving through the IMB.

Missionaries are not being told to change their personal convictions, Willis said.

“Missionaries are being asked to demonstrate integrity in continuing to serve Southern Baptists only if they can pledge to work ‘in accordance with and not contrary to’ the convictions of the churches that send and support them,” he said. “What is happening now is that missionaries are being asked to resolve the issue in the next two or three months.

“Southern Baptist missionaries are godly people with God’s passion for a lost world,” he said. “We would hate to lose a single one of them.

“But Southern Baptists deserve to know that their missionaries serve in harmony with the deeply held convictions they have expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message. We believe it is a matter of integrity for missionaries to be honest with Southern Baptists and promise to honor the churches’ convictions in the ways they teach and minister.”
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