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Annuity Board statement affirms service to all SBC churches

DALLAS (BP)–A statement was issued by the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention on March 9 concerning its commitment to serve all churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Annuity Board statement cited the benefits offered by the Dallas-based provider of retirement and insurance plans for Southern Baptist churches and cautioned churches that a decision to leave the SBC may impact their ability to have access to Annuity Board products and services.

“The Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is committed to serve all churches in the Southern Baptist Convention,” the statement reads.

Curtis D. Sharp, Annuity Board executive officer for denominational relations, affirmed in the statement the board’s commitment to serve its participants, “For 82 years the Annuity Board has been privileged to offer services to ministers and employees of Southern Baptist churches. While some might interpret recent articles regarding churches leaving the SBC and the question of their continued participation with the Annuity Board as a political issue, we view it rather as a stewardship matter. At no time in the Annuity Board’s history, past or present, has denominational politics been a factor in serving SBC churches regardless of their political or philosophical persuasions.

“We believe we are being good stewards by reminding participants and churches of the benefits they have through the Annuity Board and what they would be losing if they decide to sever ties with the SBC,” Sharp said. “We are grateful for the opportunity to serve all of our participants. We do not want to lose the ability to provide our services to any of those we are called to serve.”

In recent months it has been reported in various state Baptist papers that certain churches have voted not to simply distance themselves from the Southern Baptist Convention, but to withdraw from further relationship with or support of the Southern Baptist Convention. In some cases, the church has indicated its decision to “sever all ties” with the SBC.

Rodney R. Miller, general counsel for the Annuity Board, offered an explanation of the Annuity Board’s corporate structure: “The Annuity Board, like the other entities of the Southern Baptist Convention, operates under the terms of its articles of incorporation (commonly referred to as a ‘charter’). While the Annuity Board works in cooperation with state conventions, since its inception the board’s charter has directed that the Annuity Board only serve churches ‘within the bounds of the Southern Baptist Convention.’ This provision in the charter describes the scope of churches that may participate in plans and programs of the Annuity Board. From a legal perspective, the Annuity Board has in the past and must in the future operate within the limits of its charter. The plans and programs of the board are not available to a church that is no longer considered within the bounds of the Southern Baptist Convention. We simply cannot legally serve churches of another denomination or independent churches. This action is not a change in policy.”

Sharp added, “Some may suggest that our charter hasn’t changed, but our interpretation of the charter has changed. This is not the case. Nothing has changed regarding our charter language or the interpretation of our charter. For over 80 years we have served churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. We plan to continue to serve all SBC churches.”

Participants who may contemplate leaving the SBC and who choose to look elsewhere for retirement and insurance services would do well to ask several strategic questions, the Annuity Board statement noted. Will the alternative provide a survivor benefit of up to $100,000 and a disability benefit of up to $500 per month at no cost to the participant like the participant receives through the Annuity Board? Will 100 percent of the participant’s retirement contribution go directly into the participant’s retirement account as it does at the Annuity Board? Will the participant have the ability to designate a portion of salary as a minister’s housing allowance as he does through the Annuity Board and may the benefits paid at retirement be designated as a minister’s housing allowance? Will there be a relief ministry to provide assistance for those not adequately prepared for retirement? The Annuity Board distributed over $5.3 million last year through its relief ministry.

The statement noted that the Annuity Board recognizes that each church is autonomous and may choose how it will affiliate with state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. While a small number of churches have decided to sever ties with the SBC, the statement said most remain in friendly cooperation and others have decided to be dually aligned with other organizations while maintaining a relationship with the SBC.

Annuity Board President and Chief Executive Officer O.S. Hawkins explained, “The Annuity Board earnestly desires to continue to be a life partner with all our participants and hopes that all our participants and their churches will continue to be in cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention in order that we may continue to serve them with the integrity of our hearts and the skillfulness of our hands.”

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