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BGCT approves new missions network, retains higher portion of CP dollars

WACO, Texas (BP)–Messengers to the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas approved a new missions entity and gave near-unanimous support to a $50.8 million budget that raises the portion of undesignated Cooperative Program dollars retained for in-state use from 72.3 percent to 79 percent.

On Nov. 11 and 12, the convention registered 3,327 messengers to the meetings at Baylor University’s Ferrell Center. Bob Campbell, senior minister of Westbury Baptist Church in Houston, was re-elected without opposition to serve a second term as president.

Messengers also elected Rudy Camacho as first vice president. Camacho is a deacon at Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth and immediate past president of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas. Debbie Ferrier, who directs women’s ministries at Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston and chairs the BGCT Committee on Nominations for Institution Boards, was elected second vice president.

The new missions network, recommended by the Missions Review and Initiatives Committee, will be a not-for-profit affiliate of the BGCT. Its purpose will be to connect Texas Baptists to mission opportunities “with other churches, associations, institutions, Texas Partnerships,” and various other missions organizations, said Keith Parks, who chaired the New Initiatives subcommittee. Contrasting it with the North American Mission Board requirement that NAMB missionaries sign the BF&M 2000, Parks stated that the network will be “inclusive” of all Texas Baptists who want to do missions. “We don’t want to be a stumbling block to anyone.”

About 3,200 messengers voted in favor of the missions network, according to BGCT reports, while opponents expressed concerns that the entity would create unnecessary competition with SBC missions entities, and that the BGCT is finding a way to accomplish missions apart from the SBC.

Parks acknowledged a lingering question: “Is this a missions-sending organization?” He answered, “We don’t know. It’s not at this point. Whatever you want it to be, it will become.” He anticipated that the network will “avoid confrontation and duplication” and said it can be “used by God to help us forget some of the things in the past that have hindered us.”

Justice Anderson, a messenger from University Baptist Church in Fort Worth and former missions professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke in favor of the network, stating, “The battle for missions is won or lost in the local church,” and he reminded messengers that the network will not prohibit the convention from working with the SBC International Mission Board.

The network features an advisory council “to bring together missions experts and representatives of Baptist conventions from across the world on a regular basis to work on further missions endeavors.” MRIC chairman Clyde Glazener, pastor at the Gambrell Street congregation, called the network “an effort to provide a place at the table for every Texas Baptist.” He told messengers, “There is a place for you, but it is not possible for you to order the menu for everyone else at the table.”

Gary Hillyard of First Baptist Church of Anahuac cited the new giving remittance form as one of his church’s reasons for opposing the network. He said the choice to direct the worldwide portion of CP giving back to the BGCT says to churches, “‘Do not choose to send your money to a missions sending agency, but to the BGCT worldwide effort.’ You are asking us to give you the authority to coordinate our missions giving.”

James Heffington of West Oaks Baptist Church in Bryan also opposed the network, calling it a “duplication of bureaucracy” and noting that all of its elements are already being accomplished through the IMB.

In a news conference, Glazener stated that the next step will take place within a week as a board appoints 32 members who will have the responsibility of naming the network and hiring staff. When pressed to answer the question of whether the network will be interpreted by others as “denominational activity,” Glazener said, “I can’t argue with that,” noting that he couldn’t say it won’t ever happen.

He said, “There is no design in starting a denomination. Whether that may happen someday depends upon how exclusive others choose to be.” Glazener characterized the convention’s actions as a response to exclusivist actions, not intended to hurt, but to help. E.B. Brooks, coordinator of BGCT church missions and evangelism, added that the network will work with any church that is a cooperating church in the convention.

Campbell said that the SBC should see both the formation of the missions network and the adopted budget as an olive branch, and as indications that Texas Baptists want peace. Of the $50.8 million adopted BGCT budget, $46.2 million will come from the Cooperative Program unified budget.

The 2003 budget is an increase of 7.1 percent over last year’s budget, in spite of the acknowledgment by administrative committee chairman Stephen Hatfield, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lewisville, that about 1,000 churches have left the BGCT in recent years. He explained that the transfer of several ministries such as River Ministry, Mission Service Corps and Texas partnerships from the worldwide causes category had created a greater strain on the CP budget at a time when fewer churches remained to support the budget. By retaining a greater portion of CP funds from churches, Hatfield said the new giving plan will generate more money for BGCT causes.

Under the 2003 Texas Adopted Giving Plan, 79 percent of a church’s Cooperative Program funds will go directly to the BGCT for ministry in Texas. The remaining 21 percent will go to worldwide causes per the designation noted on a new gift remittance form. For 2002, these percentages were 72.3 percent to the BGCT and 27.7 percent to worldwide causes.

BGCT spokesman Ken Camp explained that the giving remittance form offers multiple giving alternatives. The first option is to participate in the Texas Adopted Giving Plan, under which each church directs its 21 percent worldwide portion to either the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or to the BGCT worldwide effort.

Churches not electing to participate in the Texas Adopted Giving Plan may direct their Cooperative Program funds in any manner they choose. About one-third of convention churches still choose the traditional allocation of 33 percent to the SBC and 67 percent to the BGCT, one-third have opted for the BGCT Giving Plan, and the remainder design their own giving plans.

For 2003, the BGCT will no longer place restrictions on funds sent to the SBC. In the previous two years, the convention put a $1 million cap on funding to six SBC seminaries and defunded the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

In his report to the convention, BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade said, “We believe this plan gets us beyond the denominational fray and holds forth the possibility that we will not be drawn into constant criticism of other conventions every time we try to explain our Texas Cooperative Program budget. We believe it also has the potential to be a unifying budget, since it allows churches to agree on the vision for Texas while having room for different opinions regarding national Baptist life.”

During consideration of the budget, Phil Barton of First Baptist Church of Pottsboro sought to defund the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, arguing that the Baptist lobby group takes positions contrary to the beliefs of Southern Baptists. With overwhelming opposition to his motion, messengers rejected the attempt.

In other business, Barton also moved that “the BGCT adopt the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as its guiding theological statement for all its ministries and missions.” While Barton described the revised BF&M as a “concise picture of what separates us as Baptists,” opponents characterized it as “heresy” and declared the 1963 BF&M affirmed by the BGCT as “sufficient and conclusive.” The motion was defeated.

In other business, messengers voted to sell the financially failing Baptist Health System of San Antonio to Vanguard Health Systems. The hospital will continue in a partnership with Texas Baptists as long as particular Baptist policies are adhered to by Vanguard, especially regarding abortion and charity care.

In Tuesday’s session, messengers adopted six resolutions. The threat of war with Iraq inspired two resolutions that called for prayer for peace and for loving our enemies. Resolution 5 called for a strong pursuit of religious liberty and recognition of the voluntary nature of religious faith. In concert with that resolution, the convention theme “We Believe” communicated the BGCT position that no governing body has the right to define faith for any person. Comments reiterating the theme were directed heavily to the SBC and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and what the BGCT deems to be a creedal statement in the BF&M 2000.

In the president’s message to the convention, Campbell criticized Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, for statements made in the April issue of the Southern Baptist Texan newsjournal. Campbell referred to the aforementioned groups as “neo-Baptists” who “do not believe that the Bible is sufficient in all matters of faith and practice.” He condemned the statement from Richards, quoting, “‘It is not enough to say we believe every word of the Bible to be true to be a Baptist.'” Campbell then acknowledged that Baptists have used statements of faith as parameters for belief.

In the article referenced by Campbell, Richards concluded his argument for the 2000 BF&M, using beliefs of other Christian denominations as an illustration. He explained that the Church of Christ denomination was founded by “a disgruntled Baptist” whose followers still say they can sign every page of the Bible. However, they teach baptismal regeneration and the possibility of falling from grace, two teachings which Baptists historically have rejected.

Richards said that merely affirming or signing the pages of a Bible is not sufficient because denominations respect biblical authority and interpret and apply Scripture differently. Making application to the International Mission Board’s request that missionaries affirm the BF&M, Richards argued that merely saying that one believes the Bible is not a sufficient expression of Baptist distinctives.

In other business brought before the convention:

— A constitutional amendment was approved allowing Baptist institutions related to BGCT to elect 25 percent of their trustee boards, later expediting the process with a second vote. A member of the committee proposing the action explained that schools such as Wayland Baptist University in Plainview and East Texas Baptist University in Marshall draw students from bordering states and encouraged the change to allow for trustees outside of Texas.

— A motion by Mark Newton of Baptist Temple in San Antonio was approved to request the Christian Life Commission to develop materials that would educate Baptists regarding religious liberty.

— A motion to develop a ministerial code of ethics passed without discussion. In making the motion, messenger Joe Trull of First Baptist Church of Driftwood said the code would provide “guidelines which reflect basic ethical obligations for ministry, and define the ministerial profession and serve as a support to protect the individual minister.”

— A motion by Nina Pinkston of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth carried that the BGCT explore the possibility of becoming “a financial conduit” for missionaries terminated for not signing the BF&M 2000 and who want to return to their field of service.

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  • Kay Adkins