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BGCT leadership approves defunding of Baptist seminaries, students

DALLAS (BP)–The Baptist General Convention of Texas Administrative Committee, laden with a number of members affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, voted on Wednesday, Sept. 13 to recommend a Cooperative Program budget proposal for 2001 that dramatically redirects up to $5 million from some Southern Baptist Convention institutions to meet crucial needs in Texas.

The recommended budget redirects to Texas causes a projected $4 million from the six SBC seminaries and close to $1 million from SBC Executive Committee and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in Nashville, Tenn. The basic Texas budget, not including the redirected funds, totals more than $47.5 million.

“This has been a prayerful and painful and sad process,” said Stephen Hatfield, chairman-elect of the administrative committee and pastor of First Baptist Church of Lewisville, a congregation affiliated with both the SBC and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. This action indicates, “We want to work with those who want to work with us and not fight with those who want to fight with us.”

The budget recommendations will be presented to the BGCT Executive Board at its Sept. 26 meeting in Dallas. If approved by the 227-member board, it will then be voted on at the annual BGCT meeting in Corpus Christi, Oct. 30-31.

Hatfield emphasized the final decision on the funding change rests with the local churches. “We encourage all Texas Baptist churches to send their messengers to the state convention and these messengers should prayerfully consider their decision and vote their convictions.”

The funding change for the six seminaries comes from a Texas Baptist committee studying theological education. The committee was approved by messengers at the 1999 BGCT in El Paso and was instructed to examine financial resources, theological positions and philosophies of the seminaries, and to report its findings to the BGCT Executive Board.

Bob Campbell, chairman of the study committee and pastor of Westbury Baptist Church in Houston and also affiliated with the CBF, indicated this had been a difficult task “since many on the committee have a deep attachment and affection to the seminaries, especially Southwestern.

“We did not go into this process with preconceived ideas,” Campbell added, “and when we began we were not sure if we would even have recommendations. We thought we might be gathering information and simply make a report.”

Before making the recommendations, the 16-member committee began intensive research in March including on-site visits to the six SBC seminaries and dialogues with the president, administrators and some trustees of each school, according to the report.

However, William Crews, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and chairman of the Council of Seminary Presidents, disputed that research.

“The BGCT study committee did not conduct a serious study of our seminaries,” Crews said. ” Though offered the opportunity, the committee chose not to meet with our students or faculty. This is contrasted with the fact that the committee revealed that it had met with former faculty members who are at odds with our commitments.

“The charges made against our seminaries lack merit and misrepresent our schools,” he added. “Our trustees serve faithfully as stewards of the trust of the Southern Baptist Convention. We gladly answer to them for our leadership, and to Southern Baptists we are pleased to give a full account. The more Southern Baptists know about our schools, the greater will be their support and enthusiasm.”

The lengthy report highlighted concerns with the requirement of faculty members to sign the revised Baptist Faith & Message statement, a high rate of turnover in faculty in several seminaries, a high percentage of faculty from non-Southern Baptist backgrounds in some seminaries, the use of Cooperative Program funds to create undergraduate colleges at the seminaries, lack of diversity on the seminary trustee boards, a pattern of trustees interfering with the routine work of faculty and staff, trustees creating political litmus tests for faculty hiring and lack of diversity in chapel speakers.

The approved recommendation includes a $1 million cap placed on BGCT Cooperative Program money sent to the six SBC seminaries. The dollars distributed to the SBC seminaries will be done on a pro-rata basis determined by the number of Texas Baptist students attending each school.

A “Texas student” would be defined as someone who has been a member for the previous two years of a church that financially supports the BGCT. Students attending college outside Texas would be eligible based upon membership in a BGCT-supporting church prior to entering college.

The net effect of this change would be a virtual defunding of five of the six SBC schools, which currently receive anywhere from $443,000 to $1.5 million annually from the BGCT. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, based in Fort Worth, would get the largest share of the $1 million pool because it currently enrolls about 1,400 of the estimated 1,600 Texas students attending SBC seminaries.

The remaining money — an estimated $4 million — would be dedicated to BGCT-supported schools training Texas Baptist ministers. One-fourth would be earmarked for tuition equalization assistance to students at Truett Seminary in Waco and Logsdon School of Theology in Abilene. Twenty percent would be devoted to Hispanic Baptist Theological School in San Antonio for tuition assistance, academic advancement and student development. Thirty-five percent would be a grant to Truett and Logsdon for academic advancement and student development.

“A major thrust in this decision is the changing needs of theological education in this state,” said Howard Batson, administrative committee member and pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, also affiliated with the CBF.

“The Hispanic population in Texas is growing and if we (Texas Baptists) do not help, no one else will step in to help.”

Campbell added that from a historical perspective it is not Texas Baptists who are failing to cooperate. “We will always cooperate with any Baptist group that wants cooperation and has the same direction and same goals. The Southern Baptist Convention and especially the seminaries have shifted theologically and philosophically It was not Texas Baptists.”

Clyde Glazener, BGCT president, also reiterated the shift has not occurred in Texas. “We have not moved. Every vote taken at our state convention meetings have affirmed we are still who we have always been. The changes have occurred on the national level.”

Glazener added the BGCT is not defunding the SBC and the overall budget will continue to support many programs including the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board.

In addition, churches will still have the freedom to designate their money as they wish through the BGCT. “If they want to continue to fund the seminaries, the Executive Committee and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, they are free to do so,” Campbell said. “The BGCT is inclusive and money will be distributed as a church wishes. A local church does not have to join Southern Baptists of Texas to have this accomplished.”

The Administrative Committee also will recommend to the Texas Executive Board that half of the money that otherwise would have been sent to the SBC Executive Committee and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission be redirected to fund Hispanic work in Texas. One-fourth would be devoted to ministries for the mentally disabled, the aging and children — including adoption services — through the Texas Baptist Human Welfare Coordinating Board. One-fourth would be earmarked for family resources and other ethical concerns of the BGCT Christian Life Commission.

“The Executive Committee has led the Southern Baptist Convention to go in directions not comfortable to mainstream Texas Baptists,” said Bill Turner, administrative committee member and pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, another church with ties to the CBF. They have drawn lines in the sand and “said here’s where we are. Texas Baptists are saying here’s where we are and it is not where you are. In good conscience we are making decisions to take money and put it to work in meeting human needs in Texas.”

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