DALLAS (BP)–Offering what Executive Director Charles Wade called “open arms” of welcome, the Baptist General Convention of Texas executive board voted Feb. 26 to create a “special missionary transition fund” to assist any missionary who voluntarily leaves or is dismissed by the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board for refusing to affirm the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs.
Only one dissenting vote on the recommendation from the BGCT’s Missions Review and Initiatives Committee (MRIC) was observed among the 220 board members meeting in Baylor Medical Center’s Beasley Auditorium. No one was invited to speak on behalf of the International Mission Board at the meeting.
Immediately following the vote, Herbert Reynolds, former president of Baylor University, read an open declaration of concerns signed by 18 pastors and laypersons, and board chairman Brian Harbour announced that those 18 individuals had pledged more than $1 million to the new missionary transition fund.
The BGCT executive board, according to the MRIC recommendation, will instruct its administrative committee to “establish a way for Texas Baptists to contribute to that fund; that the BGCT Executive Board staff actively seek churches and institutions that will assist in caring for these missionaries; that the BGCT work with other Baptist groups who share this concern; and that the Executive Board instruct the Missions Review and Initiatives Committee to explore positive and pro-active ways in which the churches and institutions of the BGCT can encourage and assist these missionaries to express their God-given mission calling and that the committee report back by September 2002.”
In late January, IMB President Jerry Rankin sent a letter to more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries asking them to sign an affirmation of the 2000 BF&M identical to the one they signed for the 1963 BF&M when they were appointed. A missionary who notes a disagreement with the BF&M can, according to the form, can still promise to carry out his or her ministry “in accordance with and not contrary to” the BF&M.
His desire, Rankin told the missionaries, was to help Southern Baptists get beyond debate over the 2000 BF&M so they could focus their full attention and best energies on their missions challenges.
Various BGCT leaders among those opposed to the SBC’s leadership accused Rankin of launching an “attack” on missionaries and forcing them to conform to a “manmade creed.”
“We regret that these activists have chosen to misrepresent what is happening between Southern Baptist missionaries and their leadership,” said Larry Cox, IMB vice president for mobilization. “They are manufacturing a crisis where none exists.”
“For decades, Southern Baptist missionaries have been signing affirmations of the statement of faith adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention,” Cox said. “Asking missionaries to compare their personal beliefs to the Baptist Faith and Message is not a departure from historic Southern Baptist practice. It certainly does not amount to imposing a creed on any missionary.”
In addition to the new missionary fund, the BGCT executive board also unanimously approved an administrative committee recommendation to create a Chaplaincy Endorsement Board (CEB) within the BGCT’s church missions and evangelism section. The recommendation called for the nine-member CEB to be given the “authority to act as the sole agent of the Baptist General Convention of Texas for the purpose of certifying/endorsing ministers to serve as chaplains or pastoral counselors.”
The CEB was created in response to a Feb. 6 decision by trustees of the SBC’s North American Mission Board to no longer endorse female chaplains who have been ordained.
Robert E. Reccord, president of the SBC North American Mission Board, told Baptist Press, “I am very disappointed by this move of the BGCT which continues to move away from historical roles of cooperation within the Southern Baptist Convention. Chaplaincy endorsement has traditionally been assigned to national denominational agencies, so last year when the BGCT began to discuss becoming an endorsement body, I wrote to Dr. Wade and asked if this meant the BGCT was intentionally moving toward denominational status. He never responded to that question. I have to assume this action provides the answer.”
Wade, in his remarks to the board, addressed the letter from Rankin to the SBC’s international missionaries asking that they sign a statement affirming the 2000 BF&M.
“The next week, in an attempt to soften the tone of the first letter, the president of the IMB, speaking to state Baptist editors said it was ‘pure speculation’ that missionaries would have to resign if they would not sign the BF&M. They will not be fired for noting their exceptions to the BF&M.”
However, he said IMB leaders have not determined what the consequences would be for missionaries who cannot sign the statement of affirmation.
“We have no reason to feel comfortable that the missionaries are not now under serious attack from their own administrators and board,” Wade said. “We have reason to believe that the IMB trustees will press to remove these missionaries if the president does not do so.
“We would be happy if the IMB should respond to our call for them to pull back from this forcing upon faithful, long-term missionaries a confession of faith which is being used as a creed. But we must put in place a response mechanism now. We will not meet again until late May. We need to begin to build a fund to help these missionaries who are saying to us they will have to resign or take early retirement under this pressure.
“There are many questions and not enough answers today,” Wade said. “But the call to stand by those who are being asked to put either their calling or their conscience at risk cannot go unanswered. We must provide places of refuge and renewal, places of warm acceptance and dependable support, places where dreams of serving God can become reality again. I believe Texas Baptist churches and people want to do this and they want us to help them find a way to do it.”
Wade concluded his remarks by saying, “I am aware that we will be criticized by many for the stands we are being asked to take today. Some will say that we are distancing ourselves from Southern Baptists. Let me say again, as I have said before, we stand ready to work with Southern Baptists. We have not wanted the things that have happened in the last few weeks to happen.
“We are focused on a lost world that needs our Savior and his gospel. Why these distractions? Why these extra requirements? If we or the missionaries are heretics, show us by Scripture and we will repent. But if you cannot say we are heretics, then work with us for the sake of a world that needs Jesus.
“And let us all thank God for however we heard the gospel and were saved, though it came from a man or a woman, from a Jew or a gentile, from bond or free. For when we miss hell and enter into glory we will want to find those who helped us know Jesus and thank them every one, and we will wonder then that we thought we could tell people what the Sovereign God could or could not do with their lives.”
Clyde Glazener, a Fort Worth pastor, BGCT past president and chairman of the MRIC, said the committee’s report originally was to be presented to the executive board in September, but the letter to missionaries forced the committee to act quicker.
Keith Parks, former president of the then Foreign Mission Board and chairman of a MRIC subcommittee, said the committee had received comments from more than 60 missionary couples who said they could not sign the 2000 BF&M. As about a dozen former missionaries stood behind him, Parks read some of the e-mails received from missionaries.
One described the IMB’s actions as “tyranny of control and manipulation by fear.” Another said the letter from Rankin was “perceived as an ultimatum.”
Wade said the missionary transition fund would not provide direct financial support for missionaries who may have left the IMB in recent years, but would help them with grief counseling and support groups.
Meanwhile, the BGCT’s Chaplaincy Endorsement Board will now seek to gain recognition from the U.S. Department of Defense as an endorsing agency for chaplains. E.B. Brooks, coordinator of the BGCT church missions and evangelism section, said once that is done, hospitals and other agencies typically recognize the endorsement as valid.
Mark Kelly & Martin King contributed to this article.