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BWA committee sees CBF membership if CBF separates itself from SBC

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A recommendation to accept the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into the Baptist World Alliance in 2003 has been made by the BWA membership committee, contingent upon the CBF declaring itself a distinct organization from the Southern Baptist Convention.

The 120-member General Council, during its July 8-13 annual meeting in Seville, Spain, heard the report from the council’s membership committee July 12, Wendy Ryan, BWA communications director, told Baptist Press.

The BWA membership committee made its recommendation against what it acknowledged as its “usual practice” to delay acceptance of an applicant organization that is “in public disagreement with an existing member body of the BWA … until everything has been done to deal with ongoing disagreement, public conflict and hurt.”

No explanation was given why the committee acted counter to its usual practice.

Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, expressed concerns about the membership committee action.

“The process is now flawed, as the entire General Council has been engaged in matters ordinarily assigned to the membership committee. I believe the committee’s willingness to set aside its usual process can only be explained by what appears to be the determined intention of some members to promote and facilitate the membership request of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship a year in advance.”

The Southern Baptist Convention, with 16 million members in 42,000 churches, is the largest member body of the Baptist World Alliance.

The CBF, founded in 1991, is a breakaway organization of Baptist moderates and liberals opposed to the conservative positions and leadership supported by the majority of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. In June, CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal stated to Baptist Press the group had told the BWA that it has “150 churches that have no relationship to the SBC at all, but are related to the CBF.” Online, the CBF lists 296 partner churches and publicity materials claim 1,800 to 2,000 church partners.

The BWA membership committee, in an 11-point, three-page report, concluded that it “believes the application from the CBF [for BWA membership] can be recommended to the BWA General Council for acceptance in 2003.”

CBF representatives “have stated to the Membership Committee that they have separated themselves from the structures and organization of the SBC, and have a distinctly diverse understanding to the SBC of what it means to be an organized body of Baptist churches and individuals in covenant relationship.”

The committee then noted its “request” to the CBF “that this affirmation be publicly affirmed by the appropriate decision making body within the organization of the CBF.”

Chapman told Baptist Press the statements of the committee “appear to be extremely contradictory: on one hand saying that the CBF has made a clean break with the Southern Baptist Convention, while on the other hand, stating they want affirmation that the CBF has done so.”

Acknowledging “years of serious differences” between the Southern Baptist Convention and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the BWA membership committee said it “invites the [BWA] President and the General Secretary to work with others towards enabling better understanding and respect between the CBF and the SBC.”

The committee also stated it “believes there is goodwill from member bodies towards acceptance of the CBF” in the BWA.

BWA President Billy Kim, a South Korean pastor, held forth hope that the SBC and CBF could find common ground on the matter in a statement issued by Ryan.

“We delayed [action] for one more year until the two groups have a clear understanding that they are separate entities that belong to different organizations that satisfies both groups,” Kim told Ryan.

“I don’t want to harm or hurt a good-standing member of our organization, but at the same time I will not bar a legitimate organization to come to the BWA if all parties agree. If the standing is the same, the membership committee will study [the matter] again.”

The membership sections of the BWA constitution and bylaws do not specify whether Baptist bodies in a country must agree with the membership application of another Baptist body seeking to join the BWA. The bylaws state, however, “Each member body shall have an identity of its own and shall not exist as an integral part of some other union or convention.”

Chapman told Baptist Press, “To say I am aggrieved [over the membership committee report] is an understatement. I have personally worked diligently, along with other SBC leaders, for 12 years to establish a strong tie with the BWA and to communicate to world Baptist leaders that Southern Baptists wanted to walk beside them in efforts to reach the world for Christ. In one swift and needless action by the membership committee, the valued relationship I thought we had built may have been damaged beyond repair.”

CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal, in a statement to Ryan, said, “We will cooperate in all ways to fulfill the requests of the committee so we can join. We value this body, the relationships and partnerships we already have with you. We want to participate in this world body in serving God and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.”