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BWA withdrawal recommendation approved for SBC vote

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–By a 62-10 vote Feb. 17, the SBC Executive Committee approved a report recommending that the Southern Baptist Convention withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance.

The report was a revision of one released in December by the Executive Committee’s nine-member BWA study committee. This latest report was in keeping with the earlier one in that it also recommended withdrawal from the BWA. The report will be presented to messengers from SBC churches at the June 15-16 annual meeting in Indianapolis.

The report adopted by the Executive Committee included, however, a provision that “the chairman of the [Executive Committee’s] BWA Study Committee invite select representatives of the Baptist World Alliance to meet in Nashville with the study committee prior to May 1, 2004.”

The study committee chairman, Morris H. Chapman, who also serves as president of the Executive Committee, said the meeting would be held in response to a request from BWA leaders. But Chapman said neither he nor other members of the study committee anticipate that the SBC/BWA session will result in any change in the SBC course of action.

The Executive Committee’s vote followed an hour-long discussion on the second day of its Feb. 16-17 sessions in Nashville, Tenn.

The revised report, in addressing “issues raised more recently,” focused on three areas:

First: The committee noted that various negative reactions to the initial report “that emanated particularly from fellow BWA member body representatives … served to demonstrate to all interested evangelicals why we had been experiencing increasing discomfort in attempting to define the SBC to the world through the BWA.” Some of the critics of the proposed SBC action “took the opportunity to vent what appears to be pent up feelings of hostility about our Convention. Due to these revelations, we need not now justify or vilify, but can simply do what we preferred to do in the first place, which is to politely withdraw from an organization that, at least for us, no longer efficiently communicates to the unsaved a crystal clear gospel message that our Lord Jesus Christ is solely sufficient for salvation.”

Second: The committee commented on the BWA’s acceptance of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a breakaway organization critical of the SBC’s conservative convictions, by noting, “One soaked by a rain need not blame the last raindrop. We strongly affirm the right of the BWA to determine its own membership and affiliations. It is the very right we now recommend that our Convention exercise. The decision of the BWA to include the CBF merely served as a confirmation that we must, as a Convention, allow the world to see us without having to look through a BWA lens – a lens which, for us, has become too cloudy.”

Third: The committee underscored that the proposed SBC withdrawal from the BWA “is not intended to cast aspersion upon the many godly and enthusiastically evangelical Baptist fellowships that are members of the BWA. We fully intend to continue to partner with our oldest and best friends worldwide, and to develop new and vibrant friendships and joint endeavors to reach the world for Christ. Those who chose to cast this in any other way should not be allowed to dismay our Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ who long, as do we, to take a giant and unhesitant step forward in world outreach. For us, the decision is one of stewardship. If we can multiply the harvest by reapplying the funding, there is no true Christian who should take issue.”

The SBC would fulfill its $300,000 allocation to the BWA in the current SBC budget, which runs through September, under the recommendation to be presented to the annual meeting in June.

For a number of years, the SBC allocation to the BWA had been $425,000 per year. The allocation was reduced by $125,000 during last June’s SBC annual meeting in Phoenix to be redirected to a new SBC “Kingdom Relationships” global initiative in conjunction with the SBC-wide Empowering Kingdom Growth movement. The committee anticipates that the other $300,000 now will be similarly redirected.

The discussion included an appeal by Janet Hoffman, president of Woman’s Mission Union, an SBC auxiliary, who serves on the Executive Committee, that the SBC seek reconciliation with the BWA rather than separation.

Hoffman recounted an extended time of joyful and tearful sharing during WMU’s annual board meeting in January during which numerous WMU leaders recounted their relationships and experiences with women in various countries through WMU’s affiliation with the BWA women’s department.

At the end of the WMU session, Hoffman said, the leaders stood unanimously in voting to affirm WMU’s relationship with the BWA. “It was as if they stood as one,” without making a sound, “tears streaming down their faces. It was love that I saw there” for the Christian women of other lands, Hoffman said.

Nancy W. McGuigan, an Executive Committee member from Pennsylvania, read into the record a resolution adopted Feb. 16 by the administrative committee of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey’s executive board calling for prayer “to bring reconciliation between the BWA and the SBC for a unified witness to a world in need of Christ.” The resolution also noted Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for unity in the body of Christ.

Several Executive Committee members underscored their support for the study committee report. Calvin Wittman, a pastor from Colorado, noted that the Bible tells of “Christians who decided to walk a different path” over theological differences, which “brings a greater peace.” The SBC’s withdrawal from the BWA, he said, “is a peaceful move.”

Mike Trammell, a pastor from Maryland, noted that the nine study committee members are “as fine and as representative” a group to be trusted to bring Southern Baptists a worthy recommendation on BWA membership.

The hour-long discussion was limited to Executive Committee members, but Denton Lotz, the BWA’s general secretary, and several other BWA representatives were in attendance.

Lotz said after the meeting he would attend the proposed meeting with the SBC study committee hoping that it will be the “beginning of some type of reconciliation.”

“We’re not bitter, we’re sad,” Lotz said over “the breach of fellowship.” Southern Baptists will continue to be welcome at BWA gatherings, he said. Asked about the impact of the SBC defunding on the BWA’s $1.6 million budget, Lotz said, “This is not a question of money. It is a question of fellowship.”

Lotz also stated, “We’re an alliance, we’re not a denomination.” An alliance of Baptists from different cultures cannot stipulate a particular set of doctrines like a single denomination can, noting that Russian Baptists, for example, do not embrace the doctrine that believers have eternal security in Jesus.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PRESENTING THE REPORT and WMU PRESIDENT SPEAKS.