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CBF ties prompt resignation of medical fellowship president

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Louisiana physician resigned as president of the Baptist Medical Dental Fellowship just days after taking office, sensing that the fellowship’s key staff members were leading it away from the Southern Baptist Convention.

Physician Danny Barnhill, a member of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., who has participated in medical missions trips to China, Kenya, Tanzania, Venezuela and Paraguay, distributed his resignation via e-mail April 6, two days after the Baptist Medical Dental Fellowship’s April 1-4 annual meeting.

“Many facts, of which I was not previously aware, have been brought to my attention since I took office…,” Barnhill wrote to BMDF officers, executive committee members and the general membership.

“I have spent much time this week in prayer and in reviewing and researching the stated vision, goals, and philosophies of the SBC and the CBF,” Barnhill wrote, referencing the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a breakaway group opposed to the SBC’s conservative direction.

“My personal beliefs match perfectly with those stated by the SBC. On the other hand, the CBF has many liberal social and political philosophies and agendas with which I do not agree,” Barnhill wrote. “Because of that, I am not comfortable being an officer in or financially supporting the new CBF-affiliated BMDF.” Barnhill had served as BMDF president-elect for a year and had been an executive committee member since 2000.

In an interview with Baptist Press, Barnhill recounted that he was presiding at a BMDF executive committee March 31 when the fellowship’s executive director, James D. Williams, distributed a six-point partnership agreement with the CBF, updating a relationship first forged in 2000.

“I’d never seen it,” Barnhill said of the document Williams distributed. “It had never been brought to my attention. It had never been discussed with me.” He felt it was “a red flag” — one of many he had noticed in recent years — “that as the incoming president, presiding at the executive committee meeting, something of such magnitude I should have knowledge of, but didn’t.

“I asked a few questions about it,” Barnhill said, “and was told by Dr. Williams that he didn’t want it blown out of proportion and we had a lot to talk about and we needed to move on.”


A statement issued by BMDF leaders, however, including Williams, Fred Loper, BMDF’s associate executive director, and Mississippi physician Mary Clawson, BMDF’s immediate past president, stated that “no questions or concerns were voiced by anyone in attendance” at the BMDF executive committee meeting.

The 995-word statement, issued April 15 to Baptist Press, emphasized that the BMDF has “remained true to our sense of calling from God. We are an independent and autonomous Baptist organization. Our commitment is to work collaboratively with all members of the worldwide Baptist family and other Great Commission Christians. Our goal is to share the Gospel with people in all places through healthcare missions. Our members are diverse and independent individuals. They represent the entire spectrum of current Baptist faith and practice. They are free to express their opinions about issues. BMDF does encourage members to express their individual opinions in one on one conversations rather than from a public platform. These individual opinions are honored and respected; however, they are not necessarily the position of BMDF as an organization.”

Williams has announced his retirement effective May 1 from the Memphis, Tenn.,-based fellowship; Loper has been named interim executive director.

Among the six points in the BMDF-CBF partnership are joint efforts in: “Meeting medical and dental volunteer needs globally,” according to the CBF’s website. “BMDF would help recruit volunteers for CBF health care missions projects, and CBF would help recruit members from among CBF-affiliated churches to join BMDF. Both groups agree to publicize each other’s events and ministry opportunities.”

Williams, in an interview with Baptist Press on April 14, acknowledged that the CBF partnership was staff-developed and was reported to the executive committee as are other requests that “come in to us to respond to opportunities to be involved in medical missions.”


Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, was the featured speaker on the opening night of the BMDF annual meeting at Callaway Gardens in Georgia.

Daniel Vestal, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, was the featured speaker on the second night, at which time he and Williams posed on stage in signing the six-point BMDF-CBF partnership.

Rankin, in a statement issued to Baptist Press April 15, said: “It was a surprise and disappointment to learn that the BMDF has chosen to enter into an official partnership with the CBF, especially considering the extensive medical network of the IMB and the historic relationship and involvement of BMDF members with our healthcare ministries around the world. The IMB has always been affirming of the volunteer projects and support of BMDF which have been an encouragement to our medical missionaries. I am confident that many individual members love the International Mission Board and will continue to work with our missionaries, but I deeply regret this action.”

Barnhill, of his decision to leave the BMDF, said he did not seek media attention and does not know how his e-mail was forwarded to the media outlet that initially reported his resignation. He said he has “no agenda. … These are just my convictions, just my beliefs.” He said he felt a responsibility to relay in his e-mail the “reasons I was giving to the BMDF membership for my resignation. And in no way am I attempting to influence anybody else in what they do, or whether or not they stay members of the BMDF, or even influence the direction of the BMDF.”


A “clear conflict” exists between the SBC and CBF, he said. The SBC holds to the authority of Scripture, he said, while the CBF permits wide latitude in biblical interpretations that can conflict with Scripture itself and with historic Christianity.

Barnhill voiced empathy for “many former SBC folks who have been downsized or feel uncomfortable with the conservative viewpoint of the SBC.” Loper, for example, joined the BMDF staff in 2002 after resigning as a North American Mission Board missionary because he could not sign the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message 2000 in good conscience. The BMDF statement reported that Loper’s salary and benefits have been provided under a three-year descending agreement with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists so that BMDF gradually can assume his support.

Barnhill acknowledged, “It’s very difficult for an organization that has to have a philosophy and a written vision to incorporate multiple, divergent groups in that organization.”

But, he said, “clearly there was a behind-the-scenes movement within the leadership of the BMDF to move it from SBC to CBF, and that was being done without the full knowledge or consent of the membership as a whole or the entire executive committee as a whole.”

The statement issued by the BMDF, however, noted, “Renewing an existing partnership with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship does not reflect a desire on the part of BMDF to move away from the agencies or auxiliaries of the Southern Baptist Convention. Neither the BMDF staff, Executive Committee, nor membership has ever rejected an offer of closer partnership with any agency or auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Williams told Baptist Press that “BMDF serves the global Baptist family and we’ve been doing partnerships for the global Baptist family for a long time.” The renewal of the CBF partnership, he said, “was intended not to be any kind of statement of our abandonment of the SBC. Our primary support is for the IMB and our missionaries.”

Williams noted that the BMDF pays for furloughing medical missionaries to attend its annual meetings and give reports about their work. He said BMDF helps the missionaries obtain the clinical medical education credits needed to maintain their licenses, and it provides stipends with which they can purchase books and supplies that can’t be obtained on the mission field. And, Williams said, the BMDF provides scholarships for Baptist health science students committed to career missions.

“I hope you will be tender and thoughtful and protective of BMDF’s mission,” Williams told Baptist Press. “I really regret that we’ve been caught in a firestorm…. We exist because of the good will of our volunteers who pay their own way to do missions around the world. Last year, over a thousand of our folks were in 63 countries of the world. These are folks who give of themselves. We have sought not to be political in any way through these years and only to respond to the Great Commission opportunities to share the Gospel will all of earth’s people.”


Barnhill, amplifying the short discussion of the CBF partnership during the BMDF’s executive committee meeting March 31, said, “When we got to the item about this agreement, I asked why we were formalizing a written agreement partnership with the CBF, because this was all new to me and, as the incoming president, I felt that I probably should have been aware of it a little bit. And I asked if we were moving completely to the CBF from the SBC, and [said] that I had perceived very significant anti-SBC sentiment with a variety of comments that had been made during the different committee meetings and such.”

Another member of the executive committee “spoke up at that point,” Barnhill said, “and she said there was an expectation that the SBC might break its association with the BMDF, so that the BMDF needed to be prepared to have a new partner, which would be the CBF.”

“And I asked at that point if the SBC had contacted the BMDF with any threats to do that, to break the relationship and the reasons for that.

“She responded that the SBC had made many negative changes in missions recently, such as requiring the name of the individual’s church and the pastor’s signature on short-term volunteer agreements.

“At that point somebody else on the committee spoke up and said, ‘Well, that’s the way it’s always been. That’s not new, that’s not threatening.’

“And that’s when Jim Williams interrupted and said that he did not want to blow this agreement out of proportion, that it was simply a renewal of the ongoing work between the BMDF and the CBF and that he suggested we move along with other agenda items.”


The six-point BMDF-CBF partnership, in addition to the point reflecting a general commitment to mutual initiatives globally and mutual recruitment and publicity efforts, includes:

— Creation of “a congregationally-based medical/dental clinic network and co-hosting a national conference in the next three years to bring attention to health care missions,” with invitations to participating being extended to various other healthcare ministries, according to the report on the CBF website.

— Outreach via medical/dental clinics in conjunction with the Gambian Baptist Union.

— An initiative to provide medical/dental care “in poor rural counties in the United States,” with specific mention of projects in Perry County, Ala., and in Frankfort, Ky.

— A “medical missions mentoring program for young professionals … to impart the vision of sharing gifts and talents in the name of Christ throughout the world to a new generation of health care professionals.”

— BMDF assistance “in the possible appointment of a full-time health care missionary who relates to both organizations. The position would focus on work among the most neglected, in keeping with CBF Global Missions strategy.”

On April 15, Loper provided to Baptist Press a document listing a BMDF statement of beliefs and an expanded list of BMDF objectives which were “composed by our Vision Implementation Task Force during a series of meetings throughout the last year” and approved this year by the BMDF executive committee. The documents will soon be posted on the BMDF website, Loper said.

According to the statement, the BMDF believes in:

— “the divine inspiration, integrity, and complete authority of the Bible as the Word of God.”

— “the unique Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ who was and is fully God and fully man.”

— “the substitutionary sacrificial death of Jesus Christ as the necessary atonement for sins.”

— “the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the work of regeneration.”

— “the resurrection of the just and unjust, the everlasting blessedness of the saved and the everlasting judgment on the lost.”

— “the commandment of Jesus to His followers, ‘to make disciples of all nations,’ to establish New Testament churches, and cooperate with all believers in fulfilling His Great Commission.”