News Articles

Chapman: Meeting of former Southern Baptist leaders confirms Baptist World Alliance’s moderate perspective

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A recent meeting of moderate Southern Baptists proclaiming their support of the Baptist World Alliance has drawn a response from Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee.

Chapman served as chairman of the study committee that recommended the SBC withdraw from the BWA and as a vice president of the BWA until the action to withdraw took effect.

“If there were any doubts in the minds of Southern Baptists about the moderate theological perspective embraced by BWA staff leadership, the latest action of the BWA general secretary is enough to dispel those doubts,” Chapman said in a statement to Baptist Press. “He has enlisted the help of former SBC leaders, the Who’s Who of Southern Baptist moderates, in an effort to generate individual and church funding for BWA activities.”

The meeting, led by former SBC entity head Duke McCall in Atlanta Dec. 4, included about two dozen former chief executives of Southern Baptist entities who declared themselves “advocates of the Baptist World Alliance,” according to a Dec. 8 BWA news release.

“Our purpose is to retain Southern Baptist participation in and support of the Baptist World Alliance,” said McCall, a former BWA president, former president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and former executive secretary-treasurer of the Executive Committee. “We function within Baptist freedom and the autonomy of every Christian church.”

The group said Southern Baptists are blessed by their BWA connection with other believers and need to “strengthen this family tie for our own benefit.”

Among the points McCall emphasized, according to the BWA release, was that the group that convened in Atlanta does not “speak for or represent any group we may have served in the past.” McCall also noted the need for unity among Baptists as a witness to the world.

“We have sometimes striven for a reputation for orthodoxy, a worthy goal, but love for our neighbor (the second greatest commandment) is an even more effective witness,” he said.

McCall’s comments concluded with a mention that SBC churches may choose to fellowship with BWA despite the convention’s decision at the annual meeting in June to withdraw from the BWA over doctrinal concerns.

“The SBC withdrawal from BWA membership does not require any individual or church, or Baptist association to sever that Christian relation to the BWA,” he said, adding, “We do not counsel any individual or church to withdraw from the SBC.”

James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources and a member of the SBC’s BWA study committee, commented to Baptist Press about the SBC’s decision to withdraw membership and support from the BWA.

“We just do not feel that the BWA is the only way or the best way for the SBC to relate to the larger Baptist family across the world,” he said.

Draper described the break in cooperation by the BWA as one of the disappointments that led to the break with BWA. “Several years ago the BWA began to appeal directly to Southern Baptist churches for financial support, in spite of repeated objections on the part of our leadership,” he said.

Draper also expressed disappointment in the move by the moderate former SBC leaders, saying, “It is very sad to me that leaders who once championed the cause of our traditional strategy of cooperation would perpetuate this action.”

Others in attendance at the Atlanta meeting included BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz; Ian Chapman, BWA’s director of promotion and development; Grady Cothen and Lloyd Elder, former presidents of the Baptist Sunday School Board; Alma Hunt, Carolyn Crumpler and Dellanna O’Brien, former executives of Woman’s Missionary Union; Emmanuel McCall, former leader of SBC relations to black churches; and several former state executives.

The SBC’s Chapman also recalled that a few years ago in anticipation of an SBC withdrawal, Lotz recommended to the BWA General Council that membership, which was previously restricted to Baptist denominations, conventions and unions, be opened to all Baptist churches and even individuals. In September, Southern Baptist churches received a letter from Lotz and BWA President Billy Kim asking for donations since funding had been cut by $300,000 with the SBC’s departure. In 2003, the SBC had voted to reduce giving to the BWA from $425,000 to $300,000.

The letter to churches said a gift of $250 would make a church an “associate member” of BWA while a gift of $1,000 would make it a “Global Impact Church.”

Chapman responded to the fundraising appeal by sending an open letter to Lotz and Kim asking them to cease immediately any such appeals to Southern Baptist churches. He also noted that BWA officials were soliciting funds in a way even SBC entities are prohibited from doing, since the Cooperative Program has been the convention’s unified giving plan since 1925.

“Now former leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have come out of retirement to ask churches to give to the BWA, a request they never would have made when they were SBC leaders, leading organizations that were dependent largely upon Cooperative Program gifts,” Chapman said in his statement to BP. “That they would be willing to call for anything that has the potential to decrease Cooperative Program giving in favor of support to an organization outside the convention is astounding and regrettable.”

Chapman also commented on a proposal last year by Lotz to create a new missions-sending agency.

In May 2003, at a BWA-sponsored global summit on Baptist missions, Lotz declared that Baptists worldwide need a new missions agency. At that time, Lotz offered that other Baptist mission agencies could work jointly in the effort or that a separate agency could be formed.

“It seems that at every turn, Denton Lotz is working to undermine the missions, ministries and theology of Southern Baptists,” Chapman said. “The Southern Baptist Convention supports the largest world missionary force — 10,500 combined in the U.S. and abroad. Moreover, our missionaries focus on building churches by training pastors and discipling lay leaders so that the spreading of the Gospel is multiplicative. Last year Southern Baptists were responsible for 600,000 baptisms overseas and the start of over 21,000 churches, from a force of about 5,400 international missionaries.

“Other BWA members, like the American Baptist Churches and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, field only small numbers of missionaries, so Lotz’s move to establish a new mission sending agency can only be viewed as an attempt to undermine the work of Southern Baptists — especially in view of his appeal for funding from Southern Baptists with little indication that he is doing the same among churches of other member bodies,” he said.

The Lotz proposal followed notice that the SBC would be voting at its annual meeting in June 2004 on whether to withdraw from the BWA.

In related news, leaders of the American Baptist Churches issued a pastoral letter Nov. 20 requesting that all ministers in the denomination refrain from blessing same-sex “marriages” and ordaining homosexuals.

During the Executive Committee’s report at the SBC annual meeting in June, Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of the SBC’s BWA study committee, told messengers that the ABC had accepted for membership an organization — the Evergreen Baptist Association based in Kent, Wash. — that has two churches sympathetic to practicing homosexuals. The ABC’s role as a key member of the BWA caused Patterson to warn messengers that what they are allied with they are in agreement with, and Southern Baptists could no longer give their money or their name to support an organization like the BWA so long as its other members held views contrary to the SBC.

“We can no longer afford in this particular day, when the press for ‘gay marriage’ is on, to be in an alliance of any kind with denominations which support ‘gay marriage’ in any form or fashion,” Patterson said.

The ABC’s Regional Executive Ministers Council approved the pastoral letter at their meeting in Green Lake, Wis.

“The controversy over homosexuality has consumed our agenda, our discussion time, and our energy; yet the controversy still threatens to break us apart as American Baptists,” the letter said, according to the ABC’s news service. “The prevailing view among American Baptists is that ‘the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.'”

Included in the letter were seven statements regarding homosexuality and the ABC, starting with a declaration that the denomination will “voluntarily refrain from recommending or approving persons who are practicing homosexuals (gay and lesbian persons) for positions and ministries on the regional and national levels of denominational life.”

Other statements said the ABC will voluntarily refrain from conducting marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, refrain from making stereotypical statements about homosexuals and participating in homophobic behavior, refrain from making threats of withdrawal of resources and fellowship, and work constructively to embrace unity.

Draper told Baptist Press he appreciated the ABC’s admission that homosexuality is contrary to the biblical plan for human behavior, but he said the pastoral letter did not go far enough in addressing the issue.

“The statement that the prevailing view among American Baptist constituency is that ‘homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching’ is a positive biblical position,” he said. “The difficulty is that that entire statement that was released by the ABC stops short of holding high that biblical standard.”

Draper referred to statement No. 4, which says, “We will voluntarily refrain from making threats of withdrawal of resources and threats of withdrawal of fellowship.” The statement, he said, leaves the door open for an acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle.

“This implies that whatever a church chooses to do will be acceptable. While every church is autonomous, the national body has a responsibility to all of its members to hold high the biblical standard,” Draper said. “It is unfortunate that the ABC would not express its intent to take action with any church or entity that takes a contrary position to their initial statement.

“Homosexuality is not only incompatible with Christian teaching, it is also a clear violation of biblical teaching and should have been so identified. Their lack of firmness in this matter is disappointing,” he said.

Chapman summarized his comments, stating, “When you connect the dots, it is clear that the BWA leadership will remain moderate-leaning in its relationships and theology and opposed to the best interests of Southern Baptists.”

    About the Author

  • Erin Curry