JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–The Baptist General Convention of Texas is leaving the Southern Baptist Convention. It will not likely happen officially this year or next year or maybe even the year after, but all the signs of departure are present for anyone willing to face the facts.
Furthermore, the BGCT’s future departure will not likely result in realignment with another national denomination like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Instead, the BGCT is remaking itself into the chief alternative to the SBC, I suspect much to the dread of the CBF, which fashions itself as such.
Except for a few slips of the tongue to reporters, BGCT leaders have repeatedly denied any intention of breaking affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention. Nevertheless, actions speak louder than words.
For eight years I worked in Washington, D.C., and observed up close and personal the ways of politicians. One of the maxims I quickly learned when dealing with politicians was that more importance should be placed on what they do, rather than what they say. Some politicians, we found, were known to talk one way when they were home visiting the constituents and act an entirely different way back in Washington when it came time for voting.
Such seems to be the case for some BGCT politicians — pay attention to what they do, rather than what they say. These leaders say the BGCT is not leaving the Southern Baptist Convention. However, their actions at least since 1994 have demonstrated just the opposite. Consider the following chronological progression away from the SBC and toward the creation of a new denomination:
— 1994: Redefinition of Cooperative Program gifts. The BGCT redefined gifts that it would collect and distribute to non-SBC entities, including the CBF, as CP giving.
— 1997: Adoption of the “E/E” committee report. The BGCT adopted a far-reaching report by the Effectiveness/Efficiency Committee after a two-year study of the ministries of the BGCT. The report, in effect, began the creation of an alternate denominational superstructure, calling for the BGCT to begin to publish its own “Texas-focused” Sunday school and church literature, send out its own “lay envoy” missionaries and create a Texas Baptist Theological College.
— 1998/2000: Rejection of revisions of the Baptist Faith and Message. Both the addition of the family article in 1998 and the 2000 revision of the BF&M have been repeatedly rejected by the BGCT, while 60 percent of the state conventions have affirmed it.
— 2000: Defunding all SBC entities, except for the two mission boards. In a further radical redefinition and execution of the Cooperative Program, in its preferred budget the BGCT defunded SBC seminaries, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the SBC Executive Committee (except for $10,000). Only Texas students at SBC seminaries are funded with a cap of $1 million. Instead, more than $5 million was redirected to BGCT schools and other ministries, further building the alternate denominational superstructure.
— 2000: Allowing affiliation from churches outside of Texas. The BGCT approved a constitutional amendment that permits churches outside of Texas to be eligible for service on its boards and committees, further raising speculation that the BGCT is setting its house in order to become a national denomination.
— 2001: Reducing North American Mission Board funding. The BGCT voted to retain $1.28 million of CP receipts from their churches, claiming that would be the amount that NAMB would have spent in Texas. Thus, they have rejected the opportunity to fully cooperate with Southern Baptists’ nationwide strategy to reach North America with the gospel. Although the BGCT continues to collect gifts for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (which have never been counted as CP giving), the International Mission Board is the only SBC agency with unrestricted support in the BGCT CP budget — at least for now.
— 2002: Establishment of a “Missionary Transition Fund.” In February, the BGCT executive board accepted the recommendation of the Missions Review and Initiatives Committee (MRIC) to create the transition fund for IMB missionaries — not limited to Texans — who feel the need to resign from the IMB rather than affirm the BF&M 2000. Immediately following the vote, 18 Texans, led by former Baylor University President Herbert Reynolds, pledged $1 million to the fund. The MRIC will make a report in September to “explore positive and proactive ways in which the churches and institutions of the BGCT can encourage and assist these missionaries to express their God-given calling.”
— 2002: Creation of chaplaincy endorsement board. In February, the BGCT executive board created the chaplains board to allow the BGCT to become an endorsing body for chaplains in the military and elsewhere — a role typically reserved for denominations. One leader admitted that the board would begin with chaplains in Texas, “but it would not be limited to them.”
— The Baptist Convention of the Americas. On Oct. 16, 1998, Herbert Reynolds — the same BGCT leader at the forefront of the missionary transition fund — filed articles of incorporation for an entity to be based in Texas that would include churches from North, Central and South America. Reynolds’ private action has not been endorsed by the BGCT.
Reynolds recently told the moderate Baptist newsjournal Baptists Today: “I think that we have no alternative but to continue to move ahead toward another larger body of Baptists who covet freedom in Christ and who embrace those essentials of the faith and Baptist principles.” Notice that he says Texas Baptists should “continue to move ahead,” not start moving ahead. At least in Reynolds’ view, the movement has already started.
He also argued that Texas Baptists would be “neglectful” if they did not lead out in forming a new convention, expressing skepticism that the CBF is strong enough to “act as a stack pole in Baptist life.”
Conservative Texas Baptists have not stood by idly during this period of disengagement from the SBC. In less than five years, the pro-SBC Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has garnered the support of more than 1,100 churches. During 2001 alone, the BGCT lost more than 600 churches, with nearly 450 of them aligning with the SBTC according to a BGCT news release. Meanwhile, support for the BGCT is in decline as total gifts to the BGCT CP budget last year were 14.1 percent below the 2001 budget.
Although some BGCT politicians with less candor than Reynolds have stated their opposition to the creation of a new convention, their words seem meaningless in the face of the facts that demonstrate that step by step the BGCT indeed has been deliberately moving away from the SBC and toward creation of a full-fledged, national denomination. It’s time — and long overdue — for the BGCT leadership to be open about its intentions and make clear to Texas Baptist churches its long-term agenda.
Smith is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal.