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FIRST-PERSON: The BWA: reasons for parting ways

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)-—Southern Baptists will make two historic decisions this year, with the first triggering the second.

The first will come Feb. 16-17 in Nashville, Tenn., when the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is likely to recommend that Southern Baptists end their 99-year effort to relate to other Baptists worldwide through the Baptist World Alliance.

The second will come June 15-16 when thousands of messengers from the 42,000-plus churches affiliated with the SBC gather for their annual meeting in Indianapolis. That is when they — and they alone — will decide whether to affirm the Executive Committee’s recommendation. I believe Southern Baptists will overwhelmingly vote to leave the BWA — and rightly so. Messengers at last year’s SBC meeting in Phoenix gave a hint as to how they feel on the matter in a landslide vote supportive of the Executive Committee’s recommendation to cut BWA funding in its 2004 fiscal year from $425,000 to $300,000. If the Executive Committee’s current recommendation is approved, the $300,000 in annual Cooperative Program dollars earmarked for the BWA will be terminated Oct. 1. That money, along with the previous $125,000 cut, will be used to fund an SBC “Kingdom Relationships” initiative that could include preaching conferences, church planting and growth conferences, the teaching of Baptist history and theology and participation in evangelistic and missionary efforts, according to the study committee.

The SBC is the largest denomination in the BWA and has been its most generous financial contributor, despite an increasingly hostile attitude by BWA leaders and vocal, more theologically liberal BWA members. The increased criticism and the more liberal influences within the BWA are responsible for the Executive Committee’s action, a move justified given the BWA’s infatuation with ecumenicalism. For the BWA, unity trumps truth.

Last month BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz seemed to exhibit a tenet of postmodern philosophy when he refuted charges of liberalism in the organization, noting that the term “liberal” is relative (postmodernists deny the existence of absolute truth, thus truth is relative). “Russian Baptists think Southern Baptists are liberal because the women wear lipstick and makeup,” he told Associated Baptist Press. ABP, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-funded organization, and “moderate” editors of a handful of SBC state newspapers have expended considerable effort in recent weeks to document the laments of Lotz and other BWA supporters. Presumably the purpose is to make Southern Baptists look arrogant, narrow-minded and selfish (more on this later). Despite all this, SBC messengers are poised to overwhelmingly vote to defund the BWA and it is important that Southern Baptists understand the significance of what is about to happen. For Southern Baptists, truth trumps unity.


The 81-member SBC Executive Committee approved the reactivation of a nine-member study committee in September 2002 to assess the value of Southern Baptists’ use of the BWA to relate to other Baptists worldwide. The committee was formed initially in 1997 as a way of evaluating the relationship between the SBC and BWA on an ongoing basis.

The BWA is a global umbrella of more than 40 million Baptists in 200,000 churches with headquarters in Falls Church, Va. Formed in London in 1905, in large part by Southern Baptists, the BWA has four goals, according to its Internet site: unite Baptists worldwide, world evangelization, provide relief aid and defend human rights.

The SBC study committee is chaired by Morris H. Chapman, Executive Committee president who also is a BWA vice president. It has been reported that the chief architect of the committee’s recommendation is former SBC President Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Other committee members are retired Judge Paul Pressler of Houston; James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville; Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, Richmond, Va.; Tom Elliff, a former SBC president and pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla.; Gary A. Smith, chairman of the Executive Committee and pastor of Fielder Road Baptist Church, Arlington, Texas; Joe Reynolds, a Houston attorney; and Bob Sorrell, president, The Associate Inc., a ministry to pastors, Cordova, Tenn.

The unity of Executive Committee members was evident in February 2003 when they approved the study committee’s recommendation to ask messengers at the next annual meeting to redirect $125,000 from the BWA to fund the SBC’s new global “Kingdom Relationships” initiative. That act symbolized the exasperating frustration felt by SBC leaders because of the BWA’s unwillingness to resolve theological, political and procedural issues raised by the SBC in recent years. These unresolved issues are at the heart of the SBC study committee’s recommendation that will be addressed in Nashville Feb. 16-17 — and in all likelihood — voted on by SBC messengers in Indianapolis.

Since being hit in the pocketbook, much of the BWA leadership has become increasingly bitter as reflected in the breadth and tone of their response to the SBC’s action. In recent weeks BWA supporters have referred to Southern Baptists as “heretics” and “fundamentalists,” a term often used pejoratively to try to associate Southern Baptists with radical religious zealots like Islamic fundamentalists. What are some of the BWA transgressions that prompted the SBC study committee to bring the BWA and Southern Baptists to this moment?


Anti-Americanism has been in existence in the BWA for many years, something to be expected when you have so many Third World countries as members and the world is in the throes of the Cold War, which was the case for much of the 20th century. But it took on more significance when people like Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu were wooed by the BWA to be guest speakers. Such was the case with Tutu in 1988. A self-described socialist who finds Marxist thinking useful, Tutu has said he detests capitalism. He is a frequent critic of the United States and he once described Jesus as a revolutionary similar to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and the late Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung, two of America’s most notorious enemies.

Another incident occurred on Jan. 5, 2000, at the BWA Congress in Melbourne, Australia, when H. Beecher Hicks Jr., senior minister of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., remarked during his evening keynote address:

“Consider the nations of the Pacific Rim, consider the sweatshops of developing countries where countless thousands suffer under the oppressive yoke of forced labor and little pay, fueled by American greed and materialism.”

Such remarks are typical of the “blame America crowd.” America certainly has committed its share of sin, but why should Southern Baptists — most of whom at least have some conception of man’s depraved state as the reason for such sin — pay to promote such offensive, political rhetoric?

Perhaps the most outrageous anti-American remarks came by Lotz prior to the organization’s controversial trip to Cuba in July 2000. Lotz, a longtime vocal proponent of lifting the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba implemented by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, issued a statement on Dec. 3, 1998, calling on the U.S. to end the embargo and characterizing the U.S. action as “a failed policy.” He went on to say “the embargo prevents Christians from performing their Gospel requirements of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick.” If China and other more repressive countries are open to trade, Lotz argued, why not Cuba?

The answer is easy. Unlike China, which seems to be more open to democratic/capitalistic reforms, Cuba remains under the oppressive communist yoke of Castro. Lotz wrongly puts the blame on the U.S. embargo. If the embargo is keeping Christians from performing their Gospel requirement, as Lotz said, then how did he and other Baptists get into Cuba in 2000? The blame belongs to Castro and his brutal policies, not the freedom-loving United States.

Lotz recommended that the BWA hold its global gathering in Havana in July 2000, despite the continuing U.S. embargo. Lotz’ argument rang hollow particularly after the findings of a 2001 International Trade Commission report stated that the embargo had little impact on the Cuban economy. Even without sanctions, Cuba’s own policies would limit trade, according to the federal report, believed to be the most comprehensive study ever undertaken on the embargo. “Cuba … tends to select its trade and investment partners based on political considerations — the desire to maintain economic ties with existing partners and to avoid becoming economically dependent on a single country — rather than economic cost factors,” the report said.

The issue is not whether the BWA or Southern Baptists should go to Cuba to minister to fellow believers and the unchurched. Southern Baptists absolutely must go and those who do are to be commended for their bravery and commitment to our Lord’s Great Commission. That work must continue with strong financial support and endless prayer. The issue is whether we further legitimize a ruthless dictator, not by going to Cuba, but by what we say before, during and after we are there.

Lotz was not satisfied with just going to Havana. He wanted the BWA to pass a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo against Cuba and calling for its termination. The resolution was brought forward and BWA leaders immediately insisted that it rose above international political concerns. “We’re concerned not with the government, but with the people of Cuba,” Lotz said. But the problem is that under Castro’s communist regime the people belong to the government. They are one in the same and any dealings with the people are always under the watchful eye — and ultimately the intimidating influence — of “Big Brother.” Lotz went on to say “the Cuban people are the ones suffering from the boycott.” Notice how he once again puts the blame on the United States?

Thank God for Morris Chapman, who courageously protested, noting all the weight of the resolution was upon the country that applies the sanctions (the U.S.). “[B]ut there is no weight upon the country that causes the oppression,” Chapman said. As a result, the resolution was amended to call only for a lifting of medicine and food sanctions. It passed and just a few months later Congress voted to do the same.

No doubt many of the people who went to Cuba in 2000 did not go to appease Castro, but truly to minister. They are to be admired. However, Christians must never forget the danger of — through our words — cowering to evil men like Castro, who has brutalized 11 million Cubans for more than four decades. Southern Baptists do not negotiate with dictators.

On July 8, 2000, BWA leaders and members attended a function hosted by Castro. Lotz declared that Castro “understands religion can play a significant role in the life of people, in Cuban society and even in helping international relations.”

This was a startling comment given that between 1959 — when Castro came to power — and the early 1990s more than 100,000 Cubans did “hard time” for their religious and political beliefs in Castro’s gulags. Approximately 16,000 people were executed during that period, mostly by firing squads.

There is no evidence that Castro is changing. As recently as 1994 Castro proclaimed, “[I] would rather die than abandon the revolution.”

While it is true Castro has periodically eased persecution of the church, he has always reverted to form by ordering crackdowns. In just one year — 1961 — Castro forced 3,400 priests and nuns into exile. In 1969 Castro abolished the celebration of Christmas. He recently lifted the ban but, as in the past, could reinstitute it any time.

Amnesty International, known more for its liberal than conservative leanings, put the number of political prisoners in Cuba in 1997 between 980 and 2,500, many of those women and children. Abortion continues to be encouraged by the government and is widespread among Cuban women.

A Christian organization that watches Cuba reported on Feb. 4, 1999, that government officials confiscated and burned thousands of Bibles from the U.S. because they were considered “subversive books.”

Castro’s regime harasses and jails dissidents, restricts economic activity, and forces Cubans into the sea in a desperate bid for freedom. (Remember little Elian Gonzalez and his mother — who drowned — while trying to escape Cuba on a makeshift vessel for the freedom of U.S. shores?) Castro harbors fugitives from American justice; hosts a sophisticated Russian espionage facility that intercepts U.S. government and private communications; and has ordered his air force to shoot down two unarmed U.S. civilian airplanes since 1998, killing American citizens.


By July 2003, too many BWA members’ views toward the SBC had deteriorated to the point of schism. J.D. Greear, a BWA participant and Southern Baptist pastor from Durham, N.C., became a target of liberals during a July 10 panel discussion at the BWA’s global meeting in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. When Greear asked whether the BWA was willing to unequivocally affirm that a conscious decision to receive Christ was necessary for salvation, he was vocally mocked by a considerable number in attendance.

“I was really shocked that some other participants jeered when I asked the question, but was even more alarmed that Denton Lotz dismissed it as a ‘theological issue’ that we weren’t going to discuss further,” a stunned Greear said. “I can’t think of anything more basic or more Baptistic than proclaiming you have to consciously receive Christ to be saved.”

At the BWA’s 2002 meeting in Seville, Spain, a 10-minute tirade against the International Mission Board was allowed to continue uninterrupted though it was not the subject under discussion, Paige Patterson reminded BWA leaders last year.

“In the dozen or so years I’ve been participating in BWA meetings, I have never known of another member body being subjected, by name, to open criticism and censure. Not only was there no attempt on the part of BWA staff leadership to defuse the situation, there was no opportunity given to Southern Baptists to answer or refute the charges,” Patterson said.

In May 2001 Southern Baptists learned the extent of the late George Younger’s liberalism when he and his wife called for full rights for homosexuals. Younger was the BWA’s representative to the United Nations at the time. He also signed the infamous SIECUS (Sex Information and Education Council of the United States) clergy appeal defending homosexuality. Formed in 1964, SIECUS endorses incest, believes that children of any age should be able to have sex and that homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual activities are morally neutral. Perhaps one of their more troubling statements is, “Fear-based abstinence programs exaggerate the negative consequences of premarital sex.”

Ecumenism seems to have crept into the BWA as well. In January 2002 Lotz joined Pope John Paul II and about 200 religious leaders, including representatives of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Bahai, at the Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi, Italy.

Younger also participated in a 1999 service at the Church Center for the United Nations that included pagan elements and the ultra-liberal National Council of Churches (NCC). The NCC’s immediate past president, Joan Campbell Brown, is a longtime pal of Castro.

Tutu, who was a featured speaker at the BWA’s summer meeting in 1988, rejects the inerrancy of Scripture. Additionally, in November 1978 Tutu said the Holy Spirit shined through Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi and in 1980 he suggested that Jesus may have been an illegitimate son. (Since addressing the BWA, Tutu also has called for the ordination of homosexuals into the Gospel ministry.)

The BWA seems to have become infatuated with Tutu’s Anglican denomination. So much so that it launched a five-year “conversation” in 2000 with the denomination, which includes the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in America.

Tony Cupit, a key BWA staff member, was so excited about the talks that he told Baptist Press in February 2003 that ” … there was a general agreement that those areas of faith and life that we share in common far outweigh the areas where there are differences between us.”

Anglicans practice infant baptism and ordain women priests. They also recognize seven sacraments and falsely believe these are channels of God’s grace. More recently the denomination has made headlines after an openly homosexual priest was ordained a bishop in New Hampshire by the Episcopal Church. The ordination of homosexuals threatens to rip the worldwide Anglican community apart.

While it is true Southern Baptists had a controversial several-years-long talk with Roman Catholic leaders recently, those talks rightly came to a conclusion after sides discussed issues for which there is mutual concern, i.e., abortion, and it became clear that the Roman Catholic Church remained unwilling to abandon the apostasy that triggered the Protestant Reformation.


The CBF, formed in 1991 by disgruntled moderates who opposed the conservative direction of the SBC, has been careful not to identify itself as a denomination, although it has all the features of one. It has its own missionaries, a pension plan, foundation, publications, news service, seminaries, ethics agency and a likeminded publishing house. But the organization has avoided calling itself a denomination for a variety of reasons, most notably because in many of the churches it controls there are conservative members who refuse to sever their SBC ties. The reverse is also true particularly in states like Missouri where the CBF has few churches, but perhaps hundreds have small cadres of pro-CBF members who will not leave the church even though the church remains supportive of the SBC. This is important to understand because of the way the CBF counts the number of churches that participate in its “network.” If just one member, from one church, contributes money to the CBF, then the CBF claims the whole church as one that is participating. All this makes CBF leaders measure their pronouncements carefully or else they risk splitting badly needed congregations and/or losing contributing members. For this reason CBF leaders have been reluctant to publicly announce a split from the SBC, and that is important because it is at the heart of the disagreement between the SBC and the BWA.

Three years ago the CBF applied for membership in the BWA, in a move described by the CBF-related news service Associated Baptist Press as an effort “to enhance its status among the world’s Baptists.” But the CBF application was turned down because the group had not officially broken from the SBC. In addition, the CBF and SBC have been locked in a war of words for a decade, and attempts have been made by moderates — many with CBF connections — to seize control of Southern Baptist institutions by creating self-perpetuating trustee boards.

So-called “Mainstream Baptists” and “Baptists Committed” organizations, serving as political front groups for the CBF, have popped up in nearly every SBC state. “The CBF continues to focus on deception and criticism of the SBC while it attempts to entice Southern Baptist churches away from the SBC, and into the CBF fold,” Patterson told a BWA panel last July. With all this upheaval it is easy to see why the BWA originally rejected CBF membership.

But in the last 18 months the BWA membership committee had shifted its view, shocking SBC leaders on July 12, 2002, by announcing that the CBF membership question would be put before the entire BWA membership. The BWA membership committee invited two SBC representatives, O.S. Hawkins, president of the Annuity Board, and retired Judge Paul Pressler of Texas to express the concerns of Southern Baptists about CBF membership. The two men brought several concerns before the committee: 1) The CBF is not a separate convention as required by BWA bylaws. 2) Pressler told the committee about a breakout session at the 2003 CBF General Assembly meeting in which a leader gave a lecture titled, “The Plan(s) of Salvation: When Conversion and Pluralism Collide,” which raised questions about whether the CBF holds to the exclusivity and sufficiency of Jesus to save all and is the only way to God. 3) The tendency by the CBF to continually attack and misrepresent the SBC, as well as its beliefs and practices. The two men provided the committee with news articles, speeches and presentations from the 2003 CBF meeting that demonstrated the belligerent attitudes and actions of the CBF toward the SBC. For example, Tony Campolo, a CBF keynote speaker, asserted that the SBC is guilty of espousing an “evil” position by not allowing women to serve as senior pastors. At the WMU’s annual meeting in Salt Lake City in 1998, Campolo referred to Southern Baptists as a bunch of “suckers.” Pressler also cited the attack of David Currie of Texas, who is in charge of the so-called Baptists Committed organizations popping up in several states. Currie, a longtime CBF apologist, once charged Patterson with being a “well-meaning theological pervert.”

Despite the efforts of SBC leaders, the membership committee recommended that the General Council approve the application for membership first filed by the CBF in 2001 and re-filed in 2002. On July 11, 2003, the membership voted by secret ballot to approve the CBF’s application — provided the CBF declares itself to be distinct from the SBC. Chapman rightly pointed out that such an act was contradictory because on the one hand the committee was saying the CBF has made a clean break with the SBC, while on the other hand, stating they want affirmation that the CBF has done so.

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.”

CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal claims that the organization declared itself a denomination in the fall of 2002, but if they did they must have mumbled it. In June 2002, Vestal stated to Baptist Press the group had told the BWA that CBF has “150 churches that have no relationship to the SBC at all” but relate to the CBF. The depths of anti-SBC sentiment in the BWA must indeed run deep when you vote to accept 150 churches and lose 42,000.

In short, the BWA membership committee broke its own rules by not waiting for the CBF to mend its fences with the SBC (a process that will take a generation even if it started today, in my opinion) and by allowing the application to go before the full BWA membership — where anti-SBC sentiment is at an all-time high. The level of anti-SBC sentiment can be seen in the vote margin by which the CBF’s membership was approved, 75-28.

Ian Hawley, chairman of the BWA membership committee, noted that floor discussion on the inflammatory CBF membership application was minimized to guard against “anti-SBC rhetoric that would unduly influence the process.”


Since the SBC study committee announced that it would recommend to the Executive Committee that the SBC sever its ties with the BWA, the BWA through its Internet site, the CBF news service ABP, SBC state newspapers still controlled by moderate editors and trustee boards, and the secular news media have bombarded readers and viewers with stories about the coming split in hopes of swaying public opinion among Southern Baptists. I have been shocked at the breadth and tone of much that has been reported. The BWA has compiled comments from dozens of Baptist leaders around the world commenting on the controversy, with some expressing regret and kindness. Others are downright mean. For example, Thorwald Lorenzen, pastor of Canberra Baptist Church in Australia, wrote this: “The issue is the arrogant hunger for power and the lack of humility. Because Southern Baptists have numerical and financial power, therefore they want to rule. If they don’t get their way, they threaten and withdraw.” In another letter he wrote, “If there is something like truth and heresy — and if the church through the ages is right by defining truth and heresy with reference to the humanity and divinity of Christ and with reference to the Trinitarian understanding of God — then the fundamentalism of the SBC is a heresy just as claiming that the infallibility of the pope is a heresy.” His comments were posted on the “Mainstream Baptists” website. Lorenzen’s sentiments have been echoed by moderate state newspaper editors as well.

Given the problems posed by continuing SBC membership in the BWA, is there anything that the BWA can do for the SBC that the SBC cannot do by relating directly with likeminded Baptist unions and conventions around the world? No.

Not only can the Southern Baptists Convention walk united with other theologically sound Baptists, but it can lead in world evangelization through its two mission agencies and through partnerships involving state conventions and individual mission-minded churches. Southern Baptists can respond like no other denomination to people in need through our vast disaster relief resources and through the prayers and generosity of special offerings and projects by state conventions, churches and wealthy believers. Southern Baptists are poised to vigorously defend human rights and have a strong voice in the person of Richard Land on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Southern Baptists also must continue to pray for the BWA and pray that it will repent and once again take its place alongside Bible-believing Baptists. Southern Baptists also reserve the right to continue to relate to ongoing members of the BWA who believe as we do.

There came a day when Paul and Barnabas parted ways. Sadly, that day has arrived for Southern Baptists and the BWA as well.
Don Hinkle is editor of The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

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