News Articles

Funding of Southern Baptist missions called Texas’ next anti-SBC possibility

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (BP)–Southern Baptists expressed brokenheartedness and outrage after the Baptist General Convention of Texas voted Oct. 30 to redirect $5.3 million from Southern Baptist Convention seminaries and agencies to more liberal theological schools and to various ministries in Texas.

“Of course this is a repudiation of the Cooperative Program,” declared Mac Brunson, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, following the vote, concerning Southern Baptists’ cornerstone channel of support for missions ministries nationally and internationally.

“I am brokenhearted over this. Those seminaries train our missionaries,” Brunson said. The BGCT action “essentially said, ‘Let’s hold Texas close to God and [forget] the rest of the world … .”

The report of the BGCT’s theological education study committee to redirect $4.3 million from the SBC’s six seminaries to three Texas schools was approved on a raised ballot vote by an estimated 60 percent to 40 percent margin among 6,475 registered messengers gathered in Corpus Christi. Many conservative messengers left and were not present for a later vote to defund the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Executive Committee. That measure passed by a ballot vote of 4,194 to 1,446, or 75 percent to 25 percent.

“You mark my words, the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board are the next ones to be defunded,” Brunson warned.

The BGCT continues to study its relationship with the two SBC mission agencies, with a report due next year. Re-elected BGCT President Clyde Glazener sounded a pessimistic tone, indicating that working more cooperatively with Southern Baptist leaders in future funding talks might prove difficult. He said the BGCT has particular concerns about NAMB’s relationship with the new, more conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The fledgling group has drawn more than 400 new churches into its camp since its founding two years ago, and rumors continue to circulate that many more of the 6,000 BGCT churches may join the SBTC in response to Monday’s anti-SBC votes.

In what may have been a “trial balloon,” Greg Smith, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church of Denison, moved to amend the BGCT’s $52 million budget by deleting all $19 million earmarked for the SBC this year. Jeff Bauman, pastor of First Baptist Church of Winona, supported Smith’s motion, saying, “If we are gonna do this, let’s do it all the way.” The motion, however, failed by a wide margin.

The new Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, in the wake of the vote, announced Oct. 31 a “Great Commission Partners in the Harvest” plan to deliver half of all in-state undesignated receipts above its annual budget to Southern Baptist agencies impacted by the BGCT vote.

“The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is enthusiastic toward and committed to the worldwide work of Southern Baptists,” from work in Texas to missionaries around the world, said Jim Richards, SBTC’s executive director.

The BGCT vote to defund the SBC’s six seminaries Oct. 30 came after a 15-minute presentation by the BGCT theological education study committee chairman Bob Campbell and more than a half-hour of debate.

Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology in Abilene and Hispanic Baptist Theological School in San Antonio, with under 550 students, will receive an additional $4.3 million in funding through the “preferred” Cooperative Program giving plan in 2001.

If CP giving in 2001 matches previous giving, the six SBC seminaries, with more than 12,000 students enrolled, will receive a maximum of $1 million in undesignated funds next year. The seminaries would have received an estimated $5.3 million in 2001 if there had been no changes.

If churches, however, direct more than $1 million to the SBC seminaries, then the maximum will be considered met, and the remaining theological education funds given through the preferred plan will go to the Texas schools. Funds that go to the SBC seminaries through the preferred giving plan will be divided on a formula based on the number of Texas students in each school.

Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the defunding of the SBC seminaries “a very destructive process.”

“Not only is it not fair, but it’s not global,” he said, referring to 235 international students attending Southwestern. “About 80 percent of all Texas Baptist students go to Southwestern and 44 percent of Southwestern’s student body are Texans, yet the BGCT has accounted for 7.5 percent of [our] budget. Now it will go down to 3.3 percent.”

Wade said the BGCT leadership considered separating Southwestern and Golden Gate seminaries from the defunding proposal but did not follow through because both seminaries chose to stand united with their sister institutions.

William Crews, president of Golden Gate and the SBC’s Council of Seminary Presidents, said the vote meant “not only a significant loss of money — and some will be more affected than others — but it is also a loss of partnership.”

Claude Thomas, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Euless and chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, said he believes most Texas churches will continue to support the six seminaries. He also noted that 14.5 percent of all students in the six SBC seminaries are from Texas, yet BGCT funding only amounts to 14 percent of the seminaries’ budgets.

“We don’t need to be cutting, we need to be carrying more of the financial load,” Thomas said.

The defunding of SBC seminaries and agencies is the latest example of the estrangement that exists between SBC and BGCT leaders, as many as 20 of whom have ties to the anti-SBC Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and one of its surrogate political organizations, Texas Baptists Committed. The CBF and TBC had scheduled meetings Tuesday in Corpus Christi.

BGCT leaders campaigned hard for the defunding proposal. The BGCT mailed out thousands of audiotapes featuring Wade discussing the issues dividing the SBC and BGCT. A letter from former President Jimmy Carter accompanied the tapes, with Carter reiterating his disapproval of the SBC and his allegiance to the CBF. The BGCT also waged a statewide advertising campaign to enhance its image prior to the convention. The campaign included radio and television ads, along with billboards, one along Interstate 37 just outside Corpus Christi which says, “Putting God’s Word to Work.”

BGCT leaders’ dissatisfaction with the SBC’s conservative direction was voiced by several from their ranks at the SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., in June before messengers overwhelmingly approved a 2000 version of the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs.

Wade, in Corpus Christi, criticized Southern Baptist leaders for bringing to Baptists a “non-Baptist confession of faith. And they have proceeded to use it in a non-Baptist fashion … as a creed rather than as a confession of faith.

“I know there are those who question my judgment in this matter,” Wade told messengers in his report, “but I simply point that never before have Baptists adopted a statement of faith that claims to be an ‘instrument of doctrinal accountability.'”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has called such claims “nonsense.” In a statement during the BGCT-SBC controversy he pointed out that the BGCT in 1895 voted to seat only messengers from churches that affirmed its articles of faith.

It is the BGCT that “must at least admit that it is their leadership that has moved away from theological accountability — not the SBC,” Mohler said. “Without a confession of faith there is no legal or disciplinary procedure for accountability” to Baptist churches.

Wade, during his report to messengers in Corpus Christi, also called on Southern Baptist leaders to “discuss with Texas Baptists appropriate ways that the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message can be modified. It would be a truly Baptist act for them to desire to make this document big enough to include all of us in the Southern Baptist family,” he said.

Wade also implied there is widespread dissatisfaction with the BFM, saying, “Texas Baptists are not the only ones upset.”

But such a discussion seems unlikely given the will of the messengers to this year’s SBC meeting and proposed resolutions to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message by state conventions in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana and Arkansas.

No one knows when or how many churches might leave the BGCT. A handful of conservative pastors, who declined to be identified, met Monday night to discuss their options. Most observers believe there will be gradual erosion in BGCT membership over the next few years, with churches loyal to the SBC either joining the new SBTC or sending their gifts directly to the SBC.

The action, in light of speculation that the BGCT is in the process of forming a new convention, prompted Glazener to state, “We’re not bent on forming a new denomination.”

Glazener noted, “Every time the SBC does something, it seems that Texas has to make some kind of move to insure Texas people will still be free. Consequently, we do keep finding ourselves doing things that would generate a full-service convention. That didn’t start out as our intention.”

Messengers to the BGCT approved a change to its constitution that allows members of BGCT churches located outside the state to serve on governing boards of the convention’s agencies and institutions.

BGCT has fewer than half a dozen churches that are in other states, said Phil Strickland, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission. “They’re basically in border communities,” he said.

However, Associated Baptist Press, a news service sympathetic to and partly funded by the BGCT, reported, “Some say the change opens the door for the Texas convention to become a national body rivaling the SBC.”

    About the Author

  • Don Hinkle