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Merritt, Hemphill say BGCT proposal will hurt Texas Baptists if passed

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Calling the Cooperative Program a spirit and not just a program, Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt said a proposal by a Baptist General Convention of Texas committee to reduce funding to SBC seminaries represents an anti-SBC and uncooperative spirit that will ultimately hurt Texas Baptists.

“What we’re seeing is nothing short of the beginnings of the seeds of destruction sown in the relationship, in the historic relationship of 75 years through the Cooperative Program,” Merritt said.

“The Cooperative Program is not just a program. It’s a spirit. It’s an attitude. It’s as simple as ABC – All Baptists Cooperate,” Merritt said at a press conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Sept. 12.

Merritt and Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill responded to questions from the Fort Worth-Dallas news media regarding a proposal by a BGCT committee to cap funding to the six seminaries at $1 million and to divide the money according to the number of Texas students at each school. Under the proposal, more than $4 million will be sent to Texas Baptist seminaries, which currently enroll about 300 students.

“The Cooperative Program has proven in 75 years that it has been one of the greatest tools for evangelism, for winning people to Christ, for social ministry, for helping the hurting that has ever come along in the history of the church,” Merritt said.

Hemphill said he was not surprised by the committee’s proposal but is not anxious or frightened for the seminary because he knows God will provide.

“[The seminary] is a supernatural activity, and so we believe he will provide the resources,” he said.

The proposal, however, he added, would take away an opportunity for Texas Baptists to invest in the ministries of 1,300 Texas students enrolled at the seminary and in the more than 2,500 other students, including 228 from 45 other countries.

“I can’t imagine that our Texas Baptist friends don’t want to invest in our international students … to me the loss is on their side more than ours,” Hemphill said.

Pointing to a historic, strong relationship with Texas Baptist churches, Hemphill said that if the proposal is approved by the BGCT, “I believe our Texas Baptist friends will continue to support the Southern Baptist Convention and Southwestern.”

He added that the action might create “a glitch” as the school deals with budget issues, but that the real problem will be within churches who will be put in a difficult situation.

“It’s going to be divisive among our churches,” he said.

Merritt said the BGCT is putting itself in a dangerous situation.

“What are they going to do if local churches begin to take the same attitude toward them they’re taking toward the SBC?” he asked.

What if local churches say, he continued, “You know, we’ve got a lot of needs right here in our church, I’m not going to give any money to the BGCT. We’ve got more than enough projects right here.”

He said that such action would “destroy the whole spirit of cooperation that has made the Southern Baptist Convention what it has been and what the BGCT has been historically.

“It’s a sad day for everyone because what it becomes is a lose-lose situation.”

Merritt added that the proposal “is totally antithetical to the spirit of some of the greatest Texas Baptists that this state has ever seen,” citing B.H. Carroll, L.R. Scarborough and G.W. Truett, who Merritt called an inerrantist and “champion of the Cooperative Program.”

Merritt said he was not surprised but heartbroken and confused that this proposal would come at a time when all six seminaries have professors who believe in the infallibility of the Bible, teach the fundamentals of the faith and want to train preachers and teachers who want to win the world for Christ.

“I frankly am at a loss as to why any Southern Baptist in Texas or any other state for that matter would not enthusiastically want to support what’s going on in our six seminaries,” he said.

Merritt and Hemphill said that they do not believe that the BGCT proposal is representative of how the vast majority of Southern Baptists feel about the SBC and the Cooperative Program.

From his travels as SBC president, Merritt said he senses a tremendous spirit of cooperation in the state conventions.

Hemphill said he also senses an “incredible level of excitement” among Southern Baptists wherever he travels and “new partnering among Southern Baptists” to plant churches and reach the lost.

Acknowledging that distractions will come, he said that Southwestern will remain focused on its task and that God will honor that as churches continue to send their young people to receive theological education and training from a world-class faculty.

“We’re going to continue to turn out men and women who love the Bible, love the local church, and have a quest to lead people to Christ, and that’s what our churches are looking for,” he said.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: HEMPHILL AND MERRITT.

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  • Matt Sanders