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Messengers reject recommendation asking WMU to reaffirm SBC loyalty

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–An Executive Committee recommendation for Woman’s Missionary Union to reaffirm its loyalty to the Southern Baptist Convention failed in a vote by messengers on the opening day of the SBC’s June 13-14 annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C.

The Executive Committee had adopted the recommendation in a meeting the previous day by an overwhelming majority.

The recommendation asked the 118-year-old auxiliary of the SBC to “reaffirm explicitly in [its] governing documents and promotional materials the WMU’s historic, unique, and exclusive promotion of Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries” and/or “become an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention in a manner following the form of the other SBC entities and acceptable to the Convention.”

The recommendation came in response to a motion at the 2005 SBC annual meeting questioning the WMU’s allegiance to the SBC, which was referred to the Executive Committee.

Wanda Lee, WMU executive director/treasurer, told messengers the organization’s current status as an auxiliary works well and should not be changed. She added that the WMU wants to be a promoter, not a recipient, of Cooperative Program funds.

A difficulty with the recommendation is that it would require extensive changes in both WMU and SBC bylaws and changes in the WMU trustee-selection process, she said.

“We have had a singular purpose for all of these years, and it continues to this day — and that is missions,” Lee said. “We exist for the sole purpose of equipping our churches for missions education and missions involvement.
“Also for 118 years WMU women have paid their own way. We at the national office have never been a part of the Cooperative Program allocation budget. We have been its greatest promoters, and therefore, as an auxiliary, which means helper, we desire to continue to be a promoter and not one who receives the funds.”

WMU President Kaye Miller urged messengers to defeat the recommendation, saying that a poll of the WMU executive board reveals that members desire to remain an auxiliary.

“We would ask that you honor our board of trustees’ decision and vote no on this recommendation,” Miller said.

Mike Hamlet, pastor of First Baptist North Spartanburg in Spartanburg, S.C., and chairman of the Executive Committee’s administrative subcommittee, told messengers the recommendation is not an attack against the WMU, but an opportunity for “openness” and “further understanding.”

“No one in here should think that we are mandating to the WMU what they should do. We understand that they are an auxiliary. There was great support yesterday in [the Executive Committee] for the WMU. And yet there are questions out there that come to us from the convention, and the convention wants these questions answered,” he said, adding, “We believe those questions deserve to be answered.”

Joy Bolton, executive director/treasurer of the Kentucky WMU, spoke against the recommendation and said there is no reason to question the WMU’s allegiance to the SBC.

“I invite you to come by the WMU booth, examine any piece of WMU literature,” she said. “You will find that WMU teaches and promotes Southern Baptist missions from cover to cover. Come by our archives in Birmingham and examine past issues. This has always been the case and always will be.”

After the vote, Lee told Baptist Press, “We greatly appreciate the affirmation of the Southern Baptist Convention, entrusting us to do what we have been called to do for 118 years. This [convention decision] allows us to move forward without distractions as we look forward to engaging more people in missions.”

The previous day, when the Executive Committee debated the issue, Randall James, president of the First Orlando Foundation at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., and chairman of the Executive Committee’s bylaws workgroup, praised the WMU for its consistent promotion of Southern Baptist missions but said there is a need for the organization to declare its loyalty to the SBC.

“We felt like we needed a little further clarification as to their identity … ,” he said at the June 12 Executive Committee session. “… Our understanding is that from the beginning, when it became an auxiliary, that they did commit in all their promotional material that they would be [committed] exclusively to the SBC. We just wanted to confirm that that was still their intention.”

Lee said in a letter read at the Executive Committee meeting that WMU values its partnership with SBC missions organizations.

“We value our Southern Baptist partners and are committed to being proactive in strengthening relationships with them,” Lee wrote. “We agree that through collaboration and coordination with our SBC mission boards, healthy partnerships would flourish and a new sense of excitement and synergy surrounding Southern Baptist missions would emerge.”

Lee added that the WMU desires to remain an auxiliary of the SBC and will continue to promote the Cooperative Program along with the convention’s international and North American mission offerings.

“We firmly believe that our role as an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention works very well and desire no change in our status,” she wrote. “We count it a privilege to tell the stories of Southern Baptist missionaries in our magazines and fully intend to continue this tradition in the future. Likewise, we will continue to actively promote the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering as well as the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. We do all of this because we wholeheartedly accept the mandate of the Great Commission so that all the world may know our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Sarah C. (Lynn) Talley, an Executive Committee member from Nitro, W.Va., proposed an amendment of the recommendation deleting all requests that the WMU reaffirm its commitment to the SBC. Instead, Talley proposed that the recommendation state “that the Southern Baptist Convention accept the auxiliary status of the Women’s Missionary Union.”

The amendment was defeated by a large majority of EC members.

“There is no question about where their allegiance lies,” Talley said, defending the WMU’s loyalty to the SBC. “Every missionary who is featured in their [publications] is a Southern Baptist missionary.”

Executive Committee chairman Rob Zinn emphasized that the WMU recommendation did not originate in the Executive Committee but came as a result of concerns from the convention.

“This didn’t originate with us,” he said. “We are simply doing the work of the convention. … All we’re simply trying to do is what the convention is asking us to do.”

Hamlet emphasized that the recommendation would help the WMU and the SBC by providing an opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings.

In Executive Committee meetings “there was great support expressed for the WMU,” he said. “That was no question. But there are some questions out there. It is to our advantage and the advantage of the WMU to clear that up.”