ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship will reorganize this June in the wake of a disputed vote earlier this year to sever ties with the Southern Baptist Convention.
A letter earlier this year from James Austin, president of the fellowship, reported the organization had “terminated its association with the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to a statement released to national media representatives. The letter was sent to SBC President James Merritt.
Austin told Baptist Press he conducted a vote by mail of 28 member congregations and there were no votes against severing ties.
However, Jim Sibley, NAMB’s national coordinator for Jewish ministries and a member of the fellowship, disputes the action. Sibley said he personally had called “every congregational leader that I could think of and some independent members” — representing about 16 congregations — and none were even aware of the vote.
Michael Smith, an attorney who preceded Austin as president of the fellowship, said he believes the vote is invalid on purely legal grounds. The fellowship is tied by its constitution to the Southern Baptist Convention, he said, and the requirements for a constitutional change were not met.
“What Jim Austin has purported to do essentially is unconstitutional by the terms of our constitution,” said Smith, of Louisville, Ky.
Austin’s news release stated the decision came because of a perceived “lack of ethnic and cultural sensitivities” on the part of the convention and the North American Mission Board, the agency through which 22 ethnic fellowships relate to the SBC.
Sibley said Austin has been in disagreement with the North American Mission Board over the role of the fellowship in recent years — particularly in regard to church planting. Austin prefers the group take a lead role in planting new Messianic congregations, Sibley said.
“They had an entirely different understanding as what the fellowship was supposed to be,” Sibley said.
The reorganizational meeting of the fellowship will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 11 in a room to be announced at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.