ST. LOUIS (BP)–Controversy over the International Mission Board’s recent decision to ask missionaries to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message reached the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention June 11. Two messengers moved that changes be made in the board’s current practice of asking missionaries to affirm the faith statement.
One of the messengers, Bruce Prescott, from First Baptist Church, Norman, Okla., has been a frequent critic of the SBC in his role as executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists.
Prescott, in a motion concerning missionary appointments, moved that messengers vote by ballot to instruct the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board to “grandfather in” those missionaries appointed to service under the 1925 and 1963 Baptist Faith and Message statements and rescind any policy requiring missionaries to sign the faith statement as a condition for continuing service.
Prescott stated in his motion that such a policy would be fair to missionaries who “have been called by God, dually approved and appointed by previous administrations and who have served the Lord and Southern Baptists, but cannot sign the Baptist Faith and Message in good conscience.” The motion was seconded and referred to the SBC Committee on Order of Business.
Robert Casey, a messenger from Parkview Baptist Church in Gainesville, Fla., a congregation affiliated with the breakaway Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida, made the second motion, that messengers vote by ballot to rescind the current policy of “requiring missionaries, called by God, faithfully tested and dually appointed by our missionary boards according to biblical standards, our Southern Baptist Convention constitution, article nine, and Baptist Faith and Message 1925, to sign the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a condition to continuing their appointment to serve.” Casey’s motion also was referred to the Committee on Order of Business.
The motions were made in response to a January letter from IMB President Jerry Rankin asking the missionaries to affirm the faith statement. Rankin explained in a February news release that missionaries were not being coerced into signing the document. “On the contrary,” Rankin wrote, “missionaries are being asked to sign a statement that their beliefs are consistent with the current BF&M and that they will carry out their work in accordance with it.”
In February, the Baptist General Convention of Texas revolted against Rankin’s decision and voted to establish a transition fund for any missionary who could not sign the statement in good conscience, leading the trustees of the IMB to endorse Rankin’s letter in a Kansas City, Mo., meeting March 14-15.
Larry Cox, IMB vice president of mobilization, accused such groups as the BGCT of “manufacturing a crisis where none exists.”
Casey, however, claimed that the crisis was a real concern among convention messengers.
When Ron Rogers, chairman of the Committee on Order of Business, announced in an afternoon business session that the motions would be referred to both the IMB and NAMB, Casey appealed the chair’s ruling and asked that his motion be debated and voted on.
“This is a problem that has caused this convention to be at war,” Casey said. “I feel that it is basically unfair and unjust for the missionaries appointed under our biblical standards and our guidelines. These men and women have served faithfully…. They were appointed prior to the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”
Prescott also spoke in favor of Casey’s appeal.
“If the trustees can hold missionaries accountable, who holds the trustees accountable?” he asked. “I believe it is the messengers gathered here this week in St. Louis.”
Both Casey and Rogers appealed to article nine of the SBC Constitution. While Casey argued that the BF&M requirement violates article nine, Rogers disagreed.
Rogers quoted article nine, which states, “All missionaries appointed by the Convention’s boards must, previous to their appointment, furnish evidence of piety, zeal for the Master’s kingdom, conviction of truth as held by Baptists, and talents for missionary service.”
“We are looking at the character of men and women. It is an issue that each entity — NAMB and IMB — is responsible to take care of,” Rogers said. He also said that referring the resolution would allow the NAMB and IMB trustees more time for study.
“We believe and we trust in the trustees of these entities that they can make the right decisions as they have time to study it,” Rogers said. “We do not have time to study this in this quick of a fashion. Over the years we have trusted our trustees.”
Casey’s motion failed to gain the two-thirds vote needed to overrule the chair. It was referred to NAMB and the IMB for further study.
Ten additional motions were introduced June 11. Rogers reported in an evening session that eight of the motions were referred because they addressed the internal operation of a convention entity and two were ruled out of order.
A motion referred to the Executive Committee called on messengers to instruct the committee to establish a policy according to which it would accept funds from only one convention per state. The motion was made by Bob Stephenson of Norman, Okla.
Two motions referred to LifeWay Christian Resources asked that:
— Messengers instruct LifeWay “to develop and distribute a training program emphasizing God’s three principles of spiritual missionary empowerment for everyone based on Matthew 6: 1-18.” The motion was made by Robert Casey of Gainesville, Fla.
— A ministry be founded to encourage and mentor the children and teenagers of pastors, music ministers, youth pastors and missionaries. The motion was voiced by Rebekah Britt of Woodstock, Ga.
Three motions referred to the North American Mission Board asked that:
— Messengers instruct the board not only to refrain from the appointment and ordination of female chaplains, but also to withdraw the ordination of any ordained female already serving and remove any female chaplain serving as the pastor of a military or hospital chapel congregation. The motion was made by William Blosch of Dunedin, Fla.
— Trustees of the board restore a Bible verse deleted from the Eternal Life Tract. The motion was made by Fred Winters of Maryville, Ill.
— The board develop evangelism strategies specifically targeting disabled persons, including the learning disabled. The motion was voiced by David Rice of Pompano Beach, Fla.
A motion referred to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission urged the commission to monitor the recent changes in the structure of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other government agencies and inform the messengers of the ramifications of such changes on religious liberty. The motion was made by Timothy Faber of Lafayette, Ind.
A motion referred to the Annuity Board urged messengers to instruct the board’s trustees to begin immediately pulling out all investments in companies selling alcoholic beverages. The motion was voiced by Jimmy Owen of Brinkley, Ark.