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NABC notifies BJCPA of intent to defund, break away

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. (BP)–Leaders of the 400-church North American Baptist Conference (NABC) took major steps toward withdrawing the denomination from membership in the controversial Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs (BJCPA).

On June 2 the NABC General Council unanimously approved a motion declaring “that the North American Baptist Conference suspend its membership in the BJCPA, serving notice of intent to withdraw from the BJCPA, effective June 30, 2002.”

The theologically conservative NABC has four members on the BJCPA board of directors and contributes approximately $4,500.00 annually to the BJCPA.

Including the NABC, the BJCPA web site lists 14 supporting bodies, among them the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the North Carolina Baptist Convention, and the Alliance of Baptists.

Citing theological and social stances of the BJCPA as contrary to Scripture, the Southern Baptist Convention withdrew its affiliation and financial support of the BJCPA in the early 1990s and created its own agency to address social issues, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC.

The motion instructs current NABC delegates to the BJCPA to submit motions at the Committee that require BJCPA officers and staff:

(1) To refrain from active or public participation on the staff’s or boards of other lobbying groups.

(2) To refrain from public statements, or active participation in partisan or potentially partisan activities on questions of political process beyond the narrow and explicit mandate of the BJCPA mission.

(3) To delete or withdraw public commentary in its electronic or print media that includes partisan political commentary (beyond the BJCPA’s mandate) by former and current staff members.

“The notice of intent to withdraw will only be reconsidered if our BJCPA delegation reports a commitment to these conditions at the 2002 General Council meeting.”

“While those are important steps, the most important thing to do is stop lending them our name,” said Bob Fischer, a layman who triggered the sweeping NABC action by presenting his findings of a four-year investigation of the BJCPA’s theology and politics to the 35-person General Council, the NABC’s top governing body which represents the 22 associations in the United States and Canada that comprise the denomination.

Fischer, a member of South Canyon Baptist Church in Rapid City, S.D., said the BJCPA first got his attention with its hostile stances toward school prayer. He later found the BJCPA’s views on homosexuality and abortion to be liberal and at odds with what NABC churches believe. After examining the positions of the BJCPA over a four-year period he took his findings to the South Dakota Association of the NABC in 1998. By an 80-20 percent margin delegates voted to take the issue before the General Council.

Fischer ultimately presented his findings to the General Council last year, prompting the body to appoint a committee to study the denomination’s relationship with the BJCPA. In its findings the study committee expressed concern to the General Council about the BJCPA’s affiliation with several politically liberal and activist organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Brent Walker, BJCPA executive director, is among those on the board of Americans United.

Americans United has opposed Southern Baptist churches and leaders on various issues in the past. Most recently Americans United opposed the First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls, Texas in a local issue. The church had called for public officials to direct a local public library to move two children’s books — both promoting the homosexual lifestyle — from the children’s section to a more restricted area within the library.

Walker accepted an invitation to participate in a question-and-answer session with the NABC General Council in Chicago. The cordial meeting did not sway either side and the General Council immediately passed the motion following Walker’s presentation on June 2.

Walker declined to comment for this report.

The NABC General Council particularly noted its displeasure with the BJCPA’s contribution to the 252-page political training manual entitled: “How to Win: A Practical Guide for Defeating the Radical Right in Your Community.” It identifies the “radical right” as Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition, the American Family Association, the Traditional Values Coalition, and Concerned Women for America.

The “How to Win” manual was a collaboration of more than 60 organizations ranging from the BJCPA and Penthouse International to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Abortion Federation. Walker is among 11 people cited under “Acknowledgements” at the front of the manual with “special thanks” for giving “hard work” which “made this manual a reality.” Others recognized with Walker include Tamar Abrams of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Alan Gambrell of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., and Matt Freeman and Virginia Witt of the People for the American Way.

Last month the People for the American Way threatened to sue the Massac County, Ill., School District No. 1 for its plan to include a new course in its curriculum called the “Bible as History.” The school district planned to use the Holman Bible Handbook, published by Broadman & Holman Publishers, LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC, as one of its textbooks.

“While it is lawful to teach public school students about the Bible as part of a course on religions or cultures, it is patently unconstitutional to teach students the content of the Bible as historical fact,” PAW said in a May 17 press release.

“Massac County school officials should also avoid use of the Holman Bible Handbook because it “is written not as an objective, academic text, suitable for a public school, but from a Christian perspective, and within that perspective, from the particular sectarian perspective of Protestantism,” the press release said.

Phil Yntema, NABC’s executive director, declined to speak to Baptist Press on the unanimously passed motion. However, his office did supply a copy of the motion.

“I think the motion is squishy,” Fischer said, “but the NABC is conservative and often acts in a deliberative way. Even though we still have a year for delegates to come back to the General Council and urge continued support of the BJCPA, I think there are enough people upset about it to make sure that the General Council follows through on its decision to pull out.”

Another NABC member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the NABC was concerned about its Christian witness before the world, but was not withdrawing “in anger” from the BJCPA, and that Walker was “gracious” in his question-and-answer session with the General Council. The member added that the motion will leave the denomination without a voice in Washington, D.C., and that some within the denomination may seek advice from the more conservative Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC.

“The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs and the North American Baptist Conference like all other Baptist entities are autonomous, self governing bodies,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC. Land was an SBC-elected BJCPA trustee before the SBC withdrew from the Committee.

“Consequently, like all other Baptist bodies, they determine for themselves with whom they will fellowship and with whom they will not,” Land said. “It seems as if the North American Baptist Conference has experienced some of the same unhappiness with the BJCPA and staff that the SBC experienced more than a decade ago.

“I hope that the North American Baptist Conference finds the BJCPA more responsive to its criticisms than did Southern Baptists, however, I’ve been accused of being an optimistic before.”

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  • Don Hinkle