WASHINGTON (BP)–The District of Columbia Baptist Convention has created a study committee to weigh a North American Mission Board proposal intended to more clearly define ministries supported by Southern Baptists. The DCBC’s executive director/minister, however, already has strongly criticized the proposal, saying it would undermine the autonomy of the convention.
The plan proposes to provide the D.C. convention with a NAMB-funded staff member who would “in consultation with the DCBC executive director, administer all NAMB funds … (and) supervise all jointly funded mission personnel.”
NAMB supplies nearly one-third of the D.C. convention’s $1.5 million annual budget but has expressed concern that the DCBC has “grown increasingly distant from the Southern Baptist Convention, its positions and priorities,” according to an initial written statement released to news media Dec. 10.
“The North American Mission Board has been concerned for some time that the significant differences between the three denominations with which the DCBC is aligned would make our partnership increasingly difficult,” said Robert E. Reccord, NAMB’s president. The D.C. convention has official partnerships with Southern Baptists, American Baptists and Progressive National Baptists. “Those differences are evident in each denomination’s theological directions, mission priorities, and financial commitments to the D.C. convention,” Reccord said.
“The proposal is our attempt to create a win-win solution by providing them with additional staffing while ensuring Southern Baptists that all money given by Southern Baptists will be used in ways consistent with the direction of our denomination,” Reccord said.
“This is not an edict or ultimatum, but a proposal,” he added. “We’re deeply disappointed that the DCBC leadership has chosen to publicly criticize the proposal rather than provide us with any feedback, invite us to any meetings or offer us any alternatives.”
Jeffrey Haggray, executive director/minister of the D.C. convention, criticized the proposal in an article carried in the DCBC monthly newsletter, the Capital Baptist. “The proposal would undermine our autonomy and subjugate the work of our departments and staff to an appointee from NAMB … segregating Southern Baptist churches from American Baptist and Progressive National Baptist churches,” Haggray wrote.
Haggray told Baptist Press, “Theological tenets don’t hold us together. Historic Baptist principles like autonomy and priesthood of the believer cross denominational lines and hold us together.”
Gary Frost, NAMB’s vice president for strategic partnerships, said, “Although there are some unavoidable issues that we must address, the proposal does not violate the autonomy of either entity.
“Each entity is autonomous and determines its own direction. The issue is not autonomy but partnership,” Frost said. “Autonomous entities choose who they want to partner with and how that partnership is defined. Our proposal in no way affects the autonomy of the DCBC. It suggests another way to partner in doing mission work.”
Harry Lewis, who coordinates NAMB’s partnerships with state Baptist conventions, also denied charges that the proposal violates the formal cooperative agreement between the two entities. “Our cooperative agreement with the DCBC defines responsibilities of the two autonomous entities, but does not outline our joint missions strategy because that can change annually. The proposal is our recommendation for a plan to carry out our joint mission work in the future,” Lewis said.
In addition to a new staff position, the proposal also calls for DCBC leadership to refrain from “denigrating the SBC,” speakers at DCBC meetings to “reflect theological tenets of the SBC,” and “criticism towards the SBC [to] follow the Biblical pattern of Matthew 18.”
“Those provisions were included to keep us from publicly criticizing one another,” Lewis said. “Increasingly, speakers at DCBC meetings and articles in their monthly newsletter have moved them further away from priorities and positions of the SBC on such issues as abortion, homosexuality and ecumenical fellowships. Dr. Haggray said in his article that he wants to lift points of agreement above our differences. Yet differences with the SBC seem to be growing and are increasingly emphasized.”
NAMB officials also strongly denied implications that the proposal was racially motivated. James Somerville, pastor of Washington’s First Baptist Church, questioned why the proposal came after “the first African American was elected executive director/minister,” according to an Associated Baptist Press report. Haggray, who was elected last summer as the first African American executive director of an SBC-affiliated state Baptist convention, told Baptist Press he didn’t know whether race affected the timing or not.
“NAMB needs to answer that question,” Haggray said. “They need to say why the first official proposal to the D.C. convention was a threat to cut off funding and it came within weeks of the election of the first African American executive director. I haven’t drawn any conclusions about that and don’t intend to, but others have and will. I don’t know the folks at NAMB well enough to know it’s not about race. That’s for NAMB to answer.”
Reccord answered emphatically. “I want to say in the strongest way possible that neither this proposal nor its timing have anything whatsoever to do with race. Period. I am offended by the charge and deeply disappointed that anyone would raise such a possibility,” Reccord said.
“I have assured Dr. Haggray that the concerns expressed in the proposal are longstanding and have nothing to do with him personally. We’re attempting to find an acceptable way to continue to partner with a convention that is clearly moving farther from our positions and priorities,” he explained. “Knowing for some time that the former executive director was planning to retire, we thought it would be considerate to wait to address these issues until the new executive director was selected. It’s very unfortunate that our good intentions have been so misconstrued.”
In the Capital Baptist article, Haggray also suggested that the convention might need to obtain financial support from “new friends,” but told Baptist Press he didn’t know who those supporters might be.
“I was simply trying to tell our churches that if NAMB stops their funding at some point, we would have to recruit other partners. I have no notion of who that might be and have not made or received any contacts about that. New friends could be churches increasing their support or other state conventions or other benefactors,” Haggray said.
The D.C. convention’s 2002 budget includes $475,000 from NAMB. Approximately three-fourths is earmarked for salaries of eight jointly funded missions personnel and supplemental salary for a number of mission pastors. The remainder is slated for evangelism and church planting materials, training conferences and other support. NAMB has assured the DCBC that its funding commitments through Dec. 31, 2002, will continue.
The DCBC’s 2002 budget also anticipates more than half a million dollars from member churches, $100,000 from renting its building to three other nonprofit organizations, $55,000 from investments, $52,000 from its foundation and $45,000 from the American Baptist Convention.
Haggray confirmed that he has held two informational meetings with selected DCBC pastors and other leaders to discuss the proposal. The convention’s executive committee considered the proposal Dec. 4 and created a study committee to report back in February. Lewis said NAMB was not invited to any of the meetings to explain the proposal or answer questions but would still like an opportunity to do so. Haggray told Baptist Press he recommended to the ad hoc committee that they invite NAMB representatives to such a meeting.
NAMB initially asked DCBC leadership for a response to the proposal by mid-November with a target for implementation of Jan. 1, 2002. Any resolution of the issue likely remains several months away, however.