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NAMB trustees apply divorce policy to new SBC chaplains; elect officers

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Trustees of the North American Mission Board have broadened the agency’s divorce policy to include chaplains applying for endorsement by the SBC Chaplains Commission. The change was approved during the agency’s May 3 meeting at NAMB’s Broadcast Communication Center in Fort Worth, where trustees also appointed 33 missionaries, endorsed 24 chaplains and elected officers for the coming year.

NAMB’s policy on divorce previously applied to those persons appointed and approved as missionaries. The policy now applies to chaplains seeking SBC endorsement after May 3.

The policy states “divorced people will rarely, and only under unusual circumstances, be appointed, approved or endorsed for mission service.” Sexual unfaithfulness and desertion are cited in the policy as biblical rationale for possible divorce exceptions.

Kelley Burris, NAMB trustee from Virginia Beach, Va., and chairman of the task force that studied and brought the recommendation to the full board, acknowledged the policy was a sensitive issue. But, he said, the action was necessary in order to “apply biblical principles consistently to missionaries and chaplains alike.”

“We all have our own opinions,” Burris said, “but putting mission personnel and chaplains under the same guidelines would be for the greater good, representing the North American Mission Board and the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Robert E. Reccord, NAMB president, told Baptist Press, “The key goals here were to make sure what we do is biblical, and that we’re consistent. Although our society has abandoned biblical standards, we are committed to holding to those standards.”

Another new provision of the policy is that it extends the remarriage restriction to the wife of future candidates seeking appointment, approval or endorsement to a pastoral role. Men who have experienced a biblical divorce will only be considered for a pastoral role if they have not remarried. The policy allows for divorced persons to serve in a myriad of non-pastoral roles “if the divorce is determined to be biblically based.”

Trustee Jesse Lott from Morganton, N.C., asked if the policy applied to Mission Service Corps (MSC) volunteers. MSC is for adult volunteers who commit to serve at least 20 hours per week and at least four months in an approved ministry position, often in partnership with state Baptist conventions and/or associations.

Burris explained the divorce guidelines are applied to MSC volunteers serving in a pastoral role, but not to those in other ministry positions.

NAMB’s vice president responsible for volunteer programs, Nate Adams, told trustees that, in fact, MSC “can be an alternative area of service where people can give their lives in mission service whether they qualify for a pastoral role or not.”

The revised policy passed with one dissenting vote.

In other action, Danny Souder, pastor of Northlake Baptist Church, Dallas, was elected chairman of the mission agency board. Souder has served as the board’s first and second vice president and as chairman of the evangelism and church planting committee.

Skip Owens, Charleston, S.C., was selected as first vice chairman, and, Mark Hickman, Scottsdale, Ariz., as second vice chairman.

In his address to the board, Reccord focused on the importance of NAMB’s missionary force as he reminded trustees of the primary purpose of the agency. “While we deal with people, issues, opportunities and dreams, our main purpose is putting people on the field to share Christ,” he said.

Reccord then introduced and, in an interview format, gave three NAMB missionaries an opportunity to testify about their work and share prayer requests. The three missionaries were John Schaffner, a native of Louisiana, who is planting a church in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Siam Rogers, Southern Baptist’s first Internet missionary; and, Sue Lowe, a Mission Service Corps volunteer who serves as a chaplain in the Dallas County Jail.

Reccord presented plaques to trustees completing their term of service on the NAMB board. They included Charles Fuller, Roanoke, Va., who served as NAMB’s first board chairman, and Ray Newcomb, Millington, Tenn., who chaired the board this past year.

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