News Articles

News service report on SBC assets misleading, missions agencies say

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention’s two missions agencies say an Oct. 10 Associated Baptist Press article is misleading in alleging that the SBC is “sitting on more than $1 billion in assets.”

The ABP article, which dealt with controversy over the SBC’s attempts to respond to criticism from some Baptist General Convention of Texas leaders, also failed to report that the Texas convention has net assets of more than $3.2 billion — three times the SBC’s, using the figures reported by ABP.

The story used figures by the Baptist Center for Ethics, an organization based in Nashville, Tenn., and aligned with self-described Southern Baptist moderates.

The BCE’s leader, Robert Parham, was quoted as saying SBC officials have “downplayed” their net assets for fear that financial support from churches would suffer if programs “appear flush with funds.”

The article also quoted Parham as suggesting Southern Baptist conservatives in the 1980s were motivated by money in trying to wrest control of the SBC from Baptist moderates.

Jerry Rankin, president of the SBC’s International Mission Board, noted that financial reserves — built largely through wills and other designated gifts from individual Baptist donors — were utilized at the initiative of the agency’s former president, R. Keith Parks, to continue expanding the missionary force as its growth began outpacing increases in the SBC-wide Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions and the SBC’s Cooperative Program backbone of church support. The initial vision for such reserves dates back to Parks’ predecessor, the legendary Baker James Cauthen, Rankin added.

Currently, interest income from such reserves provides 11 percent of the IMB’s budget — funding the work of 550 of the board’s 4,800 missionaries, Rankin told Baptist Press.

Every penny of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program giving is utilized in current IMB operations, not in building up the agency’s reserves, Rankin continued.

The reserves serve another key purpose, Rankin noted, in enabling the IMB to respond to emergency missionary needs whenever circumstances in their countries, such as civil unrest or natural disasters, might require their evacuation and temporary housing elsewhere. In Africa during one three-year period in the 1990s, missionaries in 10 countries required temporary relocation, Rankin said.

Other portions of the reserves involve charitable gifts to the IMB designated for specific work, such as Bible distribution or medical missions, and are not accessible for other purposes, Rankin said.

“The problem with the [ABP] report,” Rankin said, “is that it does not discuss the reserves in the context of the scale of our missionary work.”

And “the real tragedy in this conflict,” he said, “is that there are those who are seeking to persuade churches to diminish their support … to deprive churches from participating” in Southern Baptist efforts to share the gospel with the world’s unreached masses.

Ultimately, Rankin reminded, “This is God’s work. Our needs will be met.”

The IMB, which supports 4,800 missionaries on an annual budget of $250 million, held investments of $387 million at the end of last year, plus $17 million in property and equipment.

IMB figures show as of Dec. 31, 1999, $86 million was held in reserve for retirement funds to retired missionaries and staff, $47 million for missionary housing and vehicles and $28 million in temporary funds earmarked for missions, according to the SBC agency’s finance office.

Answering the BCE charge that denominational officials have downplayed these assets, Rankin said the SBC Annual, a publication of proceedings related to each year’s SBC annual meeting, discloses the figures and is widely distributed for public inspection.

“Much of our receipts are seasonal income that have to be dispersed throughout the year,” Rankin also noted. “So this idea that we are sitting on assets that could be spent or utilized is inaccurate.”

The ABP article, in addition to listing assets of the International Mission Board, also included the North American Mission Board and four of the SBC’s six seminaries.

NAMB spokesman Martin King said: “The North American Mission Board takes very seriously the trust Southern Baptists place in us to be the absolute best stewards of all the resources they give us.

“That’s why we’ve put more money on the mission field every year we’ve been in existence than the previous year,” King said. “Last year, for instance, NAMB took $5 million out of reserves and applied it to front-line missions.

“Responsible financial stewardship, along with the SBC Business and Financial Plan, directs us to maintain sufficient reserves to manage cash flow and to provide for unanticipated economic downturns,” King said. “Our mission properties are certainly not investment properties. They’re used for Southern Baptist churches, for ministry centers and for new SBC churches.

“To imply that the North American Mission Board has some secret wealth is simply misrepresenting the truth,” King said.

Meanwhile, the Baptist General Convention of Texas and its umbrella organizations have net assets of more than $3.2 billion, the 1999 BGCT Annual shows.

That includes more than $1.3 billion in net assets for nine BGCT-operated schools, more than $1.4 billion for Texas Baptist hospitals, $79 million for Texas Baptist children’s homes, $198 million for aging care services and $164 million for the BGCT executive board.

The figure does not include assets of the Texas Baptist Foundation, Texas Baptist Financial Services and Baptist Church Loan Corporation.

Baylor’s total endowment stood at $686 million as of Aug. 31, a worker in its institutional advancement office told Baptist Press, as compared to the $186 million SBC seminary endowment cited in the ABP story. Baylor’s net assets alone, meanwhile, stood at $855 million when the 1999 BGCT Annual was published.

At its annual meeting Oct. 30-31 in Corpus Christi, the BGCT will vote on a recommendation to pull more than $5 million in Cooperative Program funds from SBC entities, including $4.3 million from Southern Baptist seminaries. The plan would pull $1 million combined from the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Executive Committee.

Baylor University’s board of regents applauded the recommendation in September. The plan would shift SBC seminary funding to theological schools at Baylor, which is conducting a $1 billion endowment campaign, as well as Hardin-Simmons University and the Hispanic Baptist Theological School.

SBC seminaries serve 12,000 students, including 4,000 at Southwestern in Forth Worth. The three BGCT-affiliated schools have about 500 students combined in seminary-level programs.

Responding to the BGCT funding proposal, heads of the SBC’s 12 entities and seminaries met Sept. 21 with Texas associational directors of missions.

BGCT leaders have criticized the SBC Executive Committee for circulating a report in print and on a Baptist2Baptist.net Internet site called “The Truth about the SBC & Texas.” The report addresses allegations the Baptist Faith & Message, as adopted by messengers to the SBC annual meeting last June in Orlando, Fla., elevated the Bible to idol status. The report also includes articles about the Cooperative Program, the history of the SBC theological controversy and the role of women in ministry.

SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman met privately for four hours Sept. 28 with the BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade, Baptist Press reported Oct. 11.

The two men agreed to plan a meeting between SBC and BGCT leaders before the BGCT’s Oct. 30-31 annual meeting, but Wade said he had problems enlisting BGCT leaders for the meeting.

“[Wade] mentioned conflicts in scheduling this close to the BGCT annual meeting and the possible mixed signals it would send to the Baptist constituency in Texas,” Chapman told Baptist Press.

“To me, their unwillingness to meet with us signals their absolute resolve to press forward for the adoption of the Texas-preferred 2001 budget that dismantles the Cooperative Program and the unified cooperation that has existed with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Meanwhile, Associated Baptist Press, a news service funded in part by the denomination-like Cooperative Baptist Fellowship breakaway from the SBC, recently announced plans to enter a joint partnership with the BGCT to create a southwest news bureau. The new bureau will be located in the Baptist Building in Dallas.
Art Toalston contributed to this article.

    About the Author

  • Jerry Pierce