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Pastors of 3 evangelistic Texas churches lament proposed defunding of SBC schools

ARLINGTON, Texas (BP)–Texas Baptist leaders’ steps toward dismantling Cooperative Program support of Southern Baptist seminaries have stirred opposition among three Dallas-Fort Worth area pastors serving churches consistently among the top 10 evangelistic churches in the state in baptisms.

Proposals to push Texas churches away from funding the Southern Baptist Convention’s six seminaries, along with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Executive Committee, will be “very detrimental to the spiritual life of the churches in Texas,” predicted Gary Smith, pastor of Fielder Road Baptist Church, Arlington, which gives 10 percent of its undesignated offerings to the Cooperative Program.

Asked if he anticipates a formal response from the Fielder Road leadership if the defunding is enacted, Smith said, “I’m already hearing from a significant part of our leadership. We are going to need to respond to this because of our support for the seminaries. Our SBC seminaries are educating 12,000 students who are making a difference around the world, and we are absolutely committed to them. It is not a political issue with us. It is an issue of wanting to contribute to the kingdom of God and what God is doing positively through Southern Baptists.”

Dramatic changes are on the horizon for Texas churches, which may result in part from a firestorm of controversy brought on by the limited information and understanding among Baptists regarding the issues, Smith told the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger in an interview. Smith was among three former Oklahoma pastors contacted for comment about the proposed $5.3 million reduction in SBC funding to be voted on during the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Oct. 30-31 annual meeting in Corpus Christi.

“What is most disturbing to me is that truth and integrity are no longer a part of what is happening,” Smith said. “Many people think lying is just not telling the truth. But dishonesty is also when you shade the truth or you tell people you want to do one thing when you know you have another agenda.

“There is a lack of confidence in the [BGCT] leaders because, in one place, they say they want to be cooperative, but they clearly have an agenda and are pursuing an agenda that is leading us in a completely different direction.”

Smith also noted that pastors may face a dilemma. “If the pastor chooses to go against the BGCT’s agenda, BGCT personnel will be inclined not to give them a favorable report when contacted by pastor search committees,” Smith said. “The prospective pastors are labeled as ‘non-cooperative,’ when in reality they are just being loyal to the SBC and SBC missionary support.”

Smith said he is aware that Texas Baptist churches do have an alternative. Those churches loyal to the SBC can send Cooperative Program funds through the new Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, he said. The new convention started in response to BGCT’s efforts several years ago to redefine/cut CP funds to SBC ministries and to create BGCT-style ministries to replace those of the SBC. The SBTC announced in early October that its 2001 budget when approved by the convention will send 51 percent of undesignated funds to SBC ministries.

Fielder Road has made considerable contributions in finances and people to the Baptist Men of Texas auxiliary to the BGCT, Smith said. Several men in the church are leaders in Baptist Men, and Smith said the organization has done a tremendous job of steering clear of the current controversy. Smith said cooperation with the Baptist Men of Texas is a viable option for churches who want to do missions and disaster relief work in Texas and other worldwide locations, yet who cannot concur with the current direction of the BGCT.

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, said he believes most Baptists in Texas have a worldview regarding the fulfillment of the Great Commission and will stay involved in getting the gospel to the world.

The Southern Baptist Convention, Graham said, “is the world’s greatest missionary strategy. The leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, our programming, our seminary training, our missionary strategy is all solid and healthy. At Prestonwood, we are significantly increasing our Cooperative Program giving after five years of relocating our church facilities. It grieves me that we may need to bypass the BGCT in seeking to accomplish the missionary objectives of our church.”

Echoing Smith’s concern about lack of information, Graham said, “What we want to do is simply tell the story so Baptists in Texas can support what they have supported all these years, and do it with integrity and conviction.”

Claude Thomas, pastor of First Baptist Church, Euless, has led his church to give 11 percent to the Cooperative Program and baptize more than 400 people annually. Thomas said he is personally grieved at the attitude of the BGCT toward the SBC seminaries, and, “Our church is going to be very disappointed that this is another step in that direction.”

Thomas, who also chairs the SBC Executive Committee, said he believes a huge number of loyal Southern Baptist churches will express their disappointment by separating themselves from the BGCT. Some of the churches will align with the SBC directly, while others will align themselves with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, he said.

“Since 1994, [BGCT leaders’] actions have continuously moved farther and farther away from a relationship with the SBC, a relationship which has 72 years of history. It is like a marriage that they are determined on bringing to a conclusion — a divorce, a separation,” Thomas said. “It is a very sad thing. How could you be anything but grieved when you have 72 years of strong relationship that God is honoring, God has blessed and then they decide that in these great days of opportunity they are going separate?”

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  • John Yeats