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Rankin makes final appeal to workers about 2000 BF&M, sets May 5 deadline

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin has asked missionaries who have not yet affirmed the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message to make their decisions by May 5.

He is appealing to the workers to either promise to work in harmony with the faith statement or tender their resignations by that date. Rankin said he will ask IMB trustees to terminate the service of those who continue to refuse accountability to the beliefs of Southern Baptist churches.

In a letter sent April 11 to 18 missionary units (31 people), Rankin noted that he asked Southern Baptist field personnel to affirm the revised faith statement more than a year ago. Since then, 98.7 percent of the board’s 5,500 overseas workers have affirmed the document.

Rankin wrote to one missionary: “I am grateful for your years of service and would be delighted if you should decide to affirm the current Baptist Faith and Message and continue your effective ministry with the IMB. Apart from that, I would like to ask that you consider resigning rather than maintaining a position that would undermine the integrity and credibility of the IMB. If I do not hear from you regarding one of these options by May 5, 2003, I will be recommending that the board take action to terminate your service in their May meeting.

“For the sake of the people you serve and our Great Commission task, I pray that you might reconsider your position and join your fellow missionaries in cooperating with the request I have made.”

Rankin said he believes several of the missionaries will yet choose to affirm the faith statement and some may choose to resign rather than force a termination action.

Letters to three of the missionary units, however, do not give them the option of affirming the 2000 BF&M but ask them to resign. Those six workers “have clearly and publicly stated positions contrary to the BF&M that are beyond acceptable parameters. They have adamantly refused to be accountable to the IMB and Southern Baptist churches as requested,” Rankin said.

Names of the missionaries receiving the letters are not being released by the board.


Southern Baptists have always expected missionary beliefs to reflect the beliefs of the churches that send and support them, Rankin noted. All missionaries on the field made a similar affirmation of earlier versions of the Baptist Faith and Message when they were appointed.

The affirmation process even allows a worker to note minor disagreements and continue to serve, as long as the missionary promises to work “in accordance with and not contrary to” the faith statement.

“We wanted this to be a decision the missionaries make for themselves,” Rankin said. “We wanted to give every missionary ample time to consider his or her response. If a missionary decides he or she cannot affirm it and therefore cannot continue serving through the IMB, we regret that but appreciate the integrity of conscience it demonstrates.”


In the past year, 16 missionary units (32 people) submitted resignations that cited Rankin’s request as a factor in their decisions. The resignations of another four units (eight people) are expected at the May trustee meeting. One missionary couple has decided to resign in August.

Four of the missionary units receiving letters are currently on stateside assignment and nine units are overseas. Five units who qualify are being offered the option of retiring with full benefits.

“We have total confidence in our missionaries, and my initial letter was a collective appeal to assure Southern Baptists of the doctrinal integrity of the missionaries they send and support,” Rankin said. “However, the failure of some to affirm their accountability undercuts the credibility and support of all missionaries serving with the IMB in a time of remarkable evangelistic harvest and unprecedented opportunities.

“Most of our missionaries responded immediately to the request to affirm the BF&M, with many expressing appreciation for the opportunity to testify to what they believe,” Rankin added. “No one was coerced.

“For most of a year, regional leaders around the world sought to answer questions and provide clarification and encouragement to those who had reservations about their response. Over the last few months, Avery Willis, senior vice president of overseas operations, has talked personally with each missionary who had not affirmed, helping them to understand the importance of affirming doctrinal accountability and the consequences to the missionary, the IMB and their colleagues.

“We deeply regret losing any missionary, but we are accountable to the churches in this matter. If a missionary’s disagreements are so great that he or she cannot in good conscience promise to work in harmony with the BF&M, we feel he or she has an obligation to Southern Baptists to tell them so.

“This final letter is to once again appeal to these missionaries to affirm they will work in accord with the Baptist Faith and Message.”
Background on the BF&M issue: www.imb.org/bfm.

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  • Mark Kelly