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SBC beliefs statement prompts departure of 3 NAMB managers, professional staff

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Three of the North American Mission Board’s 200-plus management and professional staff members have left the agency after stating they could not conduct their ministries in accordance with the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in June 2000.

A copy of the SBC statement of beliefs was forwarded to the management and professional staff in May, along with a one-page form asking their affirmation of and their commitment to work in accordance with the BFM, Martin King, NAMB’s director of convention relations, told Baptist Press Aug. 3.

King said a memo from NAMB President Robert E. Reccord asked the management and professional staff for accountability to the SBC and to be in step with NAMB trustees, who have formally affirmed the BFM, as well as other SBC agencies.

The first part of the form asked the staff to reply yes or no to the statement: “I have read and am in agreement with the current edition of the Baptist Faith and Message.”

If “no” was selected, the employee was asked to explain “any area of difference.”

The second part of the form stated, “In accountability to the North American Mission Board and the Southern Baptist Convention, I covenant to carry out my responsibilities in accordance with and not contrary to the current edition of the Baptist Faith and Message.”

Three employees said they could not sign the second part of the form, beyond noting areas of disagreement with the BFM, King said.

Several other employees stated areas of disagreement with the BFM but signed the second part of the form affirming they could conduct their ministries in accordance with the SBC statement of beliefs, King said. These responses are being reviewed by NAMB’s executive leadership, King said.

The request for affirmation of the Baptist Faith and Message is not a new practice at NAMB or its predecessor, the Home Mission Board, King said.

All NAMB missionaries currently serving and those who have served in the past 10-20 years were asked as part of the application and interview process to affirm the BFM and to explain any areas of disagreement, and that process continues, King said.

Now, NAMB is asking its management and professional staff to do the same as the missionaries, King said. The agency has not asked current missionaries to reaffirm the BFM as adopted by the SBC in June 2000, he said.

The three staff members leaving NAMB’s staff are Gerry Hutchinson, manager of church and community ministries evangelism, who resigned effective July 31; Donoso Escobar, associate in church and community ministries evangelism, who has retired, counting previous denominational experience; and George Pickle, chaplaincy associate for health care and pastoral counseling, who also has retired.

Hutchinson is a 14-year employee of the board who previously was an HMB missionary in North Carolina. Escobar is a former HMB missionary in Georgia and former member of the Georgia Baptist Convention refugee resettlement staff who also taught church social work at the Carver School of Social Work when it was located at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and at Mississippi College. Pickle has been on the NAMB/HMB staff since 1992 and is a former International Mission Board journeyman in Vietnam, Baptist Student Union director in California and chaplain at a medical center in California.

Hutchinson said he had signed the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message five previous times in his NAMB/HMB ministry, in comments made to the Biblical Recorder, the newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Hutchinson told Baptist Press he would have no further comment beyond those he made to the Biblical Recorder.

In that interview, Hutchinson said he objects to three parts of the current BFM:

— The removal of the statement that Jesus is the criterion by which Scripture should be interpreted.

— The inclusion of what Hutchinson called “one-way submission” in the BFM article on the family that calls for wives to submit graciously to their husbands. “I favor mutual submission as referenced in Ephesians 5:21,” he told the Recorder.

— The prohibition against women pastors in the article on the church.

Hutchinson said that after he discussed his concerns with his superiors they “agreed to disagree” and he chose to resign.

“I felt very good about the way we concluded my service at the board,” Hutchinson said. “I feel deeply about my sentiments,” he said. “I was willing to pay whatever price necessary.”

Hutchinson also told the Recorder, “I have no ax to grind in wanting to be judgmental or vengeful toward the agency.” He said he prefers to remember his good experiences with NAMB and its predecessor, the Home Mission Board.

Pickle told Baptist Press Aug. 6 he would defer to comments by King as NAMB’s spokesman.

Escobar declined comment to the Biblical Recorder concerning his views toward the BFM, except to say, “I wish I could discuss that with you, but part of my agreement allowing me to take early retirement was that I was not going to discuss publicly the reasons other than I was taking early retirement,” Escobar said. “Under contract, I’m not at liberty to discuss it.”

The severance agreement, King said, gave each departing employee what was due to him under NAMB employee guidelines for his length of service, along with additional financial assistance to help each make a transition to another ministry.

King stated that Reccord’s memo to NAMB’s management and professional staff explains the difference between a creed and a confession of faith.

Local churches are autonomous from the SBC, but the convention’s agencies are not, King said. It would be creedal, he said, if the SBC sought to impose a statement of beliefs on a local church or Baptist association. But the SBC owns NAMB and has set the BFM as a key guideline for the agency, which includes its employees and missionaries, King said.