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SBC exec responds to BGCT proposal, questioning break in cooperation

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“A state may not put stipulations on Cooperative Program gifts sent to the Southern Baptist Convention and still have it called CP giving,” David Hankins, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee vice president for Cooperative Program, said after the Baptist General Convention of Texas executive board meeting May 22.

The BGCT board unanimously approved a recommendation from its Mission-Sending Agencies Study Committee to be considered by messengers at their annual meeting this fall to reduce by $1.28 million the amount of CP giving that makes its way to the North American Mission Board. Noting that NAMB presently invests in Texas ministry projects and people about $1.28 million of the $5.9 million allocated to the agency from the BGCT’s CP gifts, the BGCT board proposes holding back the $1.28 million for allocation directly to in-state mission work.

Southern Baptist leaders dispute the accuracy of calling the remaining money Cooperative Program gifts. As a pastor in Louisiana, Hankins said he called upon the people in his church to be good stewards. “I didn’t want them designating their money to the youth, benevolence or other funds, but to give it for the good of the whole church. The church members decided together the relationship of the different ministries and degree to which they were funded,” he recounted.

“That’s the same principle at work in the Cooperative Program,” Hankins said, noting that messengers to the SBC annual meetings approve the allocations for the next year’s CP receipts. And the individual church member tithing to the local church expects the portion of gifts allocated for Southern Baptist ministries to fund those needs, he said.

If the BGCT collects CP funds from the churches and sends them on to the SBC with the restriction that NAMB gets a smaller portion, Hankins said it cannot be regarded as “Cooperative Program giving” but will be viewed as designated gifts.

“If the BGCT approach of handling the unified money coming from the churches is used throughout the convention, then the Cooperative Program is over in Southern Baptist life. It will not function and we’ll go back to societal giving,” Hankins said, in which one Southern Baptist agency is pitted against another in the solicitation of funds from churches.

BGCT committee chairman Jim Denison insisted that the proposal should not be viewed as defunding, “but simply administering more efficiently that portion of Texas funds which would be already returned to Texas under the agreement” for joint missions work in the state.

Particular concerns about NAMB as voiced by the committee’s report expressed frustration with the status of the BGCT’s cooperative agreement relationship with NAMB, new requirements that NAMB missionaries agree with the Baptist Faith and Message as revised last year, and the need for the portion NAMB invests in Texas in partnership with BGCT to increase because of increased population of the state. Other concerns alleged funding delays for projects and misleading figures regarding the number of NAMB missionaries. (See the May 23 Baptist Press article on the BGCT executive board meeting.)

Hankins reiterated his earlier response that NAMB does not make its decision on how much money to send the BGCT based on the amount of gifts from Texas churches, but on ministry needs and strategies. “Likewise, churches in Texas do not decide how much to give to the SBC Cooperative Program based on how much they will send to Texas.” Hankins said he is concerned that individual Southern Baptists will not realize that they are no longer giving to a unified provision for SBC ministries if the designated form of giving is approved.

Last year, BGCT messengers approved a new budget that eliminated any funding for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, capped giving to SBC seminaries at $1 million and reduced giving to the SBC Executive Committee to $10,000. About 26 percent of BGCT churches agreed to the parameters of the new budget, with the remainder preferring either the more traditional allocation of 67 percent for BGCT causes and 33 percent for SBC missions and ministries, or some customized designations that may include the SBC or the SBC-breakaway Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

If only 26 percent of BGCT churches approve of the additional restrictions, Hankins questioned whether the Texas convention will have access to $1.28 million for its own use.

He explained the agreement that state conventions make with the Southern Baptist Convention to collect money that local SBC churches intend for use by the SBC: By agreeing that SBC entities will not solicit churches directly, state conventions are given responsibility for receiving CP funds, taking a portion for their own ministries, and sending the remainder to the SBC without restrictions as to how it is divided. Funds are allocated to Southern Baptist ministries according to the budget approved by messengers to the SBC annual meeting coming from churches throughout the country.

“What BGCT is now doing is presuming to allocate the SBC budget,” Hankins said.

The BGCT proposal puts the SBC in a position of wondering whether the denomination can allow the BGCT to collect money intended for Southern Baptist ministries, Hankins said. “We reserve the right for direct appeal to the churches,” he said. “The only reason we don’t is that we have a partnership.”

The Cooperative Program “is dependent upon all those involved — individuals, churches, state conventions and SBC entities — working together as allies, associates, affiliates, as partners,” according to the SBC official website’s description of the original 1928 agreement between the SBC and state Baptist conventions.

Beginning with an individual’s gifts through the local church, the partnership continues when a church decides how much of its undesignated gifts will be committed to the Cooperative Program, the site explains. This amount is then forwarded to the Baptist state convention. “Once a year, during the meeting of your state convention, you and/or other members elected by your church to be messengers, help decide what percentage of the CP Missions gifts contributed by local congregations stays in your state to fund state and local ministries. The percentage to be forwarded to your national partners at the Southern Baptist Convention for North American and International missions is also determined at this time.

“The partnership progresses on to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Partners [messengers] from across the country decide how CP Missions gifts sent to the SBC from the states will be distributed to your SBC partners. The partnership is culminated when people around the world hear the gospel and receive Christ, just as you did, and partner with God,” according to information included at the website.

Hankins said an earlier remark he made — that the proposed BGCT action could hurt the International Mission Board — assumed the BGCT is following the model of the Mississippi Baptist Convention as cited in the report (reducing CP giving by a specified amount). “They imply they will use some further designated method to keep IMB from being penalized,” he added. And yet, any designation will change what was received as CP money from local churches into designated giving to particular SBC entities. “This is a further breach of the CP agreements with the SBC which is harmful to the Cooperative Program,” he said.

In responding to questions last fall from the North Carolina Biblical Recorder newsjournal, Hankins quoted from Cecil Ray’s 1984 book “Cooperation: The Baptist Way to a Lost World,” in which Ray said, “Although state conventions set the state/national division, it is vital to the agreement and to the self-governing nature of each of these bodies that neither one try to determine the division of funds among the other’s agencies and programs. The essential principle is that messengers from the churches sent to the state convention act only on state matters and those sent to the Southern Baptist Convention act only on national matters.”

Hankins also noted in his letter, “The BGCT has for more than 70 years voluntarily agreed not to allocate the SBC’s portion of Cooperative Program receipts but merely to pass them on for the SBC to allocate according to its own budget. This practice is consistent with the principle that each convention is autonomous and does not presume to make decisions for the other.

“The BGCT made a commitment to the SBC to collect CP gifts in a certain way applying mutually agreed-upon guidelines. The BGCT ought to acknowledge forthrightly that it no longer plans to abide by the long-standing principles voluntarily entered into by its predecessors,” he added, referring last fall to proposed designations of SBC seminary funding that were later approved by messengers.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter