NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A breakaway Baptist convention in Missouri should not be authorized by the Southern Baptist Convention to collect funds from churches for Cooperative Program-supported SBC missions and ministry entities, Morris H. Chapman, SBC Executive Committee president has informed one of the leaders of the proposed convention.
“I cannot recommend the Southern Baptist Convention enter into a relationship with your proposed new Baptist state convention in Missouri whereby you would collect Cooperative Program gifts to forward to us,” Chapman wrote in a Jan. 25 letter to Jim Hill, who resigned last October as executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention in a climate of disagreement with the convention’s executive board. The full text of Chapman’s letter to Hill is posted on the SBC’s Baptist2Baptist website, www.baptist2baptist.net.
Hill was among the leaders of a recent information and planning meeting about a new convention for Baptist moderates. The Jan. 17 meeting in Sedalia, Mo., was attended by 350 moderates from about 100 of the 2,000 churches in the Missouri Baptist Convention.
“A state convention is to be in ‘friendly cooperation’ with the Southern Baptist Convention,” Chapman wrote in his letter to Hill, referencing a key principle of Southern Baptist cooperation. “The Missouri Baptist Convention remains our Cooperative Program collection agent for Baptist churches in Missouri. It continues to act faithfully in regard to promoting the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention among Baptists in Missouri and forwards Cooperative Program gifts for national and international causes exclusively to the Southern Baptist Convention,” Chapman wrote.
The leaders of the proposed “Baptist Convention of Missouri,” however, hold “sentiments I would be hard-pressed to interpret as in ‘friendly cooperation’ with the purposes and work of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Chapman wrote.
“The Southern Baptist Convention is not perfect nor should we be exempt from criticism and differing opinions,” Chapman wrote. “We are, however, generally pleased with our direction, our confession, our leaders, and our emphases. To allow a group that is so openly in disagreement with the SBC to collect our CP gifts from the churches implies some kind of endorsement of the group’s point of view. We do not wish to send mixed signals to the churches in Missouri, nor do we wish to harm the work of the Missouri Baptist Convention or the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The proposed Baptist Convention of Missouri, which is slated to hold its inaugural meeting in mid-April, plans to incorporate “practices contrary to the best interests of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Chapman also noted, citing plans for the proposed convention to establish several giving plans, not all of which would be related to the SBC.
The breakaway convention “will openly welcome relationships with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a group known for actively encouraging Southern Baptist churches to discontinue support for our convention’s work,” Chapman wrote.
Chapman told Baptist Press, “Jim’s request is a first of its kind. In two other states [Virginia and Texas] a second state convention was formed only after the original state conventions had corrupted the historic meaning of the Cooperative Program” by establishing funding channels apart from the traditional SBC-state convention relationship.
“In this instance the original state convention, the Missouri Baptist Convention, supports national and international missions and ministries exclusively through the Southern Baptist Convention,” Chapman wrote. “There is no compelling reason to receive Cooperative Program gifts through another state convention in Missouri. The churches already have the means by which to do that, the Missouri Baptist Convention.”
Addressing the phrase “in friendly cooperation,” Chapman explained that the “regular practice of the Southern Baptist Convention is to be in a relationship with a single Baptist convention for each state or designated geographical region. … The term ‘friendly cooperation’ includes the promotion of the vision, missions, and ministries of the SBC as well as the collection of Cooperative Program receipts for the SBC from churches in that area.”
In his letter, Chapman referenced an open letter by Hill last December titled, “Why would I choose to become a part of a new Baptist state convention in Missouri?” Chapman did not quote from the letter, but in the open letter, a copy of which was obtained by Baptist Press, Hill wrote that “some of those who now lead our convention are more interested in power, control, and convention politics than the cooperation and commitment to missions that has characterized our convention for more than 167 years. They are more interested in exclusion than inclusion. Many are filled with anger, bitterness, and jealousy that has deep roots. Utilizing political processes and misleading information the [conservative initiative called] Project 1000 leadership has gained control of the convention, and they are committed to absolute control. Many of these leaders would rather destroy the ministries of our institutions than find a way to cooperate.”
Chapman responded in his letter to Hill, “We categorically disagree with your characterizations of the people who are now giving leadership to the Missouri Baptist Convention. Those characterizations (according to your open letter entitled “Why would I choose to become a part of a new Baptist convention in Missouri?”) form your rationale for beginning a new convention. Many of the current leaders in the Missouri Baptist Convention are elected leaders in the SBC. They are faithfully supporting and leading their churches to support the Southern Baptist Convention. They desire the Missouri Baptist Convention remain a loyal, committed partner in SBC missions.”
Meanwhile, “It is our understanding many of those persons opposing the current direction of the Missouri Baptist Convention are the same ones who have been opposing the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention in recent years and who have been attempting to dissuade churches in Missouri from supporting our work,” Chapman wrote. “This anti-SBC sentiment formerly being promulgated in the MBC was one of the stated reasons many in Missouri worked for the changes in leadership that have taken place.”
Chapman told Hill, “I am saddened by your personal conflicts with MBC leaders and I regret that the disharmony remains at a high level in the state, but the interests of the Southern Baptist Convention will not be served by establishing a partnership with another regional convention in Missouri.” Hill, in resigning last October after nearly four years as the Missouri Baptist Convention’s executive director, received a one-year severance package.
Hill’s resignation followed several years of contested elections between conservatives and moderates in the MBC. In response to a string of conservative victories, the trustee boards of five entities voted to remove their entities from the convention’s trustee election process and, instead, become self-perpetuating independent trustee boards.
The five entities are The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist College in St. Louis, Windermere Conference Center, Missouri Baptist Foundation and the Word&Way newsjournal. Messengers to the MBC annual meeting last October in Cape Girardeau voted to place more than $2.2 million in CP giving to those entities in escrow until the respective boards rescind their actions. The convention’s executive board also is exploring possible legal action to challenge the trustees’ actions.