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Texas’ $5.6M for NAMB uncertain; new BGCT budget lags among churches

DALLAS (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board stands to lose more than $5.6 million a year if a current Baptist General Convention of Texas study committee recommends next month to defund the missions agency.

The BGCT’s “Missions Sending Agencies Study Committee” was created at the state convention’s 1999 annual meeting in El Paso, charged with examining “financial resources, theological positions, and missions strategy and philosophy of Southern Baptist mission sending agencies” and report their findings to the 200-member BGCT Executive Board.

“I am not in position to answer questions [about the committee’s work] at this time,” Jim Denison, pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas and chairman of the BGCT study committee, told Baptist Press. “Our committee will be bringing our final report to the Executive Board of the BGCT in May. The committee and I have agreed not to speak to these issues before the publication of our report.”

In a preliminary report to the BGCT Executive Board Feb. 27, Denison said the committee will not be recommending defunding the SBC’s International Mission Board (IMB), for which the BGCT has budgeted more than $12.2 million this year. However, Denison made no such recommendation with regard to NAMB, which is to receive $5.6 million in BGCT funding this year.

Denison told the Executive Board that the committee had met with IMB, NAMB and SBC-breakaway Cooperative Baptist Fellowship leaders, but provided no details.

SBC leaders have publicly asked BGCT leaders to continue the state convention’s support of the Cooperative Program, even taking their case directly to Texas churches.

“The North American Mission Board has responded to every request from the BGCT missions committee,” said Randy Singer, NAMB’s executive vice president. “We remain in prayer for them as they finish their work while we continue to move forward with every energy possible to impact North America with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The uncertainty of BGCT funding for NAMB is the latest in a series of actions encouraged by key BGCT leaders unhappy with the conservative direction of the SBC. The study committee’s forthcoming recommendations come on the heels of the BGCT’s decision to cut $5.4 million in annual funding to the SBC seminaries, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Executive Committee.

Texas Baptists Committed — which has been characterized by Southern Baptist laymen’s groups as a political arm of the BGCT — has maintained a stream of rhetoric against SBC leaders in recent years, joined by various editorial attacks by BGCT leaders. The BGCT has started publishing its own Sunday school material, making it a direct competitor with LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC.

In January Texas Baptist Committed’s executive board voted 60-3 to ask the BGCT to “divest” itself of $1.4 million in annual funding received from the SBC. The request was made on the grounds of “ethics and integrity” since the BGCT cut funds to SBC seminaries and two agencies. The BGCT receives about $1.3 million annually from NAMB and more than $96,000 from LifeWay Christian Resources.

TBC is a group of Texas Baptists formed in 1988 by wealthy Houston businessman John Baugh and now-retired Texas pastor Winfred Moore. It was the first of the now so-called “Mainstream Baptists” and “Baptists Committed” organizations that have sprung up in 11 states. Walter Shurden, a leader in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship CBF and church historian at Mercer University, predicts such groups will become “regional” organizations set up as de facto state conventions.

No one can predict how the nearly 5,000 churches in the BGCT will react if BGCT leaders cut missionary funding to NAMB. There has been much talk among BGCT leaders about keeping more money in Texas, while some have speculated that NAMB funds may be redirected toward the CBF, even though the CBF only has a handful of domestic missionaries.

The BGCT offers churches three pre-packaged options for Cooperative Program giving. They allow churches to decide whether to give through the “BGCT preferred option” or the traditional channel that allocates 67 percent of gifts to the BGCT and 33 percent to the SBC’s ministries. The BGCT preferred option was endorsed by BGCT leaders, who hoped it would result in more money for the BGCT and less for the SBC, and approved by convention messengers last fall.

Through the first quarter of the giving year, 51 percent of contributing churches designated their gifts for disbursement under the traditional 67 percent/33 percent plan, according to a report issued by BGCT Treasurer Roger Hall’s office. Only 16 percent of contributing churches had given through the option that would keep 72 percent of all offerings in Texas while slicing the amount for worldwide ministries to 28 percent. Other churches have chosen an “other” category on a remittance form to leave out certain items or modify percentages in other ways.

Despite total Cooperative Program giving in Texas staying nearly 3 percent above adopted goals, funds earmarked for the BGCT lagged almost 5 percent under budget through the first quarter and BGCT offices have been operating at 90 percent of budgeted expenditures since January, according to BGCT figures.

Hall attributed the lack of funding to a poor economy, while other officials said they expected things to improve as local churches adopt new budgets later this year. Officials said they expected some resistance to the BGCT preferred option and that some pastors were likely delaying discussing the budget options to avoid controversy with their congregations.

According to news reports, 93 churches have contacted the BGCT this year asking to be removed from its membership roll, while additions of new churches and missions have offset those losses to yield a net gain of 20 affiliated congregations.

The new Southern Baptists of Texas Convention — which supports the conservative direction of the SBC — now reports more than 500 uniquely aligned churches, another 200-plus dually aligned and a growth rate of about one new church daily.

While the BGCT Missions Sending Agencies Study Committee has remained tight-lipped about any mission funding proposals, the BGCT may not be finished with tinkering with its giving plan — something some Texas churches feel is already too confusing.

Committee discussions have focused on eliminating the traditional 67-33 percent BGCT/SBC option and moving toward a “Texas-only” budget, according to news reports. Under that plan Texas churches could still give to the IMB and NAMB, but would have to specifically designate such funds. Another proposal reportedly discussed would create a basic BGCT budget that would support only certain SBC ministries like the IMB.

The sensitivity over such issues surfaced at the BGCT’s November meeting when there was some discussion about immediately cutting all SBC-related funding — including IMB and NAMB. That notion was quickly derailed in overwhelming fashion by messengers, the majority of whom were in support otherwise of BGCT leaders’ anti-SBC initiatives.

    About the Author

  • Don Hinkle