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Texas Baptists express concerns about BGCT leadership at meetings

MIDLAND, Texas (BP)–Concerns about the spiritual direction of the Baptist General Convention of Texas were raised by pastors and laypersons during one of four statewide “listening sessions” sponsored by leaders of the BGCT.

Held in Waco and Abilene, May 22, and in Midland and Austin, May 23, the meetings drew several hundred people. The meetings were the first of 15 scheduled throughout the state.

Conveners at the Waco and Midland meetings said the purpose of the meetings was to hear what Texas Baptists are doing in missions, and to hear suggestions on ways the BGCT could better facilitate missions efforts of Texas Baptists.

The Waco meeting, held at First Baptist Church, reflected the stated purpose, with many people offering positive missions reports and sharing ideas about ministry.

In Midland, however, the 3-hour session was punctuated with comments and questions that expressed dissatisfaction and concern with the BGCT.

BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade and Keith Parks, immediate past president of the former Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, convened the Midland meeting.

“When God calls somebody and gifts them to do something, we ought to cheer them on,” Wade said in his opening remarks.

“Many of us here today need to be cheered on by the BGCT,” said G.A. Magee, a retired pastor who is interim pastor at Belmont Baptist Church, Odessa. “I think the BGCT is not encouraging the average pastor and church out there. You are not creating a spirit of partnership.”

“I think the BGCT needs to be more sympathetic with the many churches, hundreds of churches who really prefer the traditional channel of supporting the Southern Baptist Convention through the BGCT,” Magee said.

“There’s a lot of unrest in the churches here in west Texas. And when I say a lot, that is no exaggeration,” he added. “You folks have been lambasting us too much. And you need to stop it.”

Parks, who chairs the BGCT’s Network Initiatives Committee, responded by expressing appreciation for the remarks and said, “One of the things we said from the very start is that we are reaching for a networking relationship that’s inclusive and that will involve everyone. We’re not trying to exclude anybody.”

Following two other testimonies about mission work, Wayman Swopes, pastor of Greenwood Baptist Church said that in college he studied Southern Baptist beliefs and convictions and remained a Southern Baptist “because of the Cooperative Program and what we believe and our stance on the Bible. And I feel like that is being eroded.”

“When our state [convention] forced us to change the way we give through the Cooperative Program … that caused problems in my church and in churches across our convention,” Swopes said. “There’s a lot of hostility, there’s a lot of anger, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction, and if we ignore it, how are we going to walk together?”

“I feel like I have been deserted and ignored, and I think a lot of other pastors do too,” Swopes added. “If we are going to continue in the way we are going, we need to change it from the Cooperative Program to the uncooperative program, or in-cooperative program, or the non-cooperative program.”

Swopes said the BGCT is asking churches to “designate our giving.”

“That’s extremely dangerous,” Swopes said. “There’s not a pastor in his right mind who would implement that kind of a program in his church.”

“Until we solve these problems, missions is going to be hurting,” he said. “It’s hard to be excited about missions with all this garbage going on.”

Swopes, who spoke for more than 10 minutes, also questioned where the BGCT stood on the issue of the inerrancy of the Bible.

“I do believe the rank-and-file, the majority of Southern Baptists believe that the Bible is without error,” Swopes said.

He said he asked two representatives from the BGCT to meet with him and deacons of his church. He also asked two representatives from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to do the same, but at a different time.

“I really thought that if both groups of men would honestly answer our questions, our decision [would be] easy.”

Swopes said, “We didn’t hear one definite answer from the men who came from the BGCT. When we asked about the inerrancy of the Bible, they told us we would have to read a book, because there are five different definitions.”

“Don’t blow smoke, just say what you believe. Our people are smart enough to make a decision,” Swopes advised Wade. “Then we can get back to giving to the Cooperative Program … like we’ve done for decades and decades. Then there will be harmony and unity.”

In an interview after the morning session, Swopes said the SBTC representatives answered his questions fully, “straightforwardly” and satisfactorily.

Parks answered Swopes, saying, Southern Baptists “came together around missions. So, many have lost their enthusiasm because of the focus on doctrine rather than a focus on winning the world to Christ.”

Parks noted the negative impact the problems have on missions, but said his committee’s responsibility was to “create a vision we can get excited about.” He suggested that Southern Baptists live above the controversy and “get on with the kingdom of God.”

Later in the meeting, Parks also noted that Southern Baptists were founded in 1845 for the cause of missions.

“Doctrine was not mentioned,” Parks said.

Others in the meeting echoed Parks’ remarks, saying missions rather than doctrine unites Southern Baptists.

After a lunch break, Wade addressed Swopes’ concerns, saying he didn’t want to be defensive, and noted his biblical beliefs were similar to Swopes’. Later Wade added, “We have not been about splitting hairs, doctrinally. We have always been about a high view of Scripture.”

Wade said he believed in biblical fundamentals like Jesus being the only way to heaven; baptism by immersion; security and priesthood of the believer; the atoning, sacrificial death of Christ; religious liberty; and the separation of church and state.

“I’m willing to be examined on the doctrines that matter. And I believe the BGCT stands on those doctrines,” Wade said.

Parks also responded to Swope’s concerns: “Never once during my time at the Foreign Mission Board was my doctrine questioned. That’s not why I left.”

Few questions arose concerning the specific direction of the BGCT. But in answer to them, Wade said, “The last thing we need is another convention.” He said he is on record as opposing that, and said he would not support it in the future.

Wade said he was not “looking to create a new organization” but rather a “network hub” that would facilitate local churches in ministering in missions together.

Wade said he had made two trips to Mexico and had talked with Baptist leaders there. He also said the European Baptist Federation invited the BGCT and representatives of the American Baptist and General Baptist Conventions, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, as well as IMB missionaries to come to London and dialog about what the groups could do to facilitate missions in Europe.

In the Waco meeting, convened by Parks and former Baylor University President Herbert Reynolds, Parks said he had traveled to four continents to talk with Baptist leaders about doing missions in those countries.

“We are not as concerned about denominational identity as once we were,” Parks told the gathering.

He then described the missions ministries of his sons, both of whom are missionaries with a non-SBC entity.

When there’s a need, he said his sons look for someone to fill that need,” Parks said. “Whatever they call it, it’s fine, as long as it’s Christian.”

He said this was a trend he was aware of and “is one we can be excited about.”

Reynolds said the Network Initiatives Committee would compile a final report of all its research, which would include the 15 listening sessions, and then bring a report and recommendation first to the BGCT’s executive board, and then the convention body at the BGCT’s meeting next fall.

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  • Norm Miller