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Texas study committee recommendations seen as major changes by SBC leaders

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Texas Baptist study committee’s recommendations would make significant, historic changes in the partnership between the state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.
That is the conclusion of a number of SBC leaders responding to the release of the 20-page report of a special committee created in 1995 by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The Texas committee was to consider the “best ways to assure the maximum efficiency and effectiveness” of the state convention’s “cooperative efforts in mission, evangelism, education ethics and human services.”
The Effectiveness/Efficiency Committee report includes recommendations that Texas Baptists, in their November annual meeting in Austin, approve sending out “lay envoy” missionaries throughout the world, publish their own Sunday school and church literature, and create a “Texas Baptist Theological College.”
One SBC leader characterized the EEC’s recommendations as potentially jeopardizing the “fragile but vital ‘rope of sand’ which characterizes and virtually defines Southern Baptist cooperative missions.”
Historically, long-term foreign mission work, most Sunday school literature and theological education have been the focus of the Southern Baptist Convention in partnership with state conventions, associations and local churches.
Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, responding to the report, said, “Two of the ties that bind Southern Baptists are their commitment to the principles of autonomy and cooperative relationships. We remain firmly committed to both those principles.
“This report seems to signal a substantial departure from cooperative relationships of long duration. The report, if approved and implemented, has the potential to significantly impair those relationships, specifically in reference to home and foreign missions, literature production and theological education.
“If this causes Southern Baptist churches in Texas to have to decide whether they are principally Baptist General Convention Baptists or Southern Baptists, it would be extremely unfortunate. Should that climate prevail, it would mean that more direct relationships would have to be forged between Southern Baptist Convention entities and the Southern Baptist churches of Texas.
“Of course we are hopeful that the historical relationship between the BGCT and Southern Baptists can be conserved and that our future relationship will only be strengthened. To that end I am fully committed.”
James T. Draper Jr., president of the SBC’s Baptist Sunday School Board, said he regretted “concerns about literature were not shared with (the BSSB) by the EEC. We must register our strong concern regarding contentions in the report about the quality of literature available to Southern Baptist churches in Texas.”
Draper said the report does not specifically name the Sunday School Board but does suggest that the “best possible biblically based materials to meet the needs of Texas Baptists cannot be provided by a national entity. We take exception to that.”
Also, Draper said the report suggests, “without naming us,” that the BSSB is increasingly focusing on a non-Baptist market.
“That is not accurate. Serving Southern Baptist churches is our number one priority. Our conservative, biblically based materials, including their references to Southern Baptists, are increasingly appealing to non-Baptist churches because they are relevant to life needs, high in value and quality, and assist churches in making disciples better than any other resources available,” Draper said in a statement to Baptist Press.
Sales of BSSB materials to Texas churches are increasing, Draper said, and “we have received strong affirmation of our materials from Southern Baptist churches throughout the state.” He said the agency is committed to meeting the resource needs of Baptist churches and individuals in Texas.
The Texas EEC report also recommends increased support of multi- cultural ministries in the state, a strong emphasis and increased support for Texas Baptist families, changing the messenger requirements for the state convention annual meeting, and adding state staff to help implement the recommendations. In total, the committee will present 26 recommendations to messengers at the annual meeting and 43 to six state convention agencies.
The report also commented on “recent changes in Baptist life,” including a reference to the recent SBC restructuring “that some view as centralizing authority.”
In a critical assessment of the SBC, the report said, “In the most recently adopted SBC budget, money saved from this reorganization is going primarily to the seminaries and to the convention’s political action agency rather than to missionaries. Baptist agencies, conference centers and publishing houses downplay their denominational identity. The impact is a trend away from the historic Baptist mission and ministry. … Efforts to control state conventions are obvious. Vital issues are at stake that must not fall prey to a mindset of control.”
Chapman said the charge that reorganization savings did not go to missionaries “is a contradiction of the published reports distributed at the SBC and specific written responses to inquiries from BGCT leadership last spring. In actuality, $5 million of the projected $8 million savings in the next fiscal year is in the NAMB budget for their strategic missions enterprises.”
One hint of the EEC’s desire to thrust Texas Baptists on to the world scene as a denominational body is a recommendation that the state’s officers and executive director “explore the possibility of the BGCT becoming a member organization of the Baptist World Alliance.” The BWA is an alliance of national Baptist bodies around the world.
The report recommends networking with missionary-sending agencies, including the SBC International and North American mission boards and the dissident, moderate Baptist group, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, for “lay envoys” to be trained and sent out to “teach, reach and preach on international mission fields where they work and live.”
Bob Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, said he affirmed the “right and responsibility” of every autonomous Baptist body to determine what it believes God’s vision and direction is for itself. In a response to the EEC report, Reccord said he has a “deep and abiding appreciation for the significant role Texas Baptist churches have played in Southern Baptist missions and evangelism throughout the history of our convention.”
But Reccord said his “earnest” prayer is that Texas would be careful to not take “any steps that could jeopardize the fragile but vital ‘rope of sand’ which characterizes and virtually defines Southern Baptist cooperative missions.”
Reccord said he wanted to meet with BGCT leaders “in order that we might understand their intentions and their hearts … .”
Officials at the International Mission Board said they had no comment on the report. SBC seminary leaders also were studying the Texas report and had no comment at press deadline.

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  • Herb Hollinger