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Unspent Arson Fund could boost training for African Americans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“Southern Baptists have ‘put their money where their mouth is’ this past year in response to the tragic burning of African American churches,” Southern Baptist Convention President Tom Elliff said.
Having now helped 98 African American congregations in 17 states rebuild after arson attacks, messengers to the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting will be asked to affirm a recommendation that unspent donations to the SBC’s Arson Fund be used for theological training of African American pastors.
The proposal, Elliff said, “means that the gifts of Southern Baptists will not only be used to restore church buildings destroyed by arson but to strengthen African American pastors and build deeper ties between us.”
Southern Baptists have contributed approximately $724,000 to the Arson Fund since it was initiated at 1996’s annual meeting in New Orleans by then-SBC President Jim Henry.
Elliff said May 29, “In concert with what I believe is the heart of Southern Baptists and upon the counsel of our Christian Life Commission, I will be asking the convention to affirm a recommendation that all unused funds be distributed to our seminaries for the specific purpose of assisting African American pastors in further theological training.”
The funds would be distributed to the SBC’s six seminaries according to the convention’s seminary funding formula. Specific uses of the funds would be determined by each seminary.
The Arson Fund’s distribution has been based on a formula developed by the SBC Inter-Agency Council’s Racial Reconciliation Task Force based on an in-hand count of arson-related fires at African American churches in a state as a percentage of the total number of churches impacted nationally.
Approximately $5,400 remains in the fund at the SBC Executive Committee, while some states still have balances after making allocations to meet rebuilding needs in their state. According to SBC officials, state conventions will be asked to return unspent funds to the Executive Committee so the funds may be forwarded to the seminaries to aid in African American pastors’ theological training.
Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., described the $724,000 received by the Arson Fund as remarkable “in a year when SBC Cooperative Program giving is already at an all-time high.”
Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., initiated the Arson Fund with an offering during last year’s Wednesday evening SBC session. At the time, messengers gave $38,628 in cash and $57,690 in pledges; even before the offering, $185,000 had been raised in pledges by state Baptist conventions and churches. The overall initial total was $281,318. Henry, in his presidential address, urged pastors, church and state convention leaders to “go home and take collections and free up resources to assist in rebuilding.” In an earlier news conference, Henry said he hoped the offering will help show “that we’ve come a long way since some earlier days when these kind of things happened and there was no response from our convention and evangelicals.”