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Dissident Voices Cannot Change the Factscomment (0)

August 27, 2009

By Bob Terry

If you believe in the way Southern Baptists have cooperated for almost 85 years, then you have to be wondering what is in the water in Wake Forest, N.C. From Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, located in Wake Forest, has come a stream of proposals that question the validity and the value of the partnership between Baptist state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Unfortunately the proposals also have contained some unkind descriptions of state conventions such as the Alabama Baptist State Convention (ABSC).

The first proposal was made by the late Russ Bush, academic dean of the seminary, in the summer of 2007. The chief component of his plan was for churches to write two checks for missions work beyond their local congregation.

One check would be for the SBC, the other for the state convention. This, he said, would rectify the problem of state conventions not reflecting the priorities of churches and a disproportionate share of Cooperative Program (CP) funds staying in the state conventions.

Interestingly this proposal came just days after the SBC in annual session adopted a definition of the CP as a “unified plan of giving through which cooperating Southern Baptist churches give a percentage of their undesignated receipts in support of their respective state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries.” Bush’s proposal would have severed this relationship. Since 1925, when the CP was established, state conventions have worked as equal partners with the SBC to promote financial support for the total program of Southern Baptists through one regular offering. That is why the program is named the Cooperative Program and not the Competitive Program. State and national entities, ministries and missions do not compete with one another for financial support. Instead they work together for the benefit of all.

In addition to ending the relationship between state conventions and the SBC, Bush advocated that the two national mission boards “tithe” their special offerings to the CP. Thus 10 percent of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and 10 percent of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions would go to support other SBC entities.

That would mean about $20 million extra going primarily to the six SBC seminaries. It is interesting that Bush’s proposal came after a national special offering for the seminaries was rejected.

Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin fired the next shot earlier this year in a chapel address on the seminary campus. That address became the framework for the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force approved at the 2009 SBC annual meeting. As we have written before, most every part of the GCR proposal is something Baptists endorse.

But some of the language in the original address was intemperate. Akin described state conventions as “bloated and inefficient bureaucracies with red tape a mile long.” Then he added, “A disproportionate amount of Cooperative Program dollars (are) being kept by the state conventions.” It is the same concern cited by Bush two years earlier.

By the time the GCR document got to the SBC annual meeting, the language had been toned down, but the sentiments behind the document were still crystal-clear.

For the record, Alabama’s state convention is not a “bloated and inefficient [bureaucracy] with red tape a mile long.” The size of the state convention staff has decreased 20 percent in the last 10 years. State convention work is done in the sunlight of open meetings. Our leaders are God-called ministers, not “bureaucrats.”

It should not be missed that Akin wanted more money for the seminaries, including Southeastern, and he wanted it at the expense of missions and ministries carried on in the various state conventions.

Earlier this month came the third missive from Southeastern. This time, the director of financial development, Daniel Palmer, charged that state conventions are “skimming” CP dollars that rightfully belong to the SBC. His goal is more money for the SBC, which would mean more money for his employer. Even though Palmer is now backing off his use of the word “skimming,” the charge that state conventions are somehow breaking faith with their ministry partners regarding the CP is a serious charge. Skimming implies fraud and there is nothing fraudulent in the way CP funds are handled or the way decisions about CP allocations are made.

Churches decide what portion of their undesignated receipts they will share for missions outside their local area. Those funds are channeled through state convention offices, and in annual session, messengers from the contributing churches decide what portion of the funds received by the state convention will be used for missions in the state and what portion will be forwarded to national and worldwide missions causes through the SBC.

Messengers to the SBC annual meeting then decide how those funds will be used for missions and ministry causes.

It is a clearly delineated and open system. There is no fraud or skimming as Palmer charged.

It also should be remembered that in 1925, when the SBC first urged a 50–50 split of CP funds, the total included special offerings as well. Baptist historian Robert Baker, in his 1974 book “The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People,” quoted from the early records. “The Cooperative Program includes all distributable funds, all designated funds and all special offerings such as the Woman’s Missionary Union’s Lottie Moon Offering for foreign missions, the Annie Armstrong Offering for home missions, offerings for state missions, etc. In reality, all funds received for any cause included in the Cooperative Program, whether they be distributable, designated or special funds, belong to the Cooperative Program.”

That point was made again by the 1983 Cooperative Program Study Committee, which said, “In the early days of the Cooperative Program, it apparently embraced distributable (undesignated) and designated funds.”

Using the original standard, Alabama Baptists long ago surpassed the 50–50 goal. Of all funds channeled to missions and ministry causes through the ABSC, 55 percent goes to national and worldwide causes through the SBC. Alabama missions and ministries claim only 45 percent.

The record is clear. Alabama Baptists believe in cooperation with the SBC as well as with other state conventions. Alabama Baptists believe in efficiency and effectiveness in ministries and missions. Alabama Baptists believe in reaching people for Christ at home and around the world. 

Dissident voices from Wake Forest cannot change the facts.

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