Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared here and is used by permission.
Financing the work of God that we do together as Southern Baptists should never be minimized. The 51,000 plus churches and congregations that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention choose voluntarily to fund the work of Southern Baptists. Amounts and percentages are not mandated or demanded, but determined within each local church, as it should be.
Last week, when I read Dr. Jason K. Allen’s article entitled Celebrating and Strengthening the Cooperative Program, it was a tremendous reminder of many things. I commend Dr. Allen’s honest and transparent approach. As an employee of one of our Southern Baptist seminaries, he did not speak the company line, but promoted the heart of the Cooperative Program by furthering the centrality of the local church and each church’s voluntary support of our work together.
When the Church Loses Centrality
When churches lose their centrality in Baptist life at any level – association, state, or national convention, it is then that the support of the Cooperative Program stands to lose the most. An association, state convention and the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention must operate with the highest integrity and with the deepest of passion to serve the needs of the churches in carrying out their mission to reach their region, state, nation, and world for Christ. When this happens, churches will joyfully give both voluntarily and sacrificially.
I have championed the Cooperative Program for many years, but especially since I chaired the Great Commission Resurgence task force in 2009-2010, and during my recent service as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. For those who were engaged with us over those two years, you know I believe in the Cooperative Program and spent much of my time and effort toward this grand effort.
Yet, it is never something I have supported blindly, and never will. When churches are not being heard or being assisted by denominational entities, conventions, or associations, churches will consider other ways to further the gospel. Dr. Allen superbly stated in his article,
“If a church is evaluating or trimming their CP support, let’s not cajole, pressure, or shame them. That is not a winning strategy. My assessment is not a pragmatic or political calculation. It is a biblical and theological one. Christ promised to build his church, not our denomination. Let’s clean up our vocabulary, and use words like “please” and “thank you,” and shelve words like “should” and “must.” The Southern Baptist Convention agencies, and our state convention partners, serve the churches, not the other way around. As we serve them, they will support us.”
These words represent my heart and what I have both believed and trumpeted for years. Giving the resources God has entrusted to each church is a privilege and a responsibility. Receiving and expending these resources entrusted to denominational entities, conventions, and associations is equally a privilege and responsibility. This is not our money, our church’s money, or our convention’s money; it is all God’s money.
The conservative resurgence began when I was in seminary. During the early years as a local church pastor, only a few of the conservative resurgence leaders were champions of the Cooperative Program. Therefore, many of us grew up with a limited to non-existent mentorship in the Cooperative Program. This was unfortunate and not to the benefit of our work together. Yet, in everything there is a season.
Over the last two to three years, we have seen the Cooperative Program turn toward growth and a future when most said it was impossible.
Relating to the future, I cannot determine what other churches do. Whatever a church’s decision, I will pray for and encourage them. I also cannot determine what a denominational entity does or does not do.
What I can do is work with my church to determine what we will do in the future. Prayerfully, we will always be given more reasons to give, rather than reasons to make us question why we should continue to give. Additionally, I am deeply committed as long it is possible for us, to mentor other churches and pastors in a growing commitment to take the gospel to the world through our financial support through the Cooperative Program.
An Open Letter to Dr. Russell Moore
I write this letter to you, Dr. Moore, at a time when your reputation within the SBC has taken a turn. Being aware that many voices are joining the public discourse, I wanted to hit pause in the critique and appeal to you directly and openly. I am a minister in evangelism which places me on the front lines of culture and with the people you and others often refer to as postmoderns, nones, and millennials. These designations are persons in evangelism we have always referred to with deep affection as the lost.
The one constant in your tone and talking points has been that we have lost this generation and did so in part because we engaged the culture war. According to you, we have lost that as well. In your efforts to repair the breech, restore the tarnished image of the SBC and obtain much needed credibility for the ERLC in the public square, you have lost something yourself. Lest I weary you and go beyond my area of experience, calling, and expertise, let me focus on how you have engaged one of the most needy people groups in the current cultural theater, the LGBTQ.
By Will Hall, Message Editor
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Baptist Message and is used by permission.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (LBM)—Members of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee took the initiative during a committee session and again during a plenary session to ask for official action about national entities that are causing churches to withhold support for national causes.
In the end two panels were proposed to study SBC entities whose leaders appear to be out of step with the consensus of SBC churches.
The national effort to address troubling activities by SBC entities follows by almost three months a related action taken by messengers to the annual meeting of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
Moreover, it is an acknowledgement by SBC leaders that Southern Baptists across the country are not happy with some aspects of the direction of the national Convention.
The actions were taken about a week after Prestonwood Baptist Church announced Feb. 16 it was escrowing $1 million in Cooperative Program funds for what Pastor Jack Graham described as concerns about the direction of the SBC.
Graham spoke to the Baptist Message via phone then and said church leaders had expressed to him “uneasiness” about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”
Graham is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The 41,000-member congregation acted about three weeks after a former president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention resigned as a trustee of the International Mission Board.
Dean Haun, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tennessee, told the Baptist and Reflector, the newsjournal of Tennessee Baptists, he took this stand primarily in response to the IMB’s signing of a legal brief which supports the building of a Muslim mosque in New Jersey.
The Jan. 23 article reported the church supported their pastor’s decision by escrowing its Cooperative Program contributions to national causes — while still distributing gifts to state missions and ministries. This congregation is described as the fifth largest contributor of gifts through the Cooperative Program from Tennessee.
The IMB responded by announcing Jan. 27 it has “revised our processes” so that President David Platt and General Counsel Derek Gaubatz will now consult trustees before filing future amicus briefs on behalf of the entity.
The SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission also signed onto the mosque brief, which was cited by the presiding federal judge, appointed by former President Obama, as influencing him to rule in favor of allowing the mosque to be built.
Likewise, its president, Russell Moore, has received a wave of backlash for multiple sweeping harsh insults he made about Christian leaders and other evangelicals who held political views that differed from his during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
Moore used social media posts and opinion pieces he penned for The Washington Post and The New York Times, both liberal news outlets, to attack evangelicals who voted for then-candidate Donald Trump, calling them at various times “drunk,” “doctrinally vacuous,” and the “Jimmy Swaggart wing” of evangelicals.
He also complained the word “evangelical” no longer had meaning and asked he not be called one.
Exit polls indicated at least 81 percent of evangelicals supported Trump.
Haun mentioned ERLC’s signing of the amicus brief as a concern which was considered in his congregation’s decision to withhold money to SBC causes.
Meanwhile, Mike Buster, executive pastor for Prestonwood, provided a statement to the Baptist Message explaining how “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention” were a factor in his church’s actions.
Furthermore, Baptist Press, Southern Baptists’ official news service, reported in its coverage of the SBC Executive Committee’s proceedings that “other churches have taken or are considering similar action over concerns related to multiple SBC entities.”
The growing movement to defund national causes spurred members of the Cooperative Program Committee, a subgroup of the SBC Executive Committee, to call for a panel to be formed to respond to churches’ concerns.
Committee and workgroup sessions are “open” to the press, but the SBC Executive Committee does not allow “direct quotation of any matter” nor any “implied or direct attribution to any person” during either because these are developmental sessions and not final actions of the entity.
However, the chairman of the Cooperative Program Committee, which develops the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget recommendation – the national budget for cooperative contributions received for distribution to SBC entities — spoke with Baptist Press afterward to share what took place during its Feb. 20 session.
Rolland Slade, pastor of Meridian Southern Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, said the “concern of the committee is anything that’s negatively impacting the Cooperative Program” and this led to multiple members asking that a panel from among them be formed to look into these matters.
According to Baptist Press, Slade said a team will be appointed to look into the situation “by Feb. 25” as the result of a unanimously adopted motion following an extended discussion, and he promised a report will be presented to the full SBC Executive Committee during its September 2017 meeting.
Concerns also were raised by others during a Feb. 21 general session of the entire SBC Executive Committee.
Tony Crisp, who serves on the Administrative Committee and is pastor of Eastanallee Baptist Church in Riceville, Tennessee, requested the officers of the SBC Executive Committee form another panel to “monitor the activities of our various Southern Baptist entities since our last convention … in relation to how those activities might adversely affect” giving through the Cooperative Program.
Baptist Press reported that he requested this group provide its findings to the whole body of the SBC Executive Committee during the entity’s June 12 meeting in Phoenix just prior to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Stephen Rummage, chairman of the SBC Executive Committee and pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Florida, said Crisp’s request was “certainly within the purview and responsibilities of our officers … so we are glad to comply with that request,” according to Baptist Press.
He said the two efforts – by the officers of SBC Executive Committee as well as by a panel from its Cooperative Program Committee — are “complementary” and will “help inform” one another.
“The issues behind [churches’] escrowing funds have risen to a level of prominence that justifies us taking a special look” at what is occurring, Rummage said.
Louisiana Baptists were among the first groups to formally raise questions relating to the most recent spate of controversies entangling SBC entities.
A motion asking the LBC Executive Board to “study the recent actions of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission with regard to issues of concern to Louisiana Baptists” was referred to the LBC Executive Board with a near-unanimous raise of ballots by messengers at their annual meeting in November 2016.
About a month later, Moore explained his missteps in a “Christmastime reflections” article in which he urged those he had belittled “to try to see where there are misunderstandings.”
He claimed there was only “one situation,” and in this single instance “pastors and friends” mistook his criticism of “a handful of Christian political operatives” as also including them.
“If that’s what you heard me say, that was not at all my intention, and I apologize,” he said. Now Moore is asking everyone to “take the time to understand and not caricature one another.”
But Moore’s about face apparently did not persuade Prestonwood Baptist Church members, or the congregation of First Baptist Church in Morristown, or the number of other churches who have contacted the SBC Executive Committee.
Likewise, at least some churches in the Louisiana Baptist Convention remain unconvinced.
LBC Executive Director David Hankins told the Wall Street Journal Feb. 20 there is still growing concern in Louisiana.
“I am continuing to receive inquiries from Louisiana Baptists regarding their unhappiness with the ERLC and their thoughts about funding,” he said. “I have encouraged them to give us a few more weeks to study the matter.”
He also indicated there are concerns beyond just the insults Moore hurled at Christian individuals, groups and institutions.
“The question before Southern Baptists now is, ‘Does the ERLC share our convictions and thus deserve our financial support?’”?