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Rethinking SBC Membership Policies—Part Two Four Types of PARTNERS Receiving MEMBER Benefits in the Southern Baptist Convention

July 25, 2017

 Dr. Rick Patrick, Senior Pastor
 First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL
 Executive Director, Connect 316

In Part One I expressed the concern that Southern Baptists have a very lenient policy for admitting new churches into our convention. All one must do is (a) basically affirm our beliefs, (b) state somewhere, even semi-privately, that you will cooperate with us, and (c) donate an undesignated gift—optionally undisclosed—of any amount at all to any Southern Baptist entity. Frankly, this policy does not properly guard our interests as Southern Baptists. I called it the Southern Baptist equivalent of the North American Free Trade Agreement. It leaves us open to abuse by certain outside partners willing to be Southern Baptist enough to receive our benefits but not Southern Baptist enough to shoulder our responsibilities.

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Southern Baptist Military Chaplain Conducts ‘Transgender Policy Briefing’ for Army Reserves Unit

July 17, 2017

By Heather Clark, Columnist and Content Editor
Christian News Network

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at Christian News Network and is used by permission.   

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Concerns are being raised after a Southern Baptist military chaplain recently conducted a “transgender policy briefing” for members of an Army reserves unit that is based in Nashville—a briefing that was mandatory and was determined by the chaplain as not being violative of the convictions of Christian soldiers.

On June 23, the 304 Military Police Battalion advised soldiers that they were required to attend a “transgender policy briefing” that day.

One soldier within the unit, who identifies as a Christian and was concerned about the briefing, contacted Chaplain Capt. Erick Barrett to obtain information and spiritual counsel about the instructional period. Barrett received his ecclesiastical endorsement from the North American Mission Board, which is a part of the Southern Baptist Convention.

However, to his surprise and dismay, the soldier learned that it was actually Barrett himself who would be conducting the briefing. The soldier, whose identity has not been revealed, was even more surprised when Barrett advised that he didn’t think the training would be violative of his faith.

 Barrett nonetheless passed along the soldier’s desire for a religious accommodation to Commander Lt. Col. Kim Wilson, who denied the request. The soldier followed up with a letter.

“Capt. Erick Barrett informed me that he did not believe the ‘Transgender Brief’ would violate my sincerely-held belief; however, [he] would submit my request for accommodation through the chain of command,” the soldier explained to Wilson.

“The ‘Transgender Policy Brief and Training’ requires me to participate in something that I believe is contrary to what my religion teaches,” he explained. “… I do believe that participation in such training will bind my conscience to another religion, thus violating my conscience and faith tenants.”

Wilson again denied the request, stating that the briefing was mandatory under the direction of the Army. The soldier consequently attended the instructional session against his will.

The site Barbwire has published audio of the briefing, which Christian News Network has reviewed. During the hour-long session, Barrett took those present through the Army’s new policy on accommodating transgenders in the military, advising that the briefing “isn’t about what Chaplain Barrett believes,” but rather Army protocol. He asked how soldiers can follow the policy if they aren’t aware of it.

“How many different gender identities are there in the world today?” Barrett quizzed those gathered, advising that there are 42. “Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a world where truth is defined by the individual. That’s a reality. It’s not something that’s up for discussion. That’s just the world we live in.”

He outlined, however, that the U.S. military only recognizes two genders—male and female—and that soldiers will be held to the standard that aligns with that gender. So, when a woman decides to be a man or a man decides to be a woman, they will be held to the standard for that gender.

Barrett repeatedly stated that all soldiers are to be afforded dignity and respect, and emphasized that in the Army, “We do not discriminate, we do not isolate, we do not segregate.” At one point, he remarked that for a long time, “there have been men [in the military] that look like girls and girls that look like men.”

He also provided the example of a male soldier who transitions into a woman and quizzed soldiers on whether or not it would be considered proper under Army policy for the man to now use the women’s facilities.

“A transgender soldier begins using female barracks, bathroom and shower facilities. Because she did not undergo a surgical change, the soldier still has male genitalia. Is the soldier using the correct facilities?” Barrett asked.

“Yes,” the soldiers replied.

“Is the soldier operating within Army policy?” he asked.

“Yes,” those present again answered.

Revelation of Barrett’s leadership of the briefing has generated disappointment from others in the Armed Forces, including Capt. Sonny Hernandez, who serves as a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain. Hernandez characterized the chaplain-led presentation as being “godless.”

“There was no reference of Scripture, God, Jesus, repentance, or faith, which would be expected of an ecclesiastically endorsed evangelical who claims to be a Christian,” he wrote for Barbwire on Saturday. “For almost an hour, Chaplain Barrett pontificated about the Army’s policy on transitioning from male to female, or female to male, and reiterated innumerable times how soldiers’ gender is determined—while God was not included in this determination.”

“Chaplain Barrett did not exercise ‘responsible pastoral care,’ since he never mentioned that transgenderism ‘is a sin that violates God’s biblical standards,’ nor did he reference ‘repentance’ or the ‘Name of Jesus.’ After listening to the audio, objective listeners would never even know this chaplain is a professing Christian,” Hernandez lamented.

The North American Mission Board has described Barrett’s decision to conduct the transgender policy briefing as being “unfortunate” and states that it will provide “clearer guidance” to chaplains about such matters for the future.

Editor’s Note: Hernandez’ opinions are solely his and do not necessarily represent the views of any government, military or religious organization. Hernandez contributed to this report, an issue of public interest, as a civilian on his own time.

Rethinking SBC Membership Policies—Part One Let's Stop Offering UNPROVEN PARTNERS The Same Benefits As PROVEN MEMBERS

July 6, 2017

 Dr. Rick Patrick, Senior Pastor
 First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL
 Executive Director, Connect 316

From 1987 to 1996, television commercials for the American Express Card concluded with the tagline Membership has its privileges. Every organization’s leader hopes this adage is true, for if conditions are better on the outside than they are on the inside, there is no incentive for anyone to join. If one can simply remain a partner and receive all the same benefits of a member with few, if any, of the responsibilities, then membership is bound to experience a cycle of decline. Such a group’s unofficial slogan is Partnership has its privileges

Within many layers of Southern Baptist life today, we have created just such a dire situation. A variety of partners currently enjoy all the same benefits of being Southern Baptist without ever truly embracing our denomination, rolling up their sleeves or opening their pocketbooks. These organizations include (a) other denominations, (b) parachurch organizations, (c) unconventional associations, and (d) multi-site church networks. 

The aim of this essay is not only to expose such arrangements, which may have gone unnoticed by the typical Southern Baptist layperson, but also to question whether the numerical growth these partnerships allow us to claim is actually in the best interests of Southern Baptists, especially if the groups we are adding do not really claim any meaningful identity with us, and fail to contribute to the SBC a significant measure of their time, talents and treasure. To be blunt, the concern is that with each additional partner we gain, we have another group taking more than they are giving—a situation unsustainable in the long term. 

Defining Our Terms—Benefits, Partners and Members

Before exploring the nature of these uneven partnerships, let us define a few terms. 

1. BENEFITS

Certain member benefits are currently being extended today to organizations that are honestly only our partners. These member benefits include (a) access to our sizable church plant funding resources through NAMB, (b) free ministry support and consultation from denominational entities, (c) voting privileges at our SBC Annual Meetings, and (d) seminary student discounts of 50% off tuition.

Frankly, such member benefits are provided courtesy of the Cooperative Program, a missions mutual fund paid for primarily by the proven members of loyal Southern Baptist churches whose contributions are now being expended upon the unproven partners of various ministries that until recently would be considered outside the Southern Baptist Convention. Historically, these benefits were reserved for people, churches and organizations who identified with the SBC theologically, culturally and financially. They were clearly Southern Baptist Churches. Today, some churches may be wearing the boots and the hat, but deep down, if they were completely honest, they would have to admit they are not really cowboys at all. 

2. PARTNERS

These partners may share very little with us in the way of history, doctrine, culture, or shared values. They may not really know us very well. They may not support the SBC very much financially. In fact, we may have little more in common with them than we do with any of the other 250,000 Non-Southern Baptist Churches in America. Sometimes, they don’t even consider themselves to be Southern Baptists. They don’t really identify with the SBC in any meaningful way. The SBC is not mentioned on their church sign or their website. To put it simply, we are taking the resources of proven SBC churches who are very loyal to our brand and spending them upon unproven SBC churches who are not very loyal to our brand. What happens when all the loyal churches run out of money to squander upon all the disloyal churches? Doesn’t it make more sense for loyalty to invest in loyalty? 

As mentioned earlier, these partners might be (a) other denominations, (b) parachurch organizations, (c) unconventional associations, or (d) multi-site church networks. In Part Two, we will look at specific case studies in which these partnering churches have structured themselves in a very diverse manner—with strong loyalties to outside partners and supporters. Such groups are generally outside of the authority of the SBC. They have their own rules, complete autonomy, unique confessions and leadership unaccountable to Southern Baptists.

Please note that I sometimes use this term partner to refer to individual churches that may technically fit within the official definition of a Southern Baptist Church, even though they do not take our name, identify with us publicly, contribute more than a pittance financially, participate in any of our ministries or meetings, or have their names on any kind of publicly available registry identifying them as Southern Baptists. At the risk of being overly blunt, there may be some churches out there with members who are not really Southern Baptists in their heart of hearts, and they know they are not really Southern Baptists, but they are willing to pretend they are Southern Baptists in order to get what we give to our own. They are not in it to give. They are in it to take. We have done a good job of incentivizing churches to become technically Southern Baptist without ever really asking them to fall in love with Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Church Potlucks, Brotherhood Breakfasts, Fifth Quarters, VBS, Christmas Cantatas or the Bereavement Casserole Brigade. Frankly, they’re not very Southern Baptist, and they don’t really want to be. But for a little church planting money and a few seminary discounts, they can at least bring themselves to call us one of their “partners.”

3. MEMBERS

Officially, according to the SBC Constitution, a church is Southern Baptist if it meets three conditions. First, it has a faith and practice closely identifying with our statement of faith, which is The Baptist Faith and Message. Notice it is not necessary to adopt the statement, which is frankly quite broadly written to begin with, but only to “closely identify” with it. This condition is useful whenever a church endorses homosexual behavior, for example, since such a position is clearly not “closely identifying” with our statement of faith. Second, it has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the SBC. This could be done by completing the Annual Church Profile. It could be satisfied by Church Business Meeting minutes affirming their intention to cooperate. Third, it makes undesignated contributions through the Cooperative Program or directly through the Executive Committee or toward any convention entity in the prior year. No dollar amount is specified. Thus, to be a Southern Baptist Church, officially, all you really have to do is (a) basically believe like we do, (b) state somewhere that you will cooperate with the SBC, and (c) give at least something to any Southern Baptist entity. It is easier to become a Southern Baptist Church than it is to join a wholesale food club, rent a locker at an amusement park, or order a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

The definition above is the official one—the one I consider to be far too lenient to sufficiently guard the long-term interests of the SBC. However, as I am using the term “member” in this series, I am talking about the truly faithful, loyal, long-standing, traditional Southern Baptist Church. Perhaps this church has been around for 50 or 100 years or more. They might give 10% through the Cooperative Program and 3% to their local Baptist Association. They have a VBS every summer. They invite evangelists to speak at Revivals at least once a year. They are active in their State Convention. They know about Hershel Hobbs Commentaries. They know about the envelope offering system. They know we don’t claim to have assigned seating in church—but you better not sit in anyone’s seat just the same. This is the church that is culturally Southern Baptist, convictionally Southern Baptist, and unashamedly Southern Baptist. These are the churches primarily paying the bills in our denomination. They are loyal Southern Baptist Churches filled with godly, faithful, humble souls. They are giving much more than they take. And they pretty much assume that the people and churches and groups with which we partner are similarly proud to be generous and committed Southern Baptists whose absolute and undivided denominational loyalties match their own.

In Part Two, we will explore some of these partners and their divided loyalties.