NASHVILLE -- Despite pleas from Baptist leaders around the world, the Southern Baptist Conventions Executive Committee approved a recommendation to withdraw funding and membership from the Baptist World Alliance, making way for the creation of an SBC-led global network of more conservative Baptists that may rival the BWA, Feb. 17, 2004.
The Committee followed the December recommendation to withdraw membership from the BWA; a group they helped create 100 years ago, and what they now call a marginalized institution.
Morris Chapman, President of the SBC Executive Committee, presented the December recommendation during their closed-door, exclusive conference. Describing this report as an interim report to serve as the background to the committees final recommendation, Morris restated the main complaints and reason to break away.
"Continuing to allow presentations that call into question the truthfulness of Holy Scripture, refusing to support openly the idea that all who are saved must come to the salvation through conscious faith in Jesus Christ, and promoting women as preachers and pastors are among the issues that make it impossible to endorse the BWA as a genuinely representative organization of world Baptists," the study committee said.
Following the December reports release, several Baptist leaders worldwide denied the charges and voiced strong support for BWA and dismay at the charges of liberalism.
"The BWA rejects categorically this false accusation of liberalism," BWA vice president Denton Lotz said in December. "Of course, there is a spectrum of theological thought in all of our conventions, just as in local churches, but we belong to one another because we belong to Christ."
In the final report, the nine-member study committee claimed that some BWA leaders, including Lotz, "took the opportunity to vent what appears to be pent-up feelings of hostility about our convention" in response to the December report.
"Due to these revelations, we need not now justify or vilify, but can simply do what we preferred to do in the first place, which is to politely withdraw from an organization that, at least for us, no longer efficiently communicates to the unsaved a crystal-clear gospel message that our Lord Jesus Christ is solely sufficient for salvation," the report stated.
The plan approved by the Executive Committee not only calls for the termination of membership, but of financial support as well. Until the last fiscal year, the SBC was the largest contributor to the BWA, providing $300,000 of the $1.7 million annual revenue reaped by the organization.
The executive committee also approved a study on how the convention may re-direct the flow of funds to establish an even closer bond of fellowship with conservative evangelical Christians around the world"
"For us, the decision is one of stewardship," the report states. "If we can multiply the harvest by reapplying the funds, there is no true Christian who should take issue."
"We believe we can take the money being contributed to the Baptist World Alliance and we can begin to build strong bridges with conservative evangelical Christian Baptists in all parts of the world," Chapman explained.
While "we do not intend to organize a fellowship body similar to the Baptist World Alliance," he said committee members believe international networking efforts will produce "a much stronger contribution to our witness to the world."
Chapman said the bottom-line question is: "Does the Baptist World Alliance best represent who we are to Christians and Baptists around the world or has the time come that Southern Baptists can best represent themselves? We do have the voluntary right to withdraw just as we have the voluntary right to engage."
While the resolution passed with an overwhelming 62-10 vote, several of the SBC leaders presented a separate resolution calling for unity.
Executive Committee member Nancy McGuigan of Coatesville, Pa., read a resolution adopted by a committee of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey.
Urging SBC and BWA leaders "to begin immediately to find a way for reconciliation for the good of the Kingdom," the resolution called on Baptists around the world "to pray fervently for God to bring unity through the power of Christ and to bring reconciliation between the BWA and the SBC for a unified witness to a world in need of Christ."
National Woman's Missionary Union President Janet Hoffman, also a member of the Executive Committee, issued a call for Baptist unity.
Citing WMU's commitment to continue to support the work of BWA and its women's department, Hoffman said, "It would be a blessing in the view of many if we did not rush to judgment" before SBC and BWA leaders explored ways to find unity.
Addressing the committee's focus on stewardship, Hoffman said, "There is a stewardship of witness involved here too." She said the witness of the SBC's Empowering Kingdom Growth ministry emphasis "is diluted by division but is multiplied by unity."
The proposal will now go to messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention in June for final approval. The action would take effect Oct. 1, deleting the final annual SBC support for the Baptist World Alliance.
After the meeting, Lotz expressed a hope for some type of reconciliation.
"We're not bitter, we're sad," Lotz said over "the breach of fellowship." Southern Baptists will continue to be welcome at BWA gatherings, he said. Asked about the impact of the SBC defunding on the BWA's $1.6 million budget, Lotz said, "This is not a question of money. It is a question of fellowship."
Lotz also stated, "We're an alliance, we're not a denomination." An alliance of Baptists from different cultures cannot stipulate a particular set of doctrines like a single denomination can, noting that Russian Baptists, for example, do not embrace the doctrine that believers have eternal security in Jesus.