Month: October 2003

At five years, God has blessed SBTC

You are reading the convention issue of the TEXAN. Some of you have joined us in Corpus and others of you are tending the farm back home. I wish you could all be here. God is doing a marvelous work in Texas through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. We are enjoying the five-year anniversary of our existence.

It does not seem like it has been five years since 120 congregations were represented by the constituting messenger body. Stan Coffey was elected our first president, we adopted a $900,000 operating budget, and I had the privilege to be called to serve as Executive Director. In 60 short months, phenomenal numerical and financial growth has occurred. With those as measurements, it is evident that the Kingdom of God has expanded. Praise His holy name!

The SBTC has sought to be positive, missionary, visionary and faithful to the churches. What does the future hold for us? Only God knows, but let me make a forecast from my heart.

I believe one of the most significant ministries we will launch in the second five years is a fulfillment of the Hispanic Initiative. Rudy Hernandez, the second president of SBTC, provided invaluable direction in this effort. We will be adding a person to our ministry staff to lead this important facet of our work. Millions of precious souls in Texas need to hear about Jesus. A full-orbed approach will be implemented to reach all people groups, especially our Hispanic friends.

Perhaps flying under radar for right now is our 2020 Vision Team. George Harris, our outgoing president, shared my burden for this project. SBTC is committed to “next generation” leadership development. By 2020, I will be off the scene. Someone else will be in my place of service. It could be someone who is 23 years of age today. Unless the next generation in our churches is brought into Kingdom work through the SBTC we will lose the most valuable earthly resource we have. We have wonderful young leaders being involved in convention life already. Over the next few years, we will be passing the torch to even more of these fine men and women.

Of course, we will keep doing the things that the churches have mandated as priorities?church planting and evangelism. Budgetary emphasis will continue on these two areas of ministry. New partners will come alongside SBTC, giving more institutional choices to churches. Yet, we will refrain from building a large bureaucracy. More churches in Texas will decide to be a part of a state convention that has doctrinal fidelity and a supportive relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Whether you are at Corpus or at home, I know you are excited about the future. Jesus is coming. Life is short. Let us remain faithful, Galatians 6:9.

Your servant in Christ,

Jim Richards

Executive Committee lawyer argues Sole membership

Executive Committee lawyer argues ‘Sole membership’ language prevents pirating of entities

The Southern Baptist Convention’s use of sole membership–that the SBC has ultimate authority over its entities–is nothing more than an affirmation of the legal relationship between the SBC and its organizations, argues D. August Boto, a lawyer and the SBC Executive Committee’s vice president for convention policy. He contends New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley’s fear that sole membership moves the SBC toward connectionalism is unjustified because autonomy is unaffected.

In an interview with the Southern Baptist TEXAN, Boto explained why he believes there is nothing “un-Baptistic” about the SBC wanting the documents of its entities to reflect that the SBC is the sole member of their corporations, reiterating statements made in a Sept. 24 letter to the Louisiana Baptist Message. “None of these entities profess to hold sway over any local church–quite the contrary,” he wrote. “Sole membership is merely a restatement, in a corporate law language, of subsidiary governing principles our Convention has always used.”

When the North American Mission Board was created in 1996 through the merger of program assignments from the Brotherhood and Radio and TV commissions and the Home Mission Board, the SBC was listed as the sole member of that new corporation. As many state Baptist colleges were changing their documents to reduce the influence of the state Baptist conventions that had long contributed to their support, the SBC Executive Committee “worked with each (SBC) entity individually and fraternally” to prevent a similar fate.

Likewise, many state conventions asked the ministries they supported to restate their charters to guarantee such agencies could not move to independent status without permission.

The International Mission Board, Baptist Sunday School Board (later renamed LifeWay Christian Resources), Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary quickly gave assent. This amendment “doesn’t give any new ability to the convention,” stated Sunday School Board President James T. Draper, who still leads LifeWay. “It just puts in writing what they have already claimed, that we belong to the Southern Baptist Convention.” Within another year, the Annuity Board, Midwestern, Southwestern, and Golden Gate seminaries passed the measure, offering similar affirmation of the objective being accomplished.

When Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary took up the matter in April of 2000, the school’s president said the amendment to the seminary’s bylaws was necessary to ensure that the school’s governing authority remains with its board of trustees while at the same time protecting the SBC’s rights as owner of the seminary. “Many [Baptist] universities have bolted from their state convention,” said Paige Patterson, then Southeastern’s president. “The Executive Committee does not want to see that happen with the seminaries.” Three-and-a-half years later as the president of a different school, Patterson said, “I wish now we’d considered the matter more cautiously.”

Calling the source of the idea of sole membership “a noble idea” when “we have had too many institutions pirated away,” Patterson added, “The cure can sometimes be as bad as the disease.” After reading Kelley’s Baptist polity paper, the new president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth said he could not find “one syllable” with which he does not agree. “The issue is obviously one that has been too much neglected and needs the kind of definition which Dr. Kelley has brilliantly constructed.

“Any tendency to vest increasing power in the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention or in the staff of the Executive Committee will eventually, and inevitably, fall on hard times and prove divisive. I wish now we had considered the matter more cautiously.”

Other Texans share Kelley’s concern that sole ownership, while intended to protect Southern Baptist assets, is not worth the price if it risks Southern Baptist polity. “The conservative resurgence was possible because of the broad involvement of the common Baptist. I’m concerned that we carefully guard this principle of grassroots involvement,” stated Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Jim Richards.

“We must not move in the direction of centralized power and connectionalism, or even the perception of these. This has not been the path of Baptists,” he insisted. “It is crucial that we maintain the trust of Southern Baptists and accountability to the true owners of our denomination–the churches.”

ERLC President Richard Land said Southern Baptists are used to applying the term “autonomy” to the local church, but not in reference to Southern Baptist entities. “No Southern Baptist entity is autonomous in the way that the local church is autonomous. An entity of the Southern Baptist Convention is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention. Trustees are elected [by the SBC messengers] to exercise oversight on behalf of the SBC, not on behalf of the entity.”

When it comes to other entities, including the Executive Committee, Land said they are autonomous.  “There is no vertical structure.”

In James L. Sullivan’s book, Baptist Polity–As I See It, the former SBC president and CEO of the Baptist Sunday School Board wrote, “Level applies only when local churches and denominational units are referred to in their relationships.  At that point, the church should be recognized always as the highest level.  All denominational units must exist and serve in a way subject to the joint wishes of participating churches.”

While Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary President William Crews finds most of Kelley’s paper to be a correct reflection of Baptist polity as he has known it, he does not share the concern over sole membership.  “I have never had any doubt as to who owns Golden Gate Seminary.  It has belonged to the SBC since 1950,” he told the TEXAN, noting that the school’s trustee board is elected by the Convention.

Midwestern’s president, Phil Roberts, added, “I am thoroughly committed to the proposition that the sole owner of MBTS is the Southern Baptist Convention.  That concept I affirm with all of my being,” he stated.  “Dr. Kelley’ concern, in light of Louisiana law, is the concern that the Executive Committee could supersede the NOBTS board of trustees.  Obviously, that would violate SBC polity.”

Tasked with responsibility to handle the business of the SBC between annual meetings, Crews said a “runaway” Executive Committee could exert unusual influence over the institution, but he finds that highly unlikely.  “There would always be the opportunity of recourse to the SBC in session to prevent any kind of unwarranted action,” he said, adding that such an unlikely occurrence could have happened prior to the sole member change as well.

Sullivan warned that the SBC’s Executive Committee is a point at which centralization “could occur and gradually evolve into a high level authority unintended by the body.”  He wrote, “This is why the convention has an Executive Committee instead of Executive Board,” he said, reminding that Executive Committee actions require Convention approval.

“Bottom line is that I am quite comfortable with SBC ownership of GGBTS,” Crews told the TEXAN.  “I may not always agree with Executive Committee, but that appears to me to be the Baptist way of doing business.  I have no regrets in the action we took adopting the sole member amendment.”

Similarly, Draper told the TEXAN that he wanted to be sure everyone knew that the entity he leads is ultimately accountable to the SBC.  “There are clear legal limits to the rights of the ‘sole member,’ he said.  “It clarifies the ultimate ownership of our entities, but does not give any additional liberties that were not held by the convention prior to our action.  Draper turns to a short history of the Sunday School Board written in 19114 by its first president, J. M. Frost, for clarification.  “‘The Sunday School Board, with all of its holdings as in all of its operations, is answerable to the Southern Baptist Convention.  It is chartered under the laws of Tennessee as to its corporate life and business, but is made dependent by the very terms of the charter upon the Convention as its governing power and the source of its life and activity,'” he quoted Frost as writing.

With SBC entities spread out across nine different states, the language of articles of incorporation must fit the conditions of particular state laws.  In the case of Louisiana, laws that are based on Napoleonic law (instead of English common law) regard a sole member as having broader power than the other 49 states.  This interpretation underscores Kelley’s concern that the Executive Committee request favors connectionalism in the state where NOBTS operates.  That argument prompted sympathy from many of the SBC entity leaders who consider Kelley’s situation unique.

“As with any unfamiliar terminology, there may continue to be some misunderstandings, fears and unjustified adverse reactions about sole membership,” Boto insisted.  He places “the fear that connectionalism has anything to do with the use of sole membership by the SBC” in those categories.  “I pray that NOBTS will see sole membership for while it is–an operating model that tracks our Baptist polity perfectly, affording significant additional benefits to both the SBC and to the seminary, with no negative attributes at all.”

Still, Kelley remains convinced that he is not exaggerating what could be the long-term effects of sole membership.  “I am worried that we could get to the point in which dissent or creative thought is discouraged in convention proceedings,” he told the TEXAN.  “What a tragedy that would be, for the conservative Resurgence itself was a movement of dissent from the status quo.  When we guard the opportunity for differing opinions, we keep ourselves open for renewal when God knows we need it,” he added.

“There are Episcopalians, Methodists, and members of other denominations that are working very hard for their own version of a Conservative Resurgence, but connectional polity makes it very difficult.  Connectional polity makes it much easier for the people at the top to preserve the status quo.  Autonomous organization, rooted in the centrality of the local church rather that the positional authority of leaders, makes it easier for revival to shake up the status quo.  That is why I am and ever will be an advocate for the Baptist way.”

SBTC annual meeting: Victory in Jesus

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention messengers and guests will gather in Corpus Christi Oct. 27-28 at the Bayfront Plaza Convention Center, 1901 Shoreline Drive, for the SBTC’s sixth annual meeting. The 2003 theme is “Victory in Jesus.”

In conjuction with the annual meeting, the SBTC Pastors’ Conference will begin Monday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Bayfront Plaza.

The annual meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Monday, concluding at 8:55 p.m. and 8:15 a.m. to 8:55 p.m. Tuesday.

SBTC and Southern Baptist Convention entities will present reports to messengers and attendees throughout the proceedings.

Convention speakers will include retired pastor and SBTC President George Harris of San Antonio; Tom Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla. and former SBC president, who will deliver the guest message; and David Galvan, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Nueva in Garland, delivering the convention sermon.

Headquarters hotel for the annual meeting is the Omni Corpus Christi, Bayfront Tower. Call 361-887-1600 for reservation information. Drury Inn of Corpus Christi is the alternate hotel and can be reached at 361-289-8200.

The annual Women’s Luncheon begins at 11:45 a.m. Monday featuring Rhonda Kelley, wife of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley.

The President’s Luncheon will be noon Tuesday featuring James Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn.

Also, Texas Baptist Men on Sunday will host a men’s rally in conjunction with the SBTC annual meeting from 2 to 4 p.m. at Travis Baptist Church in Corpus Christi. Speaking will be Gibbie McMillan, Missions Services Associate of the SBTC. Ken Lasater, SBTC church ministry support associate, is organizing the music, which will include the Ricky Davis Band from Carpenters Way Baptist Church in Lufkin.

On Sunday at 6 p.m., the annual Hispanic Rally is scheduled at the Omni Bayfront Tower Hotel, Nueces A Ballroom. Refreshments will be served followed by a concert by Julio Arriola of Houston, music from El Shadai Baptist Church in San Juan, and messages from several speakers, including SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards and SBTC President George Harris.

Call the SBTC office at 972-953-0878 or toll-free at 877-953-SBTC as soon as possible to reserve luncheon tickets or for more information regarding activities related to the annual meeting.

2003 Pastors’ Conference schedule

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The 2003 Pastors’ Conference of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Oct. 27 in Corpus Christi will focus on godly living in an ungodly world.

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Speakers include four Texas pastors, Ken Hemphill, national strategist for Southern Baptists’ Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis, and Terry Fox, pastor of the Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan.., who drew national headlines last year for opposing homosexual involvement in his local Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring organization.

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Texas speakers include Dale Jackson, pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church, Nacogdoches; Scott Camp, pastor of First Baptist Church, Mansfield; Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, Arlington, and Frank Harber, pastor of First Baptist Church, Colleyville.

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The conference is in conjunction with the SBTC annual meeting at the Bayfront Plaza Convention Center Oct. 27 and 28.

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Monday, Sept. 27

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Morning Session

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8:45 Music

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9:00 Welcome

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9:10 Message by Dale Jackson, pastor, Bethel Baptist Church, Nacogdoches

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9:30 Music

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9:40 Message by Scott Camp, pastor, First Baptist Church, Mansfield

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10:15 Testimony by Yolanda McPherson

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10:25 Music

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10:45 Message by Terry Fox, pastor, Immanuel Baptist Church, Wichita, Kan.

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11:15 Prayer

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Afternoon

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Session

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1:30 Welcome/Prayer

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1:35 Music

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1:45 Message by Dwight McKissic, pastor, Cornerstone Baptist Church, Arlington

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2:10 Election of Officers

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2:20 Music

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2:30 Testimo</ti</sc

NOBTS head gives caution on polity issue

“After a long and passionate struggle to fill every SBC board with Trustees they trusted and every entity presidency with known conservatives, the heirs of the Conservative Resurgence exchanged the historic Baptist principle of a trustee-based organizational autonomy for a connectional polity that would tighten direct denominational control over the entities. Having seen God do a miracle once, Conservatives changed the rules lest they have to count on a miracle again.”

The president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary imagined a future church historian offering that assessment of the present era of Southern Baptist life. Ministering in a town with plenty of fortune tellers, Chuck Kelley offered his prediction of the future out of a concern that the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee is violating the principle of organizational autonomy.

New Orleans Seminary is the last SBC entity to consider a request issued from the staff of the SBC Executive Committee in 1997. Seminary trustees asked Kelley to write a paper to assist in their deliberations this month about the request–which would underscore in explicit legal terms the SBC’s ultimate authority over its entities. Kelley presented the paper in a Sept. 4 chapel address, available in written form on the school’s website at http://www.nobts.edu. The white paper contains Kelley’s warning that yielding to the Executive Committee’s staff request could lead to “a fundamental change in historic Baptist polity,” compromising the denomination’s practice of organizational autonomy.

“As heirs of the Conservative Resurgence, we must be careful to preserve both our Baptist theology and the way of doing church and ministry that has always characterized Southern Baptists as a people,” he stated. It’s not the size of the step that causes him concern. “My problem is the direction of the step.” Added to that concern is a worry over where “this new path” will stop. “It is quite possible that this new form of control will encourage an individual or group, intentionally or unintentionally to attempt to exercise a higher level of central control over the entities” of the SBC. In the course of his message, Kelley offered a recent example of Executive Committee representatives proposing “closing or dramatically changing Midwestern Seminary” as an example of an unprecedented “stunning suggestion” that “would not have been made prior to the ‘sole member’ strategy.”

Over the past six years, 11 of the 12 SBC entities have approved the request of the Executive Committee to the sole member language. The proposal was described as an effort to prevent renegade actions by any Southern Baptist entity through charter changes such as those of some state Baptist colleges or state convention entities.

Kelley agrees with the objective behind the recommendation, but stated “a profound problem” with the proposed solution. Sole membership, as defined in Louisiana, “places all powers of governance in the only member and gives that member all of the power,” Kelley told the TEXAN, “including the power to dissolve the corporation and dispose of its assets.” At one meeting of the SBC, messengers could vote to close the seminary or fire the president or replace the whole trustee board, he said.

“In other states the SBC can deny itself those rights even though it is the sole member, but not in Louisiana. Whatever may be said in the SBC bylaws, the sole member of a Louisiana corporation always has all power.”

In the paper he said, “Sole membership, particularly as it is defined by the state of Louisiana, introduces connectionalism to the denominational structure in the place of organizational autonomy which we have historically practiced and so beautifully illustrated during the Conservative Resurgence. It starts a movement away from the decisive influence of the SBC and towards direct control by the SBC.” He calls the action a “small step away from duly elected SBC trustees governing the institution in accordance with duly established SBC parameters, and a small step toward increasing the role of the denomination in direct entity governance.”

Several Southern Baptist leaders are lending public support to Kelley’s arguments, while others privately praise his independent spirit. The issue surfaced in a recent meeting of the Great Commission Council at which every SBC entity was represented, during discussions with state convention executive directors at a North American Mission Board dialogue, and in the hallways of the Sept. 21-23 Executive Committee meeting. (See related article on reaction to the Baptist polity paper, page 7.)

Of the three distinctive characteristics he cited as identifying Southern Baptists–doctrinal agreement, cooperative missions and autonomous organization–Kelley focuses on the latter in his paper. With “no controlling external authority over Baptist churches and conventions but Christ and His Word, the Bible,” Kelley wrote that autonomous organization prevents a national or state convention from controlling any church or other convention and vice versa. While churches and conventions can make requests or recommendations of other entities, they cannot require or direct action, he said.

All SBC entities are on a level plane with “no pyramid of leadership,” he wrote.  The SBC maintains “decisive influence” rather than “operational control,” he added, all within the context of SBC-controlled parameters.  Convention-elected trustees operate within the guidelines of ministry assignments, business plans, charters and budgets approved or endorsed by the Convention.  These entities remain accountable to the Convention through annual ministry and financial reports.

“Southern Baptists believe this is a close as we can get to a New Testament model incorporating our doctrinal convictions about the Lordship of Christ and the authority of Scripture into an organizational structure for the Convention and its entities,” Kelley stated.  Unlike many other denominations, a hierarchy of leadership is avoided in order to “affirm with unmistakable clarity the supremacy of Christ and the Bible over all human authority, structures, and organizations.”

Accepting the reality of sin, Kelley said Southern Baptists divided power into many segments through checks and balances.  “There is no one person or board of Trustees in charge of everything for the Convention, lest there be a temptation for one person or board to control the agenda of the Convention.”  Each of the six seminaries has a separate president and board, he noted, preventing any one person or board from controlling theological education in Southern Baptist life.  Furthermore, the location of the 12 SBC entities in nine different states discourages a “headquarters” mentality.  “If any SBC leader has an agenda that is out of step with God’s agenda or the needs of our churches, our polity makes it difficult for that leader to corrupt the agenda of other entities or the state conventions,” he wrote.

“The center of Southern Baptist life is the local church, not the denomination,” Kelley said.  Thus, “the Convention and its entities were created to facilitate, not replace, the ministry of local churches.”  Through this rejection of connectionalism, Southern Baptists stood instead on the principle of organizational autonomy, he wrote.  They preferred that entities operate out of “an individual sense of divine direction,” rather than “an agenda handed to them by a denominational hierarchy.”

Kelley turns to the recent conservative resurgence for an illustration of organizational autonomy at work.  “Entity Trustees were elected in their normal rotation, which is the traditional way for the SBC to exercise its decisive influence, and those Trustees exercised their operational control to change the direction of the entities,” Kelley wrote, rather than gaining control at one annual session by one dominant action.

“It took more than 10 years, but the process worked.  Conservatives did it the Baptist way.  The most profound and significant course correction in the history of American Christianity was not a hard and fast power play, but rather a long, slow application of Baptist polity by Baptist people working to address a Baptist problem in a Baptist way,” he wrote.  “It happened because of the passionate commitment of Southern Baptists to both their doctrinal convictions and their polity.”

Kelley recalled that the attitude of trustee candidates toward historic Baptist doctrine was rarely questioned prior to the conservative resurgence and their commitment to uphold the significance and validity of SBC influence was assumed.   As a result, “some entities began to drift from their moorings” as trustees failed to exercise responsibility for institutional oversight on behalf of Southern Baptists.  The other major factor connecting Southern Baptists with their entities involves provision of adequate resources through the Cooperative Program (CP) and two national mission offerings.

A smooth and harmonious relationship exists between the SBC and its entities when institutional oversight and provision of adequate resources are addressed, Kelley wrote.  In spite of most of the convention leaders trying to derail the grassroots movement that corrected theological drift, no attempt was made to the decisive influence of the SBC because it was impossible, Kelley said.  “None of the entities could have survived without CP, the mission offerings, and the goodwill of SBC churches.”  He credits the Cooperative Program with holding “the system together while the reformation of Trustee replacement unfolded and took root.”  Trustee oversight and CP resources provide the check and balance system for effective organizational autonomy, he concludes.

Conversely, when state Baptist colleges played a stronger role in selecting their own trustees and CP contributions played a lesser role in their operating budgets, little more than tradition and ethical responsibility compelled the entities to abide by their charter language, Kelley argued.  “Both oversight and provision, the two requirements for organizational autonomy, were weak, and significant problems resulted.”  He goes on to cite the experiences of the SBC and some state conventions for further illustration of the importance of these elements.  “Some state convention entities have ignored their ethical responsibilities to follow the established guidelines of their charters and attempted to eliminate the decisive influence of Southern Baptists in their state conventions.” 

“In an effort to prevent any national entities from ever taking such action,” Kelley said the staff of the SBC Executive Committee “asked each entity to name the southern Baptist Convention as the sole member of the corporation,” giving the SBC direct legal control of every entity.  Executive Committee staff described the only purpose of that move as being “to make the rights of the Southern Baptist Convention to control Trustee election and charter changes indisputable,” he recalled.  “In all other ways, the EC staff has said, entity Trustees would continue to exercise operational control of entity affairs under the decisive influence of SBC guidelines.”

Kelley said his biggest problem with sole membership is disappointment.  “Knowing that the primary theological issues behind our emphasis on organizational autonomy are a radical commitment to the supreme authority of Christ and His Word, the reality of human sin, and the centrality of the local church, it saddens me that biblical conservatives would be the group of record taking the first step toward connectionalism at the national level of SBC life.” 

Rather than fearing the risks associated with organizational autonomy, Kelley places the emphasis on teaching the next generation to be faithful to vigilance in trustee selection and adequate provision for the needs of SBC entities.  He also suggests alternatives to sole membership such as asking duly elected trustees to sign a covenant with the SBC to uphold all SBC guidelines, as well as adding to entity charters financial penalties such as loss of funding for unauthorized charter changes.  He favors creating an environment in which a change in the relationship between the SBC and its entities is unthinkable.

Kelley regards the effectiveness of Southern Baptist polity to be legendary.  “Without an identified human leader of the whole denomination, we grew to a size none would have predicted at our founding.  Without one constant human voice casting again and again the vision for us all, we have all kept the Great Commission at the center of our denominational life.  Without the power of wide, extensive control in any convention, body, entity, or person, we have been bound together by the glue of a common perspective on doctrine and a shared passion to take Christ to the world.”

Instead, Kelley concluded that the work of local churches has set the agenda for the SBC and voices of pastors and people provided the vision for the denomination’s future.  “We knew instinctively the danger of letting any person, denominational body, or entity gain a louder voice than the voice of our churches, for it is through the churches that Jesus has spoken to His people most clearly, and through the churches that Jesus has done the most significant work of our beloved Convention.”

An Executive Committee empowered to act as the sole member of every entity could overwhelm the voice of Southern Baptist churches, Kelley stated.  “It is conceivable that sole membership could one day give a person or persons who gained control of the denominational structure a voice louder that the voices of our churches.  Should that happen, we might have eliminated any possibility of losing an SBC entity, but at what price?”

 

Land reflects on 15 years at ERLC helm

Texas native Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, celebrates 15 years as head of the SBC’s ethics and public policy arm this year. The agency has a different look than it did prior to Land’s tenure. Southern Baptist TEXAN News Editor Tammi Reed Ledbetter interviewed Land by telephone Sept. 25 about changes at the ERLC and the current direction of the agency, formerly known as the Christian Life Commission.

How much has the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission changed from the days of former directors Foy Valentine and Larry Baker, who led the Christian Life Commission that you inherited?

Land: I don’t think there’s any question there was no agency more offensive to the majority of Southern Baptists over time than the then-Christian Life Commission. The convention was increasingly pro-life at a time when Foy Valentine was a founding member of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. When the convention members were trying to get a Sanctity of Life Sunday, the staff of CLC fought against it in the Denominational Calendar Committee. When they couldn’t get the Sunday blocked, they tried to get it moved to another time of year so as to not associate it with abortion, but with war and peace issues.

When the trustees of the then CLC selected me they did a 180-degree turn on the issue of abortion and pro-life issues from where the committee had been during Foy Valentine and Larry Baker’s tenure. Southern Baptists manifestly wanted that to happen. Southern Baptists are the most thoroughly pro-life denomination in America. Our agency that deals with that issue was spouting a pro-abortion, pro-choice position. The board and convention had insisted on changes, but they were coming at a snail’s pace and the staff was dragged kicking and screaming, taking as long as they could.

What changes have been made in terms of speakers and resources?

It was a liberal agency that spouted the liberal, Democratic line that attacked the emergence of the so-called religious right in their publications. They had people like Walter Mondale, Ted Kennedy, Sarah Weddington, and George McGovern speaking at seminars. This is at a time when the vast majority of Southern Baptists were moving in a much more politically and culturally conservative direction. When we were having seminars we would have Al Gore and Trent Lott. They would have Jerry Falwell, but you didn’t see any Trent Lotts, any senator for senator or governor for governor kind of thing.

For several years we had a point-counterpoint in Light (the ERLC magazine)–someone would argue one point and someone else the counterpoint on things like war and peace issues. We did this on several different issues. Our board did pass a policy that we could only have pro-life speakers. We, unlike our predecessors, followed this (instruction).

Is today’s ERLC simply going to the other extreme by offering the conservative, Republican line?

I guess my response would be that Southern Baptists are an overwhelmingly conservative people and so our agenda and our materials are going to come from an overwhelmingly conservative perspective. The convention was overwhelmingly conservative when the CLC was overwhelmingly liberal. The agency was grievously out of step with Southern Baptists.

How did you accomplish change among the staff you inherited?

There were only two program staff left, Larry Braidfoot and Robert Parham, and both of them left within two years of their own accord because they were increasingly unhappy with the direction of the Commission. We made it very clear we were going to address issues from the perspective of the majority of Southern Baptists.

Are Southern Baptists having greater influence on moral issues today?

There’s no question that Southern Baptists are speaking with a more unified voice because the majority position on social, moral and religious liberty issues is being heard in the nation’s capital and to the media across the country in a way they were not before. Southern Baptists are supporting Christian involvement in public policy, espousing a position very different from the Baptist Joint Committee’s radical separation position. Once the religious liberty assignment was added, we were able to coordinate and the Southern Baptist voice was unified. We never claim to speak for all Southern Baptists, but for the majority.

I was once asked, isn’t it confusing in Washington to have you go in as head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and have the Baptist Joint Committee say something else? My response was they’re less confused in Washington than anywhere else. Everyone in Washington that’s in elected office, got elected. They didn’t get all the votes in their states, just the majority. People in Washington understand that not all Southern Baptists agree with me, just the majority. This was in 1998 when I was asked that by Associated Baptist Press, and I said they understood that we had won 19 straight elections and that I spoke for the side that won while James Dunn spoke for the side that lost.

What are some of the issues that the ERLC is addressing that were not covered by the CLC under earlier leaders?

Some of the issues didn’t exist, like the cloning issue and embryonic stem cell tissue.  These are extensions of the sanctity of life issue, but technologically this didn’t exist in 1988 or before.

One area where I did go out of my way to insist on continuity with the previous administration was the race issue.  I don’t agree with Foy Valentine about much, but I did agree with him  on this.  As a teenager in the 1960s it was important to me that the CLC was on the right side of the race issue.  Far too many institutions were on the wrong side.  I made it very clear with the search committee that there would be no change on the Commission’s policy in that regard if they elected me.  Secondly, I felt like we had slid backward in the progress that needed to be made on the civil rights issue.  At the first conference on race relations I invited Foy to be the keynote speaker and got attacked roundly by conservatives for doing so.  He knew I was under considerable pressure not to have him and he was under considerable pressure not to come, but we both agreed this issue was more important than our friends.  It was very important to understand race is not a conservative versus liberal issue, but right versus wrong.  He did come and speak and, in doing so, he was showing his commitment to the issue.  We made it clear that we are for racial reconciliation and racial justice.

It was also terribly important that we establish with Southern Baptists, our pro-life bonafides, that we were strongly committed to being pro-life.  Then we wanted to move out from that and apply the principles of the pro-life ethic to other issues like cloning, euthanasia.  We have done that.

The second area that I was strongly convicted about was to help Southern Baptists understand a lot of the problem with separation of church and state is that people falsely understand it as a two-position issue.  Either you’re a strict separationist or you are for government accommodation of the major religion.  Actually, there’s a third position that is more baptistic and the one we should be espousing.  It’s very unlikely America will get this right unless we, as Southern Baptists, get this right.  The accommodation position says the government should not be acknowledging religion, not be giving favor to anti-religion, but accommodate your right and my right, and every citizen’s right to express our religious convictions according to the dictates of our own consciences in the public square.  I’ve worked hard at trying to help Southern Baptists understand the differences and those three positions.  It was very gratifying when I was asked to take part in a symposium at Southern Seminary sponsored by the Carl F. H. Henry Institute and Boyce, the three positions to be argued were acknowledgement of the majority faith, accommodation and avoidance–the three terms I’ve given.  Those are now on the agenda and part of the consciousness of Southern Baptists.

Religious persecution is another issue we’ve emphasized.  The bad news is that Christian persecution overseas is far worse now than in the last 10 years, but the good news is that it is because there are so many more Christians.

We’ve also helped Southern Baptists take a much more biblical and traditional family-value position on marriage and family.  Under Foy Valentine’s regime and Larry Baker regime, the CLC was committed to an egalitarian position that was committed to equality through no difference between the sexes.  We take, as most Southern Baptists do, a complementarian position that males and females are equal, but different.  Equality is complementary.  Men are different than women.  Husbands have different responsibilities than wives.  I can’t imagine anyone who knows Foy or Larry or any of the people worked for the Christian Life Commission in previous years would think that any of them would have supported the 1009 Article on the Family (of the Baptist Faith and Message).

 

Houston Baptist trustees approve new relationship

HOUSTON?The Houston Baptist University trustee board voted Sept. 23 to affirm a “fraternal relationship” with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), marking the first time a school affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas has officially related to the five-year-old SBTC.

Jim Richards, executive director of the SBTC, which includes 1,361 congregations, welcomed the new relationship, saying, “The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is comprised of churches that had a part in building Houston Baptist University. Students who are members of SBTC churches attend HBU. It is only natural for an educational institution and a convention with compatible views on the nature of Scripture and Baptist distinctives to work together.”

Richards commended the work of HBU President E.D Hodo, Trustee Chairman Mark Denison, and a study committee, led by board member David Stutts, which recommended the relationship.

Meanwhile, trustees of the liberal arts school also re-affirmed the university’s unique affiliation and relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), from which it receives budgeted funds.

Charles Wade, BGCT executive director, said in an HBU press release the BGCT appreciates the “unique relationship” it has with HBU, and, “We recognize and affirm the university’s desire to serve all the Baptists in Texas and beyond, while at the same time maintaining its historic partnership with the BGCT.”

Denison, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gainesville, said such relationships strengthen Houston Baptist University’s ministry.

“Our desire is to reach out to all Texas Baptists, and likewise, for all Texas Baptists to reach out to Houston Baptist University in ways that will honor and not violate the unique affiliation we have with the BGCT.”

Preceding HBU’s decision, Texas Baptist Men voted in February after an exclusive, longstanding relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, to build a fraternal relationship with the SBTC while remaining a BGCT affiliate ? the first such entity to do so.

Texas Baptist Men, comprised of thousands of volunteers in Texas Baptist churches, offers hands-on ministry in areas such as disaster relief and construction support.

Andy Andreason, then Texas Baptist Men’s acting president, told his board the fraternal relationship “permits us to go into every single church in the state to carry out the ministries God has called us to do” while maintaining ties with conventions outside Texas and with the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.

Unlike The Criswell College in Dallas, which has an affiliate relationship with the SBTC involving partial governance and SBTC budgeted funds, the Houston university will not receive SBTC budget funds and the SBTC will have no governing authority in it.

In 2001, the SBTC’s Richards invited fraternal relationships with institutions built by Texas Baptists based on agreement of a “high view of Scripture” and an officially expressed desire to work with the SBTC.

HBU was founded in 1960 as Houston Baptist College and is a coeducational school of more than 2,600 graduate and undergraduate students. Union Baptist Association initiated a study committee to explore starting a Baptist college in the Houston area in 1952 and eight years later the school was born, the school’s website notes. HBU’s student body “reflects the diverse cultural makeup of Houston,” according to the website.

The school’s preamble states it is a “Christian liberal arts university dedicated to the development of moral character, the enrichment of spiritual lives, and the perpetuation of growth in Christian ideals” and founded “under the providence of God.”

ERLC trustees honor Land

NASHVILLE, Tenn.?Upon his 15th anniversary as head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (formerly the Christian Life Commission), trustees honored native Texan Richard Land with a Sept. 16 luncheon featuring tributes from Southern Baptist leaders and awarded him the commission’s 2003 Distinguished Service Award. ERLC trustees also renamed the award for Land himself.

Trustee chairman Dale Wallace of Birmingham, Ala., saluted Land for being a “consistent voice in society annunciating biblical truth.” He said in marking Land’s 15th anniversary trustees wanted to honor Land for his work “as one of God’s primary watchman for spiritual values in this country.”

“I am grateful that the ERLC has been called by the Southern Baptist Convention to help bring about the biblically-based transformation of families, communities and the nation,” Land said. “I don’t see that happening without active and energetic involvement by Southern Baptists.”

A video celebrating Land’s tenure as president of the commission featured taped appearances by SBC notables, including Jack Graham, SBC president and pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano; Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Robert Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board; and Adrian Rogers, former SBC president and pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, bringing congratulations to Land on his service to Southern Baptists.

Morris Chapman, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, and James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources, were in attendance. Letters of congratulations from U.S. President George W. Bush and Tennessee’s U.S. Senators Bill Frist and Lamar Alexander were among those received and read at the gathering.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to be able to serve Southern Baptists these past 15 years at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission,” Land said, noting he was more humbled than anything else about what had been said about him. “Any success I have had, the primary honor goes to the Lord Jesus Christ,” he continued, saying he believed the greatest years of the Southern Baptist Convention are in the future. “When you are privileged to serve as an SBC entity head, you get to know what a great people of God Southern Baptists are,” Land said.

Trustees announced the first recipient of the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award as Claude Witt, a former ERLC trustee and retired executive director of the Kentucky League for Alcohol and Gambling Problems. Land said Witt had “labored tirelessly in the Lord’s vineyard for truth and justice.”

U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kansas, was awarded the ERLC’s John Leland Religious Liberty Award for 2003. Land called Brownback the “poster child for conviction politics” in Washington, D.C., because of his principled stands on public policy issues critical to America’s families.

ERLC trustees also signed off on a $3.3 million budget for the next fiscal year. While the budget reflects no growth from last year’s budget, the new budget amount is more than 5 percent above estimated actual receipts for the current budget year.

Land and the ERLC received praise from the board for seeking out cooperative agreements with other ministries to work toward the commission’s goals. Commission staffers announced strategic alliances with Church Initiatives, who partnered with the ERLC in developing the new “Chance to Change” video series aimed at helping problem gamblers and their families (www.chancetochange.org); American Tract Society; Tyndale House Publishers, who jointly publish the ERLC’s monthly “Faith & Family” bulletin insert; Parable Group, the backbone of the ERLC’s online bookstore (www.familybookstore.net); and Bsafe Online, an Internet filter provider (www.bsafeonline.com/family).

Trustee chairman Wallace encouraged the staff to continue to explore ways to “lock arms” with other ministries in these strategic alliances, saying the partnerships allow the ERLC to distribute more efficiently critical Bible-based content on moral and ethical issues.

Harold Harper, head of ERLC’s broadcast ministry, was named executive vice president. Land said Harper will continue to have responsibility for the broadcast area and will foster an important synergy in pursuit of the organization’s vision of an “American society that affirms and practices Judeo-Christian values.” Complimenting Harper for his six years of “ground-breaking” service at the SBC entity, Land said Harper adds an important element as a “strategic thinker” to the entity’s work. He said given Harper’s expertise, the new position would allow the ERLC to broaden its reach and maximize its resources.

Newly named members of the ERLC Research Institute are Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Philip Roberts and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary assistant dean for ethics and philosophical studies, Doug Blount. The research institute serves to advise and assist the ERLC in equipping Southern Baptists and others in the areas of ethics, morality and public policy.

EmPower conference, rallies give new energy

Formerly known as the SBTC Evangelism Conference, the emPOWER Conference 2004, Feb. 9-10 at the Arlington Convention Center, will feature nationally known speakers and will be accompanied by six regional emPOWER Rallies across Texas in January and February.

Designed to “uplift, inspire and motivate,” according to promotional literature, and based on Acts 1:8, which speaks of being empowered by the Spirit, the inaugural emPOWER Conference (see promo, Page 10) will include Texan Zig Ziglar, motivator and author; Henry Blackaby, speaker and author of the popular “Experiencing God” study; Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano and president of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.

Grammy-winning singer Larnelle Harris, songwriter and worship leader Don Moen and gospel trio Greater Vision will lead the conference in musical worship.

Other guests include Ergun Caner, Harry Lewis, George Harris, Bob Gomez and James F. Eaves.

The related regional emPOWER Rallies begin Jan. 11 and continue through Feb. 29 and will provide a local alternative for those unable to travel to the Arlington conference and an impetus for those able to attend both conference and rally.

Each rally site will host simultaneous youth and children’s rallies featuring music and relevant, Bible-based teaching.

Featured speaker for the Youth emPOWER Rallies is Pat Cammarata, who for more than 19 years has taught Bible studies, leadership training and parenting ministry seminars.

The Christian band Rhythm, regulars at camp and concert settings, will play their brand of music, described as “eclectic.”

The SBTC evangelism office said Cammarata and Rhythm are also available for local church dates the same weekends as the emPOWER Rallies on a “love offering” basis.

Tom Cottar, SBTC director of student evangelism, said he encourages churches to schedule area-wide Disciple Now (DNOW) youth events the same weekends as the Youth emPOWER Rallies.

A newly-published DNOW kit, “Great Love,” is available with a themed curriculum, T-shirts, games, etc. Samples are available by e-mailing Cottar at tomc@sbtexas.com.

The Children’s emPOWER Rallies, coinciding with the other events, are planned for children ages 5-12.

These will include age-appropriate activities in which the gospel is presented. Area children’s ministry leaders will coordinate the activities. Childcare will be available at each church site for birth through 4 years.

SBC bylaw never used but trustees could be removed

Can a slate of trustees to a Southern Baptist Convention entity be replaced in one fell swoop?

It hasn’t happened in the SBC’s 158-year history, but an SBC bylaw makes it possible, says Morris Chapman, SBC executive committee president and chief executive officer.

Prior to the restatement of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s charter several years ago, the school retained the option of rejecting any of the trustees recommended by the SBC. Moderate Baptists who supported Southern President Roy Honeycutt against the criticism of conservatives considered using that tactic to halt the influence of an increasingly conservative board.

Years later, when Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Russell Dilday was fired by trustees of that institution, one of his supporters recommended the SBC vacate Southwestern’s board as a punitive measure. Neither the supporters of Honeycutt nor Dilday achieved their goals.

The question rose again last month at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary when the seminary president, Chuck Kelley, delivered a Baptist polity paper to the seminary body during faculty convocation.

Kelley cited an incident that occurred last April when the SBC Funding Study Committee appeared at a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee officers meeting. Tasked with studying the funding mechanism for the SBC, the committee included Executive Committee (EC) chairman Gary Smith, pastor of Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington; EC CEO Chapman, and EC Vice-Chairman Bill Anderson, a retired pastor from Clearwater, Fla. They raised the prospect of transforming Midwestern from a full-fledged seminary to a regional campus as an extension of another SBC seminary.

Rumors about the fate of Midwestern, as well as that of Golden Gate, have surfaced repeatedly in recent years due to several failed efforts to study merging the two schools or attaching Midwestern to a larger seminary. Golden Gate President Bill Crews acknowledged that it doesn’t help either school when such issues are discussed in the public arena because it takes years to get over perceptions. “People who read bad news don’t always read the good news that proposed actions did not take place. It’s harmful to an institution to create any undue certainty about its future,” he added.

Midwestern’s Roberts also clarified that “nothing could be further from the truth” than rumors that Midwestern is closing. In a report to Missouri Baptists he cited nine advances giving evidence of “the great and good things the Lord is currently doing and has done in the last year at Midwestern.” He described the discussion that occurred last spring as concluding “with a clear affirmation of MBTS’ mission and goals.”

In a Sept. 18 letter to Pathway Editor Don Hinkle, Chapman objected to the Missouri Baptist paper’s characterization of an exchange between Chapman and former EC trustee David Tolliver of Excelsior Springs, Mo., who serves as a Midwestern trustee. Asked by a trustee what would happen if the Midwestern board refused to cooperate with an SBC call to adopt changes in the status of Midwestern, Chapman recalled saying, “The SBC has left itself no recourse to overturn governing actions of an entity’s trustees. The only course of action available to the SBC is the possibility of removing the trustees by vote of the Convention in session.”

Hinkle, along with other Missouri Baptists, questioned the propriety of an EC committee raising the issue of Midwestern’s fate. One EC member from Missouri expressed a sense of betrayal that the committee had not informed him of the consideration. Midwestern’s board chairman, along with Roberts, showed up at the study committee’s April 24 meeting unannounced to insist on a hearing. In a letter to Hinkle, Smith said Roberts and trustees “made a compelling argument on behalf of Midwestern.”

Smith clarified the committee’s intent, quoting a subsequent communiqué from Chapman, noting “the committee never considered an outright closure of Midwestern, but was investigating whether it would be more efficient to provide seminary education in the Kansas City area from a regional campus rather than a stand-alone seminary.” Furthermore, the committee decided not to recommend serious changes at Midwestern apart from possible comprehensive strategies for the whole system of SBC theological education delivery that are still on the table. Hinkle wrote in his editorial that Missouri Baptists with whom he spoke are relatively confident that the Midwestern issue is off the table.

In his fall “State of the Seminary” address, Roberts told a chapel audience, “I have been guaranteed and reassured by leadership at the Executive Committee that, in fact, that is not on the table whatsoever,” referring to rumors of closing the school. “The only way that can happen is for our board of trustees [to] vote to do so?which is a fat chance.” He reminded that if such a motion were to happen, the SBC would h