WOODSTOCK, Ga.–Greater funding of the Cooperative Program will occur when Southern Baptists have greater confidence their gifts support the priorities of North American church planting, global pioneer missions around the globe and theological education, declared Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt in an interview with four state Baptist paper editors.
Hunt responded to critics who he believes have misjudged his motive in calling for a task force to examine the denomination “at every level” via his “Great Commission Resurgence” declaration. Far from having “a hidden agenda,” the Georgia pastor said his proposal seeks accountability for the investment of mission dollars.
He predicted his call for a study will be approved overwhelmingly by messengers to the June 23-24 SBC meeting in Louisville, and endorsed an appeal from the four state Baptist paper editors that meetings of the prospective task force would be as open and transparent as possible.
“I would be real open to say that we look forward to every meeting that there will be a state editor there to be able to document the meeting. We have nothing to hide,” Hunt told the editors from the Florida Baptist Witness, Georgia Christian Index, Illinois Baptist and Southern Baptist Texan in the June 3 conference call.
Since its initial release April 27 at greatcommissionresurgence.com, Hunt has adopted what he described as “a James 3:17 mentality” that regards “wisdom from heaven as easily entreated.” The feedback from SBC constituents prompted several revisions to the original draft of the 10-point plan “Toward a Great Commission Resurgence,” with the authors softening remarks that some found offensive. The allegation of “bloated bureaucracy” was removed one day after its initial release and a call to “rethink our Convention structure” has been replaced with an appeal for “valued partnerships of SBC agencies, state conventions/institutions, and Baptist associations to evaluate our Convention structures.”
What remains in the most often cited Article IX is Hunt’s motive in calling for a study “so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.” With those changes made, Hunt said he hopes critics will back off of repeating references to language no longer included in the declaration.
“When we felt that word ‘bloated’ was offensive, we removed it, but it continues to be used by the ones who asked us to remove it. That’s very unchristlike. I feel I responded in a Christlike way [to remove it].”
HUNT: KEEP THE ‘TEETH’ OF ARTICLE IX
In spite of the SBC having restructured its entities a dozen years ago, Hunt said it’s not too soon to look at it again. “The question was even asked in an [SBC] Executive Committee report–did we really make a great enough commitment in 1997?” Hunt recalled.
“There’s a lot of fear out there because some have chosen to say that they question my intent, my motive. I would ask them to challenge me on the writing of the document, not the intent, unless they think I’m an evil man and if I am, I pray that same group will go ahead and run a candidate that has greater integrity.”
Instead, he wondered aloud if the openness to asking questions depends upon who is doing the asking. “Others have called for this same type of challenge, but with stronger words. So my question is can you ask this question as long as you’re someone else?”
He expects those who study the convention will find “real celebration points” along the way. “I think they are going to say, ‘Gosh, we’re doing even better than we thought,’ and at the same time say, ‘We could do better.'”
Having made changes that provided a “win-win” result, Hunt said he would reject any appeal for removing Article IX calling for examination of the denominational structure. “That’s like saying let’s use this language we’re all familiar with, but take any teeth out of it that might challenge us. The major change that could happen is in number nine. It gives people greater passion and desire to support the Cooperative Program as long as we continue over the years to hold ourselves to greater accountability.”
The call for self-assessment is already gaining traction among some denominational entities, Hunt said, citing studies underway in his home state convention, at the North American Mission Board, as well as cuts in expenditures at the International Mission Board.
DISAGREEMENT WITH CHAPMAN
Responding to Executive Committee President Morris Chapman’s contention in a May 29 Baptist Press column that “the slippage in Cooperative Program giving is at the local church level” where the percentage given has declined from 8.24 percent to 6.08 percent in the last decade, Hunt said the point is well taken.
He noted his own church’s increase of another $50,000 for the Cooperative Program for the second year in a row at a time when the budget for First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., was lowered. “It has got to begin with me. Are we using our resources best to be a Great Commission church?” Hunt said he has heard from other local pastors who have made similar commitments to increased CP giving.
Last year the Woodstock church reported nearly $17.5 million in undesignated receipts with $432,977 given to the cooperative Program, amounting to 2.48 percent, according to the Georgia Baptist Convention. In addition to $57,500 sent to the local association, the congregation contributed $175,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and reported nearly $3 million for other mission gifts.
For critics to question Hunt’s own commitment to the SBC by focusing on his church’s percentage rather that the total dollars given is out of line, Hunt added. “Is there a point where you can’t say that about someone who is so Southern Baptist involved?” he asked, emphasizing that 128 families from his church are serving in ministry fields and 78 Southern Baptist church plants have been planted during his tenure.
“It’s something that really is not in writing that every church give 10 percent to CP,” Hunt said. Designating funds made it possible for them to underwrite a major outreach effort of the IMB in the Middle East, he said.
Hunt rejected the charge that he desires to redefine Cooperative Program giving to include designated gifts. “I never said that. I don’t’ feel that way and I’m not going to push for that. One day maybe there will be another way to celebrate those who choose to be more personally involved and go where their money goes and be involved in a different way in Southern Baptist life instead of really large CP dollars.” Pastors who lead those churches are committed to the SBC, he said, but “placed out there as non-missional.”
“Now the word has been changed that I’ll decimate the SBC,” Hunt said, making a passing reference to a letter Chapman sent to Executive Committee members. In the May 29 letter, obtained by the TEXAN, Chapman warned, “If this change is enacted by the task force to be appointed by the SBC president, the Cooperative Program will be decimated in only a very few years.”
Chapman also wrote, “If we jettison the Cooperative Program and go back to the societal funding model, we will get the same results we did before 1925—bankruptcy and failure. If we bypass the trustee system by adopting presidential fiat, we replace our cooperative methodology with the vagaries of personality,” Chapman wrote. “And if we wed our autonomous partners together unintentionally by tying structure across the board to the preferences of a single committee recommendation bereft of thoughtful Executive Committee review, we render the entirety of the Convention and its kindred bodies vulnerable to the assault of any single attacker on any missiological, doctrinal, legal, philosophical, or functional front.”
Hunt told editors: “There’s pretty strong language when you say the president is trying to dismantle CP. How under heaven would I, as a pastor, lead my church to give $525,000 undesignated and $2 million to Southern Baptists causes? Why would I try to dismantle what I’ve led my people to give so much money to for so many years? If I do that I am the biggest fool that this convention has ever elected as president. That’s not my intent.”
He added, “I want to give him credit,” referring to Chapman. “I feel he’s leading the way he feels he should from where he sits as an executive officer and I feel like I’m leading from where I sit as pastor of a local church. I really do feel these initiatives are where grassroots Southern Baptists are.”
In a May 29 BP column Chapman also challenged Hunt for thinking “reorganizing the Convention is the road to revival,” characterizing Article IX as “divisive” and “distracting.”
“I pray that God sends revival,” Hunt responded. “If he were to begin to give Southern Baptists once again a great impetus for incredible growth both financially and numerically, we still need to ask questions. Are we doing as much as we possibly can in making the funds available to areas that have brought us together,” he added, referring to missionary enterprises.
“I think there are some things that if we address them now could move us forward with greater unity into the future,” Hunt said.
“If the denomination empowers me to appoint a task force, my thought was not to see it go beyond a year,” Hunt added. “It’s not like I’m on a witch hunt and want to find some stuff. I’m not out to reveal salaries. I’m about greater commitment.”
He clarified his motive for examining the bureaucracy, stating, “If we look back at 1976, it took less that 1 percent of the CP budget to fund the national headquarters and now it’s at 2.86 percent of a much larger budget,” Hunt said, referring to the Executive Committee. “Is there accountability in place? Is it fair to ask the question, ‘Can the bureaucracy quit getting bigger and bigger so that when the money gets bigger we’re able to send greater portions?’”
Hunt expressed a degree of disillusionment with some of the response to his proposal. “It’s a little hurtful when you write a document that, from what I read, has some strong language when you try to question the motive of a man’s heart—and that’s in print.”
Although he has no further plan to respond to Chapman’s critique of GCR in Baptist Press, Hunt said the two men talked shortly before Chapman’s article was published.
“He feels he’s protecting the convention and I feel like I’m leading it to greater days,” Hunt added.
BYPASSING EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
In his letter to Executive Committee members, Chapman also raised the question of whether Hunt’s approach violates SBC Bylaw 18, bypassing the EC assignment to advise the convention on questions of cooperation among entities and those of other conventions, whether state or national. While Hunt told editors he is seeking a system of checks and balances to ensure accountability, Chapman wrote that the EC exists for that purpose between annual meetings.
“The last thing I want to do is be in violation of a convention policy,” Hunt told the editors when asked about the charge. “We’re working on it now and it’s being studied.
If I find I’m in violation of something I will be brought in line rightly and desirously so. I’m a local church pastor and not a parliamentarian.”
Pressing the question further, Hunt asked, “Is there some checks and balances back to the local church on every level where I have to write as a local church pastor who supports this denomination—and we send a lot of dollars. They can use percentages till hell freezes over, but the bottom line is everyone there is paid and every missionary is paid not by percentages, but by dollars.”
Insisting that grassroots Southern Baptists want to know the funds are being used for maximum impact, Hunt said, “We want to send more. I’m just trying to ask the question. It may come to the point where even the passion to try to do what I’m doing will be squelched. If so, I fear the reactions of this denomination if there is not some way the parliamentarian can tell us to ask the questions I’m asking and get good answers.”
TASK FORCE COMPOSITION
Hunt previously stated that he anticipates leading pastors, a state convention executive director, a seminary president and a college president will be among the dozen people named to the task force. Asked if he would be open to allowing various groups to select their own participant in the study, Hunt said he’d give the idea some thought.
“I can’t just say I will let state executive directors pick a state executive director when I’ve got documents in files here where they said some very untruthful and hurtful things [about GCR].”
Hunt said he didn’t want a person with a critical spirit representing the concerns of Southern Baptists. “Not on my charge, if I’m the one who has the opportunity of appointing the committee.” Instead, he pledged to appoint “a very fair committee if it gets that far.”
He confirmed that he has agreed to meet with a group of state convention executive directors June 8 to further clarify his views and answer their questions. “I’m not sure who all is coming, but they asked if I would meet and I said any and all. I have no hidden agenda.”
“What if God chose to really give a phenomenal increase to the body of Christ in the Southern Baptist context. I would like to hear it said that if some of our state conventions need extra help, maybe some have grown to a certain place where they send 50 percent now [beyond the state] and larger sums of that money continue on.” Hunt said that kind of generosity by state conventions “would keep us from being tempted in our churches to give designated gifts.”
“I’m really thinking not so much in terms of reshifting chairs on the deck as much as there being more chairs,” he said. After pastoring for 33 years, Hunt said he has good reason to dream, having seen great victory in local churches. “I want to challenge pastors to have afresh encounter with God—have the capacity to believe God again and believe all that will flow out of that.”