Remember Why the SBC Left the BWA


A BWA press release said the recent meeting was a follow-up to a 2004 commitment that both parties would "meet at least once per year to continue an ongoing dialogue," Parham writes.
Southern Baptist Convention and Baptist World Alliance leaders met Dec. 19, 2011, eight years to the day that an SBC committee recommended that the SBC withdraw membership in and defund the BWA.

A BWA press release said the recent meeting was a follow-up to a 2004 commitment that both parties would "meet at least once per year to continue an ongoing dialogue."

It also said the BWA executive committee had "authorized" BWA's general secretary to request the meeting.

The BWA press release appeared on Dec. 21. The SBC has yet to issue a release about the meeting.

What is unclear is why the two sides met. What is crystal clear is that the SBC withdrew from the BWA with incendiary and false charges.

Recall what happened.

On the Friday before Christmas, prominent Southern Baptist leaders released a report that accused the BWA of:

●      holding stances contrary to the Bible;

●      encouraging women to be pastors;

●      having an anti-American tone; and

●      refusing to allow for a discussion about abortion.

EthicsDaily.com broke the story and provided extensive coverage of the charges and countercharges.

"The prominence of a number of European and North American conventions has resulted in an increasing influence of positions contrary to the New Testament and to Baptist doctrines," said the report of the SBC/BWA Study Committee, which was stacked with fundamentalist leaders – Morris Chapman, Jimmy Draper, Tom Elliff, Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler.

"A decided anti-American tone has emerged in recent years," said the committee. "Continued emphasis on women as pastors, frequent criticisms of the International Mission Board of Southern Baptists, refusal to allow open discussion of issues such as abortion, and the funding of questionable enterprises through Baptist World Aid provide just a surface sampling of what has transpired in recent years."

These accusations were the basis for the committee's recommendation that the SBC withdraw from the BWA and defund the organization.

"It is no longer wise stewardship to lend monetary support to an entity whose participants openly oppose many of our most cherished beliefs," read the report.

Founded in 1905, the BWA was and still is the largest body of global Baptists.

A month after the report, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted that the BWA had been created in the "steamship age" and was no longer relevant in the Internet age.

In February 2004, the SBC's executive committee voted 62-10 to withdraw from the BWA.

The study committee said, "The decision of the BWA to include the CBF [Cooperative Baptist Fellowship] merely served as a confirmation that we must, as a convention, allow the world to see us without having to look through a BWA lens – a lens which, for us, has become too cloudy."

When the SBC met in June, new allegations were launched against the BWA.

Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, justified the withdrawal from the BWA on the basis that a BWA member body, American Baptist Churches-USA, had churches that affirmed gays.

"We can no longer afford in this particular day, when the press for gay marriage is on, to be in alliance with denominations that support in any form or fashion gay marriage," said Patterson. "What you give your money and name to, you give tacit approval to."

Numerous goodwill Baptists spoke up in defense of the BWA, including Latin American, European and Australian leaders.

"Apparently the SBC leaders who participate in the BWA believe that the international organization is embracing liberal theological positions. The SBC cannot find fellowship with Baptists from the CBF. Nor do they believe the BWA projects an image the SBC wants to give the world. The SBC says there is an anti-American bias among non-Americans who attend BWA sessions. Finally, the SBC is willing to sacrifice Christian unity in an effort to achieve doctrinal conformity," wrote Michael Clingenpeel, then editor of the Religious Herald.

He said, "My experience with the BWA, on more than one occasion at meetings or conferences outside the United States, leads me to view these accusations against the BWA as false or paranoid."

Tony Cartledge, then editor of the Biblical Recorder, called the situation a "lamentable exporting of the Southern Baptists' ideological infighting to a world that is desperately in need of Christ but likely to find the Baptist version of faith to be less appealing with every passing day."

Marv Knox, editor of the Texas Baptist Standard, wrote, "Make no mistake, the new SBC is a convention dominated by fundamentalist leaders, and fundamentalists must control. What they cannot control, they abandon and undermine."

The BWA's general secretary, Denton Lotz, did everything he could to defend the honor of the BWA and avoid a rupture with the SBC.

Nothing would halt the SBC war party. The SBC withdrew from the BWA in 2004 – after a false witness about its leaders and member bodies.

In 2008, the SBC executive committee refused to act on a convention motion to "reconsider" affiliation with the BWA.

If reconciliation is possible between the SBC and the BWA, then the first step must include the SBC's public confession of wrongdoing against the BWA and a plea for forgiveness.

Simply pretending that what was said and done never happened would be an inauthentic Christian way forward.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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