FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) — A Southern Baptist Convention official has denied exhibition space to the Baptist World Alliance at this June's SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis — even though the convention has not yet approved a recommendation to separate from the umbrella group for Baptists around the globe.
Convention messengers will vote on a recommendation — approved in February by the SBC Executive Committee — to break all ties with the 99-year-old BWA. The SBC is the group's largest member body and most generous contributor. If messengers approve the recommendation, the BWA will stand to lose $300,000 in funding next year.
BWA officials in Falls Church, Va., received a letter informing them of the decision from John Wilkerson, the Executive Committee's vice president for business and finance. In the Feb. 25 letter, Wilkerson said, “Because of the controversy surrounding this issue currently and the pending recommendation of the Executive Committee to the Southern Baptist Convention, it would be inappropriate to exhibit under these circumstances.”
Wilkerson also returned BWA's exhibitor's fee.
Alan Stanford, BWA director of promotion and development, said he and other BWA officials were “surprised and disappointed” at the decision. “Our assumption was that we would be allowed to exhibit until the SBC voted to discontinue funding the BWA,” he said.
“To us, it seems to be premature for the staff of the Executive Committee to deny messengers to the SBC the opportunity to look at materials and ask questions of the BWA representatives when the messengers are being asked to vote on severing an almost 100-year relationship,” Stanford added.
Wilkerson, reached by phone at Executive Committee offices in Nashville, said his office made the decision to deny the exhibit space. “Funding and exhibiting is not connected,” he said, noting that SBC-funded agencies “don't gain a right [to exhibit] because you're sent money — that's another privilege that's extended to them.”
Wilkerson said he made the decision to deny the space, in part, because of the BWA's responses to SBC leaders' recommendation that the denominations cut ties. “Let me just say that the comments that have been voiced by the BWA in the press articles and in person — in fact, just the press releases that have been released by the BWA — certainly are not supportive of the Southern Baptist Convention position,” Wilkinson told Associated Baptist Press.
Wilkerson said that BWA's press releases on the situation “are mean-spirited, they're unfactual, they're just harsh.” He accused BWA leaders of attempting to publicize the story. “They want this public,” he said. “This is the rhetoric and the dialogue we've tried to avoid the whole way.”
He said an Executive Committee policy allows him to make such exhibitor decisions, and that “it doesn't require convention approval.”
Wilkerson would not agree to provide a copy of the policy to an ABP reporter — despite his membership in an SBC-affiliated church — unless the reporter came to Nashville to view it himself. “I don't want to see this all over the front page of some newspaper,” he said.
Stanford said BWA still plans to host a breakfast during the SBC annual meeting. It will be held June 15 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Indianapolis.