MEMPHIS, Tenn. (ABP) — The president of the Baptist Medical/Dental Fellowship has resigned and is withdrawing his membership from the organization over its affiliation with a moderate Baptist group.
Danny Barnhill, a medical doctor from Shreveport, La., issued his resignation just days after the organization's annual meeting. He cited a partnership with the Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as the reason for his action. “Many facts, of which I was not previously aware, have been brought to my attention since I took office one week ago,” he wrote.
The Baptist Medical/Dental Fellowship, based in Memphis, Tenn., is a volunteer organization of Baptist physicians and dentists who work together in Christian mission causes and recruit medical professionals for career and volunteer missions. It was originally designed for Southern Baptist doctors and still works primarily with Southern Baptist Convention organizations.
“My personal beliefs match perfectly with those stated by the SBC,” Barnhill said in the e-mail to BMDF members. CBF “has many liberal social and political philosophies and agendas with which I do not agree. Because of that, I am not comfortable being an officer in or financially supporting the new CBF-affiliated BMDF.”
Barnhill said the partnership agreement with the CBF and the current BMDF leadership “appears to desire to break the BMDF ties with the Southern Baptist Convention,” a charge BMDF officials deny.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has been a target of SBC criticism for many years. A statement released by Mary Clawson, immediate past BMDF president and a medical doctor from Bay Springs, Miss., noted the organization has many partners.
“The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is the oldest of these partners. Projects with the IMB continue to be the majority of our work,” the statement noted. The statement also said: “Renewing an existing partnership with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship does not reflect a desire on the part of BMDF to move away from the agencies or auxiliaries of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Neither the BMDF staff, executive committee, nor membership has ever rejected an offer of closer partnership with any agency or auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Other BMDF partners include CrossLink International, Baptist Nursing Fellowship, Medical Missions Response, the SBC North American Mission Board, the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Polish Baptist Union, and others.
“BMDF has differences of opinion about elements of belief and practice with several of our partners,” the statement said. “As long as BMDF is free to operate without compromise of our own convictions, we do not view these differences as a barrier to working together.”
Barnhill's letter of resignation noted BMDF executive director James Williams signed a “renewal” agreement with the CBF during the organization's April 1-4 annual meeting at Callaway Gardens in Georgia. “That document was never circulated to the BMDF Executive Committee, general membership, or posted publicly on the BMDF Web site for review prior to the meeting,” Barnhill wrote.
Barnhill also wrote that when the agreement was brought up at the Executive Committee meeting prior to the annual meeting, “the executive director stopped discussion of the matter when questions were raised.”
The BMDF statement noted that the organization has had a “formal partnership” with CBF for more than three years. The partnership was renewed and expanded for an additional three years at the April meeting.
Specifics of the agreement were reviewed by the Executive Committee at its April 1 meeting and that “at that time, no questions or concerns were voiced by anyone in attendance,” according to the BMDF statement.
The partnership was signed publicly because CBF coordinator Daniel Vestal was a key plenary speaker at the meeting on April 2. IMB president Jerry Rankin was keynote speaker on the opening night of the meeting, according to the statement.
The BMDF statement also noted that the organization “has never received any financial assistance from CBF for operating funds,” although it did acknowledge that BMDF associate executive director Fred Loper's salary and benefits have been subsidized by the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists since his employment in 2002.” Both organizations are considered sympathetic to moderate Baptist causes.
In their statement, BMDF leaders noted their surprise and sadness at Barnhill's resignation. “The Barnhill family has brought energy and passion to the work of BMDF. We grieve the loss of their fellowship,” the statement said.
“From our inception and throughout the time in which Dr. Barnhill has been involved, BMDF has remained true to our sense of calling from God. We are an independent and autonomous Baptist organization. Our commitment is to work collaboratively with all members of the worldwide Baptist family and other Great Commission Christians. Our goal is to share the gospel with people in all places through healthcare missions.
“Our members are diverse and independent individuals. They represent the entire spectrum of current Baptist faith and practice,” the statement continued.