INDIANAPOLIS (ABP) — Southern Baptist Convention messengers voted overwhelmingly June 15 to end the denomination's 99-year relationship with the Baptist World Alliance.
The action during the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis follows several years of tension between the two organizations. Southern Baptist leaders repeatedly have accused the BWA of affiliating with Baptist groups that espouse “aberrant theological views,” a charge denied by BWA officials.
Paige Patterson, speaking on behalf of the SBC's BWA study committee, told the 8,000 registered messengers that committee members “have noted with sorrow in our hearts a continual leftward drift in the Baptist World Alliance.”
Citing the example of BWA's affiliation with American Baptist Churches, Patterson said a group in that denomination is “committed to being a gay-friendly place for churches and people of that disposition.”
He apparently was referring to the Evergreen Baptist Association, a new ABC regional group in the Pacific Northwest that includes some churches that accept homosexuals as members. The issue of the Evergreen Association had not publicly surfaced before in the debate over BWA.
“What you give your name and your money to, you give your tacit approval to,” Patterson added, insisting that the SBC “can no longer afford to be aligned in any way” with groups that are considered gay-friendly.
Detailing other reasons for the split, the study committee report adopted in February by the SBC Executive Committee noted that “much has been made about the inclusion of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into the BWA as having been the cause of our present recommendation to withdraw from the organization.”
Declaring that “one soaked by a rain need not blame the last raindrop,” the report added, “The decision of the BWA to include the CBF 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.”
Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary, who was not invited by SBC leaders to address the recommendation, said in an interview after the vote: “We were shocked by Dr. Patterson bringing in the gay issue which was never on the table before. … To combine this with the whole question of gay marriage is really an insult to the rest of the Baptists of the world and particularly to the American Baptist Churches, which has taken a strong stand that homosexuality is incompatible with the Christian lifestyle.”
Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former SBC president, also expressed concern that some denominations affiliated with BWA “do not believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture and regularly call it into question.”
Explaining that BWA is not a denomination, Lotz said in an interview, “There are 211 confessions or statements of faith” among BWA's 211 member bodies around the world. “We certainly are not liberal,” he added. “We're all conservative evangelicals.”
During brief discussion on the floor of the convention, Larry Walker urged messengers to support BWA as “a united, worldwide community of Baptists.”
Walker, a messenger from First Baptist Church of Dallas, said he views BWA “not as a theological incubator but as a nursery” where the SBC and other groups can help small, struggling Baptist bodies around the world.
“We may not need them, but they desperately need us,” Walker said. “Is there something we can do to resolve and reconcile this relationship?”
Immediately after Walker's comments, messenger Wiley Drake of California called for the question, effectively cutting off further debate. Messengers then overwhelmingly voted by a show of hands for the SBC to withdraw its membership from BWA effective Oct. 1.
The action also will end the SBC's $300,000 annual contribution to the BWA. That amount was reduced last year by $125,000 in anticipation of the BWA accepting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a member body.
The SBC action specifies that the funds be earmarked for the convention “to develop and execute a new and innovative strategy for continuing to build strong relationships with conservative Christians around the world.”
Responding to the SBC vote, Lotz said, “Money is not the issue. Churches all across the Southern Baptist Convention are going to make up the difference. It really is a theological question of schism and unity: What does it mean to be the body of Christ?
“It's very sad for Baptists of the world,” he said. He added he did not expect BWA members bodies to “retaliate” to the SBC vote. “We're going to love the Southern Baptists. We want them to come back in.”
Lotz told reporters that, despite SBC complaints about BWA's theology, “we have not left Southern Baptists, Southern Baptists have left us. … But we want them to come back”
He said world Baptists view the SBC dispute as “an inner conflict” among U.S. Baptist bodies. “It was acceptance of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into [BWA] membership that triggered this whole movement [to withdraw],” he said.
In addition to Patterson, prominent SBC leaders on the study committee included Morris Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee and a BWA vice president; James Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources; Oklahoma pastor Tom Elliff, a former SBC president; Judge Paul Pressler, a key architect of the SBC's “conservative resurgence”; and Jerry Rankin, president of the SBC International Mission Board.