SBC clarifies ‘friendly cooperation,’ updates criteria for church affiliation

The Southern Baptist Convention voted Tuesday on language defining what it means to be a Southern Baptist church and updated a formula for determining representation at the annual meeting that for the first time mentions the Cooperative Program.

By Bob Allen

Messengers to the June 10-11 SBC annual meeting in Baltimore approved without discussion changes to the SBC constitution defining what it means to be “in friendly cooperation” with the convention — the language used for congregations that qualify for representation at the annual meeting.

Prior to 1992, Southern Baptists defined friendly cooperation solely by financial support. That changed after one Southern Baptist church ordained an openly gay person and another blessed a same-sex union. A constitutional amendment excluded congregations which “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”

The newest amendment, which must be ratified by a second vote next year, retains the homosexuality prohibition as an example of a church which does not have “a faith and practice which closely identifies with the convention’s adopted statement of faith.”

The SBC Executive Committee announced its intent to consider at its June 9 meeting prior to the SBC annual meeting limiting membership to churches that have “not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the convention's most recently adopted statement of faith.”

easley ecExecutive Committee Chairman Ernest Easley said some Southern Baptists interpreted that as an attempt to impose the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 on local churches, which “was never our intent.”

Easley, pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., said the tweaked phrasing of “closely identifies” is borrowed from the report of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message study committee.

The new membership article additionally defines a cooperating church as one that has “formally approved its intention to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention,” such as the regular filing of the Annual Church Profile report requested by the convention and tabulated by LifeWay Christian Resources.

It expands the old descriptor of “a bona fide contributor to the convention’s work” to a congregation that “has made undesignated, financial contributions through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity during the fiscal year preceding.”

Each cooperating church is entitled to two messengers at the SBC annual meeting. The convention will recognize additional messengers, up to a maximum of 12, for each $6,000 in financial gifts or full percentage of a church’s undesignated receipts contributed to the SBC. The previous threshold for financial support, $250 for each additional messenger, has been used since 1888.

Easley said the new language “is small-church friendly,” because it recognizes that many smaller Southern Baptist churches give a significant portion of their budget to the Cooperative Program, a unified missions funding plan used since 1925.

The new membership article drops a former method for accruing messengers by numerical growth in lieu of financial contributions. The old formula allowed one additional messenger for each 250 members or $250 in financial contributions with a maximum of 10.