To the editor:
As a long-time supporter of the BWA – in committee and commission participation, financial support, and writing – I have been most disturbed about the proposed separation of the SBC from the BWA. As editor and writer of the book, Baptists Around the World, I am particularly sensitive of the need for inter-Baptist cooperation worldwide. The statement of James Leo Garrett, emeritus professor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a recent issue of the Biblical Recorder on the great value of the BWA echoes many of my sentiments.
If there had been more Christian charity and sensitivity on all sides, the division would not have occurred. But alas, everyone held tenaciously to his or her preconceived positions and biases. All are guilty for the break.
In the face of criticism of the BWA, in 1977 the Executive Committee of the SBC, after review, continued to affirm its relationship and full financial support of the BWA. But the application of the CBF and its acceptance by the Membership Committee of the BWA brought again to the fore the underlying discontent with certain aspects of the BWA. Although one might find isolated incidents, it has been most unfortunate for the SBC leadership to brand the BWA as an organization on the path of theological deviation. As John Briggs, director of the Baptist History and Heritage Centre at Regents Park College in Oxford, has pointed out, the BWA today is more conservative and has a more limited theological range today than it had in 1905 when the SBC first joined the BWA.
The Membership Committee, of which I am a member, is to be seriously faulted. It is a committee created by the administration of the BWA and was particularly influenced by individuals from Western Europe who had no sympathy for the SBC leadership and its concerns and were more ideologically in tune with the CBF. In 2002 the Membership Committee rejected the CBF application since it appeared to be more of a mission society than a separate Baptist denomination. The BWA constitution then did not recognize such entities for membership. But in 2003 the committee changed its position. On the basis that the CBF was a separate entity (which, of course, it had always been with its own board), it now was willing to accept it. In addition, the committee broke its own rule of not recommending membership of any Baptist body if there was objection from a member already in the Alliance. Besides, one of the vice-presidents of the BWA and a member of the Membership Committee told me that if the CBF were not accepted, then the Baptist unions of Europe would withdraw! Even though the committee was warned of the possible consequences of the division by its action, it nevertheless went ahead. In all of this, the administration of the BWA was also as culpable since it did not stop the action on constitutional grounds and long-standing policy.
By accepting by majority vote the recommendation of the Membership Committee, the General Council exhibited also its feelings toward the SBC. In spite of the protestation today of love for the SBC, a number of the General Council representatives have been critical of the current theological stance of the SBC leadership and its unilateral actions. As has been noted, numbers of the BWA look upon the SBC as many in Western Europe today look upon the USA as too big and powerful and too often acting only on its own.
The CBF got the recognition it sought from the BWA, but at what a cost. Although critical of the SBC position, Duke K. McCall in an interview in Baptists Today counseled the CBF to delay its application since the division would “be a nasty divorce, and like all nasty divorces, the children are going to suffer.” Although the SBC will develop its own international ties, Baptists around the world will suffer the consequences.
Albert W. Wardin
Professor Emeritus of History, Belmont University