Dr. James L. Hill
Jefferson City, MO
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I appreciated getting to visit with you by phone last week (January 14, 2002) when you called. Since our conversation, I have given time, thought, and prayer to the appropriate answer to your request that the proposed new state Baptist convention in Missouri be permitted, on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, to collect Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches in Missouri.
Granting the permission you requested would afford the new "Baptist Convention of Missouri" the same status as the existing Missouri Baptist Convention in relating to the Southern Baptist Convention. While I appreciate your desire to associate this new group with the SBC, it is not enough that a group of Baptist individuals or churches creates a "Baptist state convention." The SBC must believe its interests will be served before it agrees to a relationship as serious as that between a regional body and itself. The matter is so very important that it demands a rather lengthy reply.
The regular practice of the Southern Baptist Convention is to be in a relationship with a single Baptist convention for each state or designated geographical region. A state convention is to be in "friendly cooperation" with the Southern Baptist Convention. The term "friendly cooperation" includes the promotion of the vision, missions, and ministries of the SBC as well as the collection of Cooperative Program receipts for the SBC from churches in that area. As stated by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1928:
1. The cooperative relations between this Convention and state bodies as now established are limited to the one matter of collecting funds for southwide and state objects in conjunction with a unified appeal for the objects. The state convention boards are at present recognized by this Convention as collecting agencies for Southwide as well as for state funds. This arrangement, however, is not an essential in Baptist organization, but is made simply as a matter of convenience and economy, and may be changed at any time.
2. The fact that the state bodies first handle the funds and are more directly related to the churches in the matter of collections does not alter the basic relations involved. For the practical ends in view this Convention cooperates in the unified appeal for funds through state agencies. But in principle it retains as inalienable and inherent the right to direct appeal to the churches. Furthermore, in all matters other than money raising it retains complete control of its own affairs, with the right to fix its own objectives and to determine the amounts of money allocated to its various objects. -"RELATION OF SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION TO OTHER BAPTIST BODIES" (1928 SBC Annual, pp. 32-33).
Several assumptions underlie our regular practice:
1. The prerogative of the SBC is to decide who will represent its interests to the churches and collect its contributions.
2. A single state Baptist convention per area is the ideal and best serves the interests of the Southern Baptist Convention for the collection of funds and other cooperative functions.
3. The expectation is that any state convention acting as collection agent for the Southern Baptist Convention will vigorously promote the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention and encourage churches to give undesignated gifts through the Cooperative Program exclusively for the state convention and the SBC.
4. There should be a compelling reason to vary from the status quo.
With this background, how does the proposed new convention measure up to our historic practice and our operating assumptions? The following is my understanding of the situation in Missouri with regard to forming a second state convention:
1. The SBC already has a relationship with a state convention in Missouri. The Missouri Baptist Convention remains our Cooperative Program collection agent for Baptist churches in Missouri. It continues to act faithfully in regard to promoting the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention among Baptists in Missouri and forwards Cooperative Program gifts for national and international causes exclusively to the Southern Baptist Convention.
2. The Missouri Baptist Convention is in friendly cooperation with the work and purposes of the Southern Baptist Convention. We categorically disagree with your characterizations of the people who are now giving leadership to the Missouri Baptist Convention. Those characterizations (according to your open letter entitled "Why would I choose to become a part of a new Baptist convention in Missouri?") form your rationale for beginning a new convention. Many of the current leaders in the Missouri Baptist Convention are elected leaders in the SBC. They are faithfully supporting and leading their churches to support the Southern Baptist Convention. They desire the Missouri Baptist Convention remain a loyal, committed partner in SBC missions. It is our understanding many of those persons opposing the current direction of the Missouri Baptist Convention are the same ones who have been opposing the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention in recent years and who have been attempting to dissuade churches in Missouri from supporting our work. This anti-SBC sentiment formerly being promulgated in the MBC was one of the stated reasons many in Missouri worked for the changes in leadership that have taken place.
3. The proposed Baptist Convention of Missouri plans to incorporate practices contrary to the best interests of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is apparent from information from your group as well as the practice of some of the leaders in your group that you intend to create several giving tracks, some of which do not benefit the SBC. We have not nor do we desire to enter into new relationships that do not see the SBC as the exclusive beneficiary of national Cooperative Program gifts from the churches. You also will openly welcome relationships with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a group known for actively encouraging Southern Baptist churches to discontinue support for our convention's work. The Southern Baptist Convention would be harmed by these practices.
4. A Southern Baptist Convention partnership with the Baptist Convention of Missouri would tend to confuse the churches and complicate their financial support of the SBC. The Missouri churches do not need another avenue for getting their support to the SBC. If they are truly desirous of supporting the SBC, the MBC can forward their gifts for the SBC as it has for years. We believe the Southern Baptist churches in Missouri ought to be encouraged to continue to work with the MBC. They will find many opportunities to work together for the Lord. Furthermore, if some churches do not want to send their CP gifts through the MBC, they can send it directly to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Jim, yours is the first-ever request for affiliation we have had from a group of Baptists with sentiments I would be hard-pressed to interpret as in "friendly cooperation" with the purposes and work of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention is not perfect nor should we be exempt from criticism and differing opinions. We are, however, generally pleased with our direction, our confession, our leaders, and our emphases. To allow a group that is so openly in disagreement with the SBC to collect our CP gifts from the churches implies some kind of endorsement of the group's point of view. We do not wish to send mixed signals to the churches in Missouri, nor do we wish to harm the work of the Missouri Baptist Convention or the Southern Baptist Convention.
Therefore, I must inform you that I find no compelling reason to vary from the status quo. I cannot recommend the Southern Baptist Convention enter into a relationship with your proposed new Baptist state convention in Missouri whereby you would collect Cooperative Program gifts to forward to us. It will be necessary for us to return any such gifts from the convention you plan to form and request the Southern Baptist churches in Missouri to send their gifts through regular channels. I am saddened by your personal conflicts with MBC leaders and I regret that the disharmony remains at a high level in the state, but the interests of the Southern Baptist Convention will not be served by establishing a partnership with another regional convention in Missouri.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Morris H. Chapman