(Editor's Note: The following is a recounting by Dr. Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, of the cooperative funding issues facing Southern Baptists in Texas and the SBC's attempts to address the problem and help the churches.)
THE ATTEMPTS TO ENCOURAGE DIALOGUE
Several weeks ago I called Charles Wade and asked him about the possibility of the two of us meeting to determine if further talks might develop between the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). I have known Charles Wade personally since the days we were completing our doctoral studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Obviously we differ theologically, but we had an enjoyable visit as we discussed our common concerns from different perspectives. He welcomed the opportunity to talk together, and I flew to Dallas for a meeting in the offices of the BGCT. The meeting took place on Thursday, September 28. We met and talked cordially for approximately 4 ˝ hours.
The most significant conclusion we reached during the meeting was the agreement to take the next step of enlisting seven BGCT leaders of his choosing and seven SBC leaders of my choosing to meet together on October 19, at the Baptist Building in Dallas. When I called on Thursday, October 5, to let him know the progress I was making in enlisting the six other individuals representing the SBC, he told me those he had wished to enlist were unwilling to meet prior to the BGCT annual meeting in Corpus Christi, October 30-31. He mentioned conflicts in scheduling this close to the BGCT annual meeting. I had hoped this meeting would be considered of such importance that everyone would have made it top priority. Unfortunately, most of the BGCT leaders feel no urgency to talk with SBC leaders prior to their convention. To me, their unwillingness to meet with us signals their absolute resolve to press forward for the adoption of the Texas-preferred 2001 budget that dismantles the Cooperative Program in Texas and the unified cooperation that has existed with the Southern Baptist Convention.
This is the second time in two months that SBC leaders have invited BGCT leaders to sit down and discuss the issues. The first invitation was to participate in a public forum, the second in a small group discussion. The first invitation was extended by Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern Seminary, on behalf of the Great Commission Council (presidents of SBC entities). In a letter dated July 31, 2000, three BGCT leaders were invited to participate in a forum on Thursday evening, September 21, in the auditorium of Southwestern Seminary, Fort Worth. The three who were invited to join SBC leaders Jimmy Draper, Al Mohler, and Paige Patterson were Charles Wade, Jim Denison, and David Currie. The public forum would have given Southern Baptists in Texas an opportunity to hear first-hand the issues that frame our common convictions and define our differences.
Not one of the BGCT leaders replied to the invitation until just before September 21, when Ken Hemphill received a call from Charles Wade indicating that none of them would be coming. Reconciliation requires two parties working together. It would seem BGCT leaders have decided they have the votes in Corpus Christi to do as they please. Perhaps they are right. The churches still have time to send messengers to speak and vote against the proposed Texas-preferred budget for 2001. If the convention majority remains the same as in the most recent years, the partnership that God has blessed so wonderfully will dissolve from the pages of Southern Baptist history.
THE THREAT TO THE COOPERATIVE PROGRAM
If the Texas-preferred budget is adopted, it will represent a complete and total destruction of the historic partnership that has existed between the two conventions since 1928. Not only are BGCT leaders insisting upon negatively designating to the SBC by either reducing contributions or defunding certain SBC entities altogether, the adoption of the budget will be an official declaration they will not promote the traditional Cooperative Program that has been the joint lifeline for both the BGCT and the SBC missions and ministries.
For the first time in history, the budget being recommended by the BGCT Executive Board is an effort to dictate to the SBC how its Cooperative Program funds should be allocated. Our historic practices do not allow for the SBC to decide how the BGCT should spend its portion of Cooperative Program receipts nor do they permit the BGCT to make those decisions for the SBC. Furthermore, we were not even consulted a few years ago when the SBC percentage set by the BGCT was reduced. No one has asked us if the support of world missions through the Cooperative Program would be harmed. It is as if BGCT leaders have forgotten that funds coming to the BGCT, including the monies forwarded to the SBC, are and have always been the tithes and offerings of God's people faithfully worshipping Sunday after Sunday in Southern Baptist churches. The money is not intended exclusively for the BGCT.
Long ago the SBC and the state conventions agreed to work in cooperation based on mutual trust to support missions at home and around the world. Whenever Southern Baptists have differed on major issues, as they have from time to time since the Convention's early existence, they determined to work out their differences within the framework of cooperation, not by threatening to withhold support. Leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas have often said something like, "SBC leaders are not going to tell us what to do." Yet they now want to tell the SBC what to do or else they will keep the gifts sent by the churches. They are attempting to control by designating funds, all in the name of doing more in Texas. Surely the Southern Baptist giants of the late 1920s would never have imagined such a thing when they agreed for the state conventions to be the gatekeepers of Cooperative Program dollars. I cannot help but wonder if the BGCT leaders would have advocated the SBC doing the same had it been charged with being the gatekeeper of these missions dollars.
I affirm the right of an autonomous state convention to make its own decisions, but this proposal saddens me. Local churches will be forced to make a choice between the SBC and the BGCT, and I fear it will bring confusion and chaos to some of the finest churches in the country as the debate erupts among the churches and individual members. Not only will the BGCT proposed budget break down the partnership with the SBC, I fear it will erode the cooperation and fellowship between the churches and the BGCT. I suppose it is a risk that some of the anti-SBC leaders in Texas are willing to take.
Dear Southern Baptists in Texas, the destiny of the Texas-preferred 2001 Budget to be recommended at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas is in your hands. SBC leaders can do nothing more than sound the alarm. The BGCT is your state convention. Many already have planned to go to Corpus Christi for the express purpose of voting "for" the 2001 Texas-preferred budget and "against" cooperation with the SBC. If you think otherwise, the only way to derail the anti-SBC train in your state is to attend the BCGT and vote "No."
THE SBC PLEDGE TO THE CHURCHES
If the proposed budgeting change is adopted, the Southern Baptist Convention will work hard to serve the Southern Baptist churches in Texas who need our assistance and fellowship. If a church chooses to send its Cooperative Program dollars directly to the SBC Executive Committee, they will be allocated according to the Cooperative Program percentages adopted annually by the Southern Baptist Convention. BGCT leaders may be able to destroy the partnership that has lasted so long between the SBC and the BGCT, but Southern Baptist leaders will do their best to prevent anti-SBC leaders from destroying the good relationship the SBC has with most of the Southern Baptist churches in Texas.
In the final analysis, each church will make its own decision. I am told the BGCT will continue to provide a giving track for churches that wish to remain faithful to the traditional Cooperative Program. Although I hope this is done, there is little doubt the Texas-preferred budget will become the default budget for all gifts from the churches not otherwise designated. In addition, the adoption of the 2001 proposed budget will bring to an end promotion by the BGCT of the traditional Cooperative Program as it has done for 72 years in cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC will then have no choice but to provide literature and materials to the churches for the continued development of SBC Cooperative Program missions and ministries.
Since we have limited channels of direct contact with the churches, we have sought to inform Southern Baptists in Texas through the development of a web site and by mailing brochures directly to church leaders throughout Texas. Had leaders in the BGCT not attacked SBC institutions, called for defunding the SBC budget, and begun persuading churches to withdraw support for the SBC, these communications would have been unnecessary. The SBC has made no such attacks on the work or institutions of the BGCT. We had no choice but to try to communicate with church leaders in Texas to correct biased, predetermined conclusions drawn by BGCT ad hoc committees as well as misinformation being propagated from a number of organized sources in sympathy with BGCT leaders.
THE NECESSITY OF FOCUSING ON THE MISSION
Finally, regardless of the outcome of the vote at the Texas convention, there is no reason for SBC leaders to respond in kind to the caustic comments that have been made by BGCT leaders in public meetings and the press about the Southern Baptist Convention and its elected leaders. If cooperation is impossible, then at least we need to honor our Lord Jesus Christ by moving beyond this impasse to obedient and expectant service under His leadership and divine guidance. I believe what our forefathers believed, that we could do more for the Kingdom together than separately. However, if a group among us chooses otherwise, we have to accept it as their right, and prayerfully renew ourselves to the tasks to which we have been called as Southern Baptists.
Southern Baptists always have been a people of the Book who loved Jesus, and sought to fulfill the Great Commission. Millions are waiting to hear the Gospel. I am grateful that state convention executive directors as a whole are leading their conventions to work shoulder to shoulder with the Southern Baptist Convention. With their help, the Southern Baptist witness around the world will be stronger than ever.
May God bless every individual, church, association, convention, and denomination that lifts up Jesus as the only way of salvation in a sinful and fallen society. May God bless all who believe the Bible to be God's Holy Word and trust Him never to give a revealed word that would contradict what He has said already in His written Word. May God give His wisdom and light where human logic and darkness prevail. May God provide peace that passes all understanding where doubt and uncertainty reign. May God grant courage and conviction to live for Christ boldly in a world that is not our home. May we look eagerly for Him who has promised to return for His Saints. May we turn aside from any distraction that would prevent our preaching the gospel with power, reaching the unsaved, praying for genuine revival in the land, and rejoicing in Him who loved us so much He gave His only Son for us. Let us humble ourselves before Him and go about His magnificent work on earth.