A Letter to Dr. Denton Lotz from Dr. Morris H. Chapman, SBC EC President
March 3, 2004

(Reposted to include a new explanatory postscript for readers, below)

The following letter was written by Dr. Morris H. Chapman, President of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, to Dr. Denton Lotz, General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, to protest the BWA Membership Committee’s disregard for the BWA Constitution and Bylaws in its determination to accept the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into the membership of the alliance.

July 17, 2002

Dr. Denton Lotz, General Secretary
Baptist World Alliance
405 North Washington Street
Falls Church, VA 22046

Dear Denton:

Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope you and fellow travelers had an enjoyable tour and a safe trip home.

The report of the BWA Membership Committee at the July 2002 meeting of the BWA General Council has raised a number of disturbing questions among Southern Baptist leaders. You will remember that in September 1997, the chairman of the Executive Committee appointed an ad hoc Baptist World Alliance Study Committee to evaluate the relationship of the Southern Baptist Convention to the Baptist World Alliance. The committee reported to the Executive Committee in its February 1998 meeting (report with recommendation enclosed).

The first paragraph of the recommendation reads, “That the Baptist World Alliance Study Committee, in keeping with the obligations of faithful stewardship, recommends that the president of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention provide ongoing review of the relationship between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist World Alliance.”

In accord with the charge given to me in the above paragraph, I have talked with the chairman of the Executive Committee, Gary Smith, since arriving home from Seville, Spain. You will remember that Dr. Smith was a member of the 1998 review committee. He has decided to reactivate the 1998 Baptist World Alliance Study Committee to the extent that past members are willing to serve. The reactivation of the committee will be announced at the September 2002 meeting of the Executive Committee. This letter is precipitated by the desire for the committee to be accurately informed when it does meet.

The process employed by the BWA Membership Committee did not follow the guidelines set forth by the Constitution and Bylaws of the Baptist World Alliance, but rather chose to move full speed ahead to take certain actions regardless of the BWA Constitution and Bylaws. Although CBF first applied for membership a year ago, the committee acted hastily in attempting to convey to the General Council that they were indeed persuaded in favor of receiving the CBF as a member body. By making its report in such detail, the Membership Committee abandoned its responsibility and has now engaged each and every member of the General Council in the committee process by informing them of a conditional provision set forth to be considered by CBF leaders. By its actions, the Membership Committee, in essence, asked the General Council members to pass judgment on whether the CBF satisfies the condition stipulated by the Membership Committee. In so doing, the committee, under the leadership of the chair, Ian Hawley of Australia, has done an injustice and disservice not only to itself, and also to the entire Baptist World Alliance. The committee could well have reported that while it is making progress in consideration of the CBF application, it would not be ready to make a more detailed report and recommendation to the General Council until next year.

The BWA Membership Committee’s publicly proclaimed predisposition to accept the CBF as a member body in the Baptist World Alliance may well be without precedence in the history of the BWA as far back as its founding in 1905. Of course, the Southern Baptist Convention has participated actively as a founding member for these 97 years.

In its report, the Membership Committee stated, “The Membership Committee believes the application from the CBF can be recommended to the BWA General Council for acceptance in 2003.” The committee also opined, “the Committee believes there is goodwill from member bodies, towards acceptance of the CBF into membership of the BWA.”

In a statement to the Associated Baptist Press, Hawley said, “One reason the committee released a report this year was because of widespread misinterpretation about last year’s decision to defer action. There were wrong motives given for our decision. We wanted to give people the idea of our thinking.” However, by outlining the committee’s progression of thinking to the General Council, the Membership Committee chairman ignored the request by Jimmy Draper and me to publicly give only an overview and reserve a full report until the committee was prepared to make an actual recommendation.

Dr. Draper and I initially were grateful for the invitation to meet with the Membership Committee on Tuesday of the General Council meeting. Little did we know how predisposed the committee was in favor of accepting the CBF as a member body or how determined the chair was to expand the committee to include the entire General Council by relating the full details of the committee’s conclusions to date. The report gives no evidence the committee researched the 15-year history of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, particularly in its relationship to the Southern Baptist Convention. This would not have been an insurmountable task since so much has been stated in press articles throughout the years. In its report, the Membership Committee indicated it chose rather to base its conclusions upon “conversations between the CBF and the membership committee.” The committee further stated that these conversations “have been warm and favorable and we have been left with very positive views of the CBF as an organization.”

The BWA Constitution, Article IV, Membership, states, “An organized Baptist body such as a union or convention which desires to cooperate in the work of the Alliance shall be eligible for membership.” The CBF claims neither to be a convention or a union. Membership Committee members in this instance chose a most liberal interpretation by stating to SBC leaders that they interpreted “such as” in the article to mean a broader inclusiveness than the stated examples. Yet, in the General Council Workbook for the meeting in Seville, Spain, as is the case year after year, the listing of member bodies is headed, “Convention/Union.” While there have been rare exceptions over the years, the committee seemed determined to treat its interpretation as the norm, not the exception.

The BWA Bylaws, Article I, Membership, Section 2, states, “Each member body shall have an identity of its own and shall not exist as an integral part of some other union or convention (please note the use of the terms “union or convention” in the BWA Bylaws). Yet in an interview with the Associated Baptist Press, dated July 15, 2002, Dan Vestal, in citing the committee’s criteria for membership, said, “They’ve asked us to declare ourselves as a Baptist body that is not an integral part of the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s not a problem because we’re not and we feel like we haven’t been since the beginning.” Does this not imply that the CBF has nothing more to do other than take an official vote to continue in its pursuit of membership in the BWA? The Southern Baptist Convention, beginning in 1845, has planted and nurtured churches throughout the United States. Churches that had their beginning as small mission efforts have flourished over these years making the Southern Baptist Convention the largest non-Catholic denomination in the world. Is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship committed to growing by a similar means or will it continue to solicit churches and contributions from among Southern Baptist churches?

A few other questions are:

1. Is it required or even preferable that individuals serving on BWA committees represent a member body by an approved process of that member body? If not, why not? The question comes to mind because I know at least five members of the Membership Committee who are not General Council members by vote of their member bodies. They are Ian Hawley - chair, Albert Wardin - vice chair, Alistair Brown (although he is a member of two member bodies, he represented neither of them at the Seville meeting), Bill Hogue, and Audrey Morikawa, president of the BWA Women’s Department (I notice she is listed in some places as a member of the General Council. Since her name does not appear in the official list of General Council members as a representative of Canadian Baptist Ministries, does the person who is president of the Women’s Department automatically serve as a General Council member?) While David Coffey is, by virtue of his office, a member of the General Council, he chose not to be a voting member of the General Council.

2. The vote of the committee was unanimous. In the appearance Dr. Draper and I made before the committee the number of members present were significantly lower than 20 members, and at least 6 of those present were not voting members in this particular meeting of the General Council meeting. An obvious question begs to be answered. By what reasoning do non-members and non-voting members of the General Council sit in judgment as to whether a Baptist body qualifies for membership on the General Council and thus, the BWA? I read somewhere that eleven (11) members of the Membership Committee adopted the report. If this is the case, six (6) members of the eleven were not General Council members when they voted. Is this a process that General Council members can embrace with enthusiasm as the most appropriate way of doing business?

3. At what point in the process was the Committee Report written that was read by Chair Ian Hawley to the General Council on Friday morning, July 12, 2002? Did the report change after the Thursday night meeting with Jimmy Draper? Did the report change after the Friday morning meeting with Jimmy Draper and me? Parenthetically, may I say SBC leaders had no idea until Friday morning just prior to its public reading that the chair planned to reveal the full details of the committee’s conclusions to date? We had no idea until then that Chairman Ian Hawley planned to make a recommendation in the name of giving a report. We discouraged what I presumed was the executive committee of the Membership Committee, Ian Hawley, Albert Wardin, David Coffey, and Alastair Brown from making such a detailed report. As he began to read the report publicly, it became quite apparent that the invitation Jimmy Draper and I received to meet with the committee was little more than a courtesy.

For me personally, and I think this will be true of most every Southern Baptist leader, the issue of the acceptance of the CBF as a member of the BWA has taken a back seat to the nearly absolute disregard for any serious objections by SBC leaders. We believe certain committee members attempted to put SBC leaders in the difficult position of prematurely saying “yeh” or “nay” in response to the membership application by CBF. While we raised objections, we insisted it was inappropriate to formally register an objection at that time. The committee needed to do its work. Of course, we had no idea what was about to transpire publicly.

The BWA Membership Committee made its recommendation against what it acknowledged as its "usual practice" to delay acceptance of an applicant organization that is "in public disagreement with an existing member body of the BWA ... until everything has been done to deal with ongoing disagreement, public conflict and hurt." No explanation was given why the committee acted counter to its usual practice.

I have enclosed a copy of the statement I made to Baptist Press on Friday, July 12, 2002. The statement includes the following sentences. “To say I am aggrieved is an understatement. I have personally worked diligently, along with other SBC leaders, for 12 years to establish a strong tie with the BWA and to communicate to world Baptist leaders that Southern Baptists wanted to walk beside them in efforts to reach the world for Christ. In one swift and needless action by the membership committee, the valued relationship I thought we had built may have been damaged beyond repair. Frankly, all this leaves me puzzled and concerned as to the future relationship of Southern Baptists to the Baptist World Alliance.”

I am saddened by what has occurred. Now the Southern Baptist Convention should at least pause and ask God to give us direction as to how, in the future, the Convention should best represent itself and its witness to the world. Last month the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a new vision which is entitled “Empowering Kingdom Growth.” The vision statement is “Seeking first the King and His Kingdom.” I can assure you that Southern Baptist leaders are earnestly asking God to transform our vision into a spiritual movement that will lead to a genuine Christ-centered, Bible-believing, Spirit-empowered revival around the world. Our prayer is, “Lord, let it begin in me.” We know that with this prayer comes enormous responsibility. Please pray with and for us.

In 1998, the SBC reviewed the relationship with the BWA and determined to make every effort to continue our membership and partnership with the Baptist World Alliance. The patented disregard for our concerns is larger than the issue itself. You can be assured we will be praying for God to reveal His perfect Will and whatever it may be, we will be resolved to be obedient. I know I speak for all SBC leaders when I say, “We want nothing more and nothing less than to be in the center of God’s Will and testify around the world to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I look forward to your reply. It will be helpful to the study committee as it attempts to be fully informed about what has transpired and the course God may be leading us.

Yours sincerely for the Kingdom,

Morris H. Chapman

c: Billy Kim, BWA President
Ian Hawley, BWA Membership Committee Chair
Jack Graham, SBC President
SBC Great Commission Council Members
SBC Baptist World Alliance Study Committee
Executive Committee Officers
SBC Elected Members of the BWA General Council

A postscript to readers from Dr. Chapman…

In my opinion, the committee violated several articles of the BWA Bylaws, so my question became, “Why have a constitution and bylaws if an organization ignores them if and when they choose to follow another process?” In answer to my question, Dr. Lotz said, “The General Council is the final authority in the BWA. They can do as they please.” That being the case, why have guiding policies at all? For all practical purposes they are non-existent. When disagreements arise within the body, this is the very instance when the policies are most needed. Yet with the Baptist World Alliance, Dr. Lotz claims the General Council can ignore the BWA Constitution and Bylaws unless it favors the opinion rendered by the leadership.

Readers should be made aware that after receiving my letter, Dr. Lotz recommended that the BWA Bylaws be changed so they would no longer restrict members to “conventions and unions.” Consequently, potential members would then fall within any one of several general categories, including: “conventions, unions, churches, and individuals.” If the bylaws are so insignificant that the body can ignore them at will, why rush to revise them to be in accord with action already taken?

The revision brings up another sobering question for the Southern Baptist Convention. If the BWA General Counsel approves the recommendation of its Membership Committee that churches be admitted as associate members in the BWA, and since an enormous campaign has been planned to solicit money from the churches, how can the SBC in good faith maintain membership in the BWA when it has determined to solicit funding from our churches?

The Business and Financial Plan of the Southern Baptist Convention strictly prohibits our national entities from soliciting funds from local churches with the exception of the Cooperative Program, the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions, and the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions. The Southern Baptist Convention procedurally abides by its official documents, i.e., the Constitution, Bylaws, and Business and Financial Plan. To set these documents aside based upon the latest persuasive influence would be devastating to our Convention’s ability to operate in decency and in order for the purpose of maintaining our integrity and upholding our Christian witness.

Finally, readers may also be interested in noting the variance between the obvious departures from constitutional and procedural constraints (both of which I noted above in my July, 2002 letter to Denton Lotz) and the response by Denton Lotz to each of them (quoted in a 2-24-2004 ABP release). In that news account, Lotz is quoted as saying, "That's the first I've heard of it" (referring to the membership committee's act as being violative of the BWA constitution), and "There has never been a 'written' rule" (referring to the time-honored practice against including a new member body over the objection of a present member body). Obviously, it is inaccurate to claim not having heard of something that has been stated to him on numerous occasions for a period of one year and a half. My letter above is prime evidence fo the fact. Additionally, asserting that a well-known and long-followed tradition "has never been a written rule" does not negate its status as precendent-setting or provide comfort to member bodies that had placed their trust in procedural consistency and the "usual practice" that even the committee admitted previously existed.

 

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