by David Roach
NASHVILLE (BP) – With an ad hoc committee of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee set to begin its study of churches’ escrowing Cooperative Program money, EC chairman Stephen Rummage says the study was occasioned in part by the notable volume of contacts the EC has received regarding the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press the entity is “a servant of our churches” and “happy to work with the Executive Committee.”
Meanwhile, Jack Graham, pastor of Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church, told BP the congregation will conclude its internal study of giving to SBC causes before the convention’s June annual meeting in Phoenix. Prestonwood announced last month it would escrow CP funds over “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.” Prestonwood plans to continue cooperating with the SBC in some form, Graham, a former convention president, said via text message.
Other churches have taken or are considering similar action over concerns related to multiple SBC entities, according to reports received by the EC.
Rolland Slade, chairman of the EC’s CP Committee told BP today (March 6) the ad hoc study group will include 11 members : Slade, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, Calif.; Rummage, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla.; EC vice chairman Shane Hall, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma City; Dave Bryan, pastor of Chisholm Heights Baptist Church in Mustang, Okla.; Daniel Carr, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in St. Louis; B. Scott Davis, pastor of Pitts Baptist Church in Concord, N.C.; Dale Jenkins, pastor of Airway Heights (Wash.) Baptist Church; Mike Lawson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sherman, Texas; Glynn Rhinehart, a member of First Baptist Church in Youngsville, La.; Hoyt Savage, pastor of Foothills Baptist Church in Las Vegas; and Jared Wellman, pastor of Mission Dorado Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas.
The group’s initial meeting, Slade said, likely will occur via conference call. A date for the meeting will be calendared by March 18.
According to a motion unanimously adopted by the CP Committee last month, the study committee will “study and recommend redemptive solutions to the current reality in Southern Baptist life of churches’ either escrowing or discontinuing Cooperative Program funds, with the report being brought back to the September 2017 Executive Committee meeting.”
Slade said in an email the study committee “will discuss ways to discover whether escrowing CP funds is widespread and, if so, the reasons why; then we can begin to develop redemptive solutions to resolve the issues … We’ll likely look at this issue, share our findings with the [EC] officers and the CP Committee and then with the full EC.”
Slade said he will “stress with the group” that “this is first and foremost a Kingdom effort, not an effort to single out an individual, entity or point of view. What affects CP affects the work of Southern Baptists. We must be about sharing the Gospel to the world.”
Rummage told the SBC This Week podcast March 3 the ad hoc committee, and a separate study of SBC entities to be undertaken by the EC officers, is necessary because “a lot of … churches” have “concerns about some of the things that are happening in certain SBC entities. Specifically, some of the actions of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission have caused a lot of churches to respond and register concerns.”
Rummage added, “In fact, our Executive Committee staff tells me that they have received more letters, more calls, more emails [from] people who are considering defunding or holding back CP monies” over “this issue” than “from any other issue in memory.”
The ad hoc committee’s study will examine “the way our churches are responding” to all SBC entities, Rummage said, even though discussion of the ERLC “has surfaced most strongly” in recent months.
Roger S. Oldham, EC vice president for convention communications and relations, told BP the EC office has processed dozens of requests over the past year from churches seeking to withdraw from the SBC.
“Pastors seldom call or write the EC offices to express concerns about an entity, so when they do it is notable,” Oldham said in written comments. “Our practice is to refer them to the entity’s leaders or its trustees. In addition to numerous conversations with pastors expressing frustration or even threatening to withhold CP funds this past year, our office processed requests from 49 churches to withdraw from the convention, up from the half dozen or so we usually process in a given year. We grieve each time we send a notice to our entities that a church has voted to leave the convention.”
Moore told BP in written comments, “The ERLC could not do what it does without the sacrificial giving of churches, and there is hardly anything more foundational in our denomination than our Cooperative Program partnership, working together for the sake of Gospel advance.
“As a servant of our churches, we are happy to work with the Executive Committee, and more broadly, grateful to be able to serve our churches daily, whether by answering their questions, providing resources and assistance or standing alongside them in the public square contending for the fundamental issues of life, family and religious liberty,” Moore said.
Rummage expressed hope that churches’ concerns can be resolved.
A decision by Prestonwood to resume CP giving could indicate resolution of “most of the concerns that have been raised by the [Executive] Committee” because Prestonwood appears representative of other concerned congregations, Rummage said.
Graham told BP Prestonwood executive pastor Mike Buster “is chairing a study committee to evaluate our SBC giving” and the committee has “nothing to report” at present.
According to data from the SBC’s Annual Church Profile, Prestonwood has given $500,000 through CP each of the last three fiscal years for which data is available. The congregation has given approximately $500,000 each of those years through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and $100,000 through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, according to ACP data.
Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
PLANO, Texas (BP) — A Dallas-area megachurch has decided to escrow Cooperative Program funds temporarily in order to evaluate future support of Southern Baptist Convention causes.
At issue are what the congregation calls “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to a statement the church released to Louisiana’s Baptist Message newsjournal.
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, will escrow what would amount to $1 million annually, the Message reported Feb. 16.
In a text to Baptist Press, Message Editor Will Hall noted he had queried Prestonwood about its giving to SBC causes after pastor Jack Graham was interviewed in December by The Wall Street Journal. Graham told The Journal the church was “considering making major changes in our support of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
At issue, Graham said in the interview, was alleged “disrespectfulness” by ERLC President Russell Moore toward evangelical supporters of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Moore, who publicly opposed Trump during the primary and general election cycles, said in a December blog post he never intended to criticize all evangelicals who supported Trump.
Graham is a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board.
Some Southern Baptists also have criticized the ERLC for joining a friend of the court brief last May in support of a New Jersey Islamic society’s right to build a mosque. The International Mission Board joined the brief as well, and IMB President David Platt apologized Feb. 15 for the divisive nature of the action. See related story.
Graham, a former SBC president, told BP via text message Prestonwood is engaging in “an internal evaluation” of its giving, “and our desire is not to seek publicity so we can make the right decision for our church and Southern Baptists.”
Asked whether Prestonwood also will escrow funds for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention — the state convention with which it cooperates — Graham responded, “We’re evaluating everything.”
Graham told the Message he is “not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people, and I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone.” He wants Prestonwood to remain “a cooperating partner with the SBC as we have been for many years” but cited “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”
SBTC executive director Jim Richards told BP in a statement, “In our fellowship of churches, Prestonwood Baptist Church has been a faithful ministry partner for many years. We love Jack Graham and his people. It is our hope that these concerns can be resolved in a way that strengthens the kingdom work of Southern Baptists and honors the autonomy of the local church. We stand ready to assist as we have opportunity.”
ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press in a statement, “I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ.”
Bart Barber, a Texas pastor who serves on the ERLC’s Leadership Council tweeted following Prestonwood’s announcement, “I love and appreciate” Jack Graham “but am an ardent advocate for #ReligiousLiberty and for” CP. “I’m just heartbroken & conflicted.”
In related news, First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., announced last month it would escrow funds traditionally given through CP over concerns related to ERLC and IMB participation in the New Jersey mosque brief. First Baptist pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November over the brief.
Louisiana Baptist Convention executive director David Hankins and former SBC Executive Committee chairman Bill Harrell both told The Wall Street Journal they know of churches considering a diversion of funds away from the ERLC.
Threats to escrow CP funds have occurred periodically in SBC history. In the mid-1980s, some Southern Baptist conservatives threatened to escrow CP funds if moderates regained control of the convention presidency, BP reported.
Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.
by David Roach
ONTARIO, Calif. (BP) — International Mission Board President David Platt has apologized to Southern Baptists for the divisive nature of an amicus brief the IMB joined last May in support of a New Jersey’s Islamic society’s right to build a mosque.
“I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said Feb. 15 during a meeting with Baptist state paper editors in Ontario, Calif.
“I can say with full confidence,” he said, “that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”
Platt offered a similar apology to executive directors of Baptist state conventions, who met in the same location.
The apologies occurred amid ongoing discussion of an amicus curiae — Latin for “friend of the court” — brief joined by the IMB supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.
In December, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship.
In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.
Going forward, Platt said, missions is “what I long for the conversation about the IMB to be focused on, for the sake of those who have never heard.”
Platt added, “I am grieved how the amicus brief in the recent mosque case has been so divisive and distracting. And my purpose in bringing it up here is not to debate religious liberty, but to simply say that I really do want IMB to be focused on [its] mission statement.”
In the future, a new process for filing amicus briefs is needed, Platt said, “that will involve my office and our trustees.” He pledged to discuss such a policy during a Feb. 28-March 1 IMB trustee meeting.
Platt also told editors, “Going back to at least 2010, so far before I stepped into this role, our … legal department has filed various similar briefs related to religious liberty. And since 2010, all of those matters have been handled by our legal department.”
Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a former IMB trustee chairman, told Baptist Press Platt’s “remarks to state executive directors were very well received.”
Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy Davis told Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal, “I greatly appreciate the directness and humility that the leader of our flagship missions organization demonstrated in meeting with Baptist state convention executive directors. I saw the same spirit in one-on-one conversations with Dr. Platt.”
Davis added, “I am very comfortable from having spent some time with Dr. Platt that this will not be an issue moving forward and that it certainly will be with some level of involvement by IMB trustees.”
Tennessee pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November because he said joining the brief did not comport with IMB’s mission and could be viewed as an improper alliance with followers of a religion that denies the Gospel.
Haun’s resignation was reported in several Baptist state papers last month.
Platt told BP in a statement last month, “As a result of discussions among IMB trustees and staff over recent months, we have revised our processes for our legal department filing any future amicus briefs.”
With reporting by Baptist Press editor Shawn Hendricks and Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector. David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.