Requesting missionaries to affirm faith statement averted disaster, Rankin says
August 16 2002 by Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press

Requesting missionaries to affirm faith statement averted disaster, Rankin says | Friday, Aug. 16, 2002

Friday, Aug. 16, 2002

Requesting missionaries to affirm faith statement averted disaster, Rankin says

By Mark Wingfield Associated Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. - The request for Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) missionaries to sign an affirmation of the 2000 "Baptist Faith and Message" was necessary to head off an organizational disaster, according to International Mission Board (IMB) President Jerry Rankin.

Using what he acknowledged "may be an extreme analogy," Rankin compared his leadership dilemma to what might have happened if the United States government had learned in advance about plans for last year's terrorist attacks.

Rankin said U.S. officials would have "done what was necessary to deter that tragedy," even if those tactics proved onerous.

"The airlines and general public would have been outraged at the delays and inconvenience of heightened security measures. The civil-liberties advocates would have probably called for impeachment of President Bush for profiling and detaining people of Middle Eastern descent, and other similar reactions," he said.

Rankin drew a parallel for his much-maligned request, which critics have said smacks of creedalism and indicates mistrust of missionaries on the field.

"Because of our willingness to affirm doctrinal accountability to the Southern Baptist Convention, the consequences that could have been disastrous for the credibility and support of the IMB have been diverted," Rankin said in a July 13 letter to missionaries.

"Taking appropriate steps to assure confidence and support on behalf of the SBC has not been without offense and misunderstanding, but this is a responsibility of leadership that I take very seriously," he added.

Rankin said he took the initiative to ask for a collective response from missionaries in order to head off "an embarrassing and divisive showdown" over the issue and to protect IMB trustees from having to reverse an earlier decision and impose a policy requiring affirmation of the faith statement.

Rankin said his own confidence in the doctrinal integrity of the missionary force never wavered, however. "I would not have taken such action without the confidence that our personnel serving with the IMB represent doctrinal integrity and denominational loyalty," he wrote.

Rankin said he sympathizes with IMB missionaries who were upset that anyone would question their beliefs, because he, too, was "offended and hurt" at accusations of doctrinal infidelity.

Although Rankin has said in the past that he issued the order to satisfy unnamed critics who were questioning missionaries' beliefs, he said his actions shouldn't be viewed as bowing to political pressure.

In 2001, Rankin wrote missionaries saying that personnel already under appointment wouldn't be forced to endorse the revised "Baptist Faith and Message." In his recent letter, Rankin said some missionaries perceived his request this year that they do so voluntarily, as a reversal, "which some assumed to be succumbing to political pressure."

"In 2001 I had communicated the policy officially adopted by our board," Rankin explained. "When questions and suspicions began to escalate, the board felt some action needed to be taken, but they did not want to reverse their earlier decision and signal any mistrust in our overseas personnel. ...

"To deal with the crisis, I offered to secure the needed assurance with a personal request."

One source of suspicion resulted when IMB trustees, breaking rank with boards of other SBC entities, voted not to establish a policy making the 2000 "Baptist Faith and Message" a litmus test for continued employment.

"When we became the only entity not to require staff, faculty or missionaries to affirm the current 'Baptist Faith and Message,' questions began to arise regarding our accountability and whether we were 'protecting' those not aligned with the 'Baptist Faith and Message,'" Rankin wrote.

When one regional leader refused to affirm the faith statement, Rankin said, "It increased the speculation that there must be many others as well."

All six SBC seminaries have policies requiring professors to affirm the 2000 "Baptist Faith and Message." All home missionaries serving under the North American Mission Board are also required to affirm the document.

Some other SBC agencies, however, stop short of requiring 100 percent compliance with the faith statement.

At LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn., the SBC's publishing arm, only employees in "Southern Baptist required" positions - about 25 percent of the workforce - are asked to sign an affirmation that they will conduct their work in accordance with the "Baptist Faith and Message."

The Dallas-based Annuity Board, the SBC's insurance and retirement manager, hasn't made any public statement about requiring employees to affirm the 2000 "Baptist Faith and Message," but those in key leadership posts are required to be members of "cooperating" Southern Baptist churches.

Rankin said "most" missionaries "welcomed the opportunity" to affirm the 2000 "Baptist Faith and Message," but "some have struggled with the response and been offended as if they, personally, were being questioned."

Some others, he said, agree with the content of the 'Baptist Faith and Message' - or disagree over minor points - "but have felt the request itself made our confession of faith a creed," something which Baptists traditionally have opposed.

But Rankin claimed the faith statement has since its original adoption in 1925 functioned as "an instrument of doctrinal accountability," even though it is stated as such for the first time in the 2000 edition.

He quoted E.Y. Mullins, primary author of the original "Baptist Faith and Message," who wrote: "Baptists have always insisted upon their own right to declare their beliefs and to protect themselves by refusing to support men in important places as teachers and preachers who do not agree with them."

Rankin said no doctrinal problems have been discovered as a result of the recent process, but "it has grieved me" that some missionaries went public with criticism of IMB leaders in newsletters and the press.

He said "a few have resigned and others have expressed their intention to do so rather than affirm the 'Baptist Faith and Message' and their willingness to work in accord with it."

Rankin said the process has been personally painful to him, but he concluded: "It was done for the benefit of your ministry and our kingdom task. This will enable us to get on with our mission of reaching a lost world with the solid support of Southern Baptists."

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8/16/2002 12:00:00 AM by Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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