The grinch who is trying to steal autonomy
January 5 2002 by Trennis Henderson , Editor, Western Recorder (Kentucky)

The grinch who is trying to steal autonomy | Saturday, Jan. 5, 2002

Saturday, Jan. 5, 2002

The grinch who is trying to steal autonomy

By Trennis Henderson Editor, Western Recorder (Kentucky) Picture this scene: The tiny village of Whoville is the District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCBC), a small convention of about 100 churches in the nation's capital. The grinch in this case is the powerful Southern Baptist North American Mission Board (NAMB), a multi-million-dollar operation with ministry partnerships throughout the United States and Canada. In addition to its historic affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the D.C. convention is aligned with the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., and the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

NAMB officials reportedly are concerned about DCBC's affiliation with denominations that are less conservative than the SBC on many theological and social issues. As a result, NAMB leaders have given D.C. convention officials a list of conditions for the convention to continue receiving NAMB funding.

DCBC Executive Director Jeffrey Haggray describes the action as "an unsolicited ultimatum." NAMB President Robert Reccord claims it is "not an edict or ultimatum, but a proposal."

The "proposal" calls for restructuring the D.C. convention's staff to make SBC-funded staff members supervised directly by NAMB. That, according to Haggray, "would undermine our autonomy and subjugate the work of our departments and staff to an appointee from NAMB."

But there's more.

NAMB's document specifies that D.C. Baptists "must agree not to promote the cultural festivals that include non-Christian religious organizations;" the convention's newspaper "should not contain any future articles that will denigrate the SBC and its leadership nor any of its agencies;" and speakers of DCBC-sponsored meetings are to "reflect the theological tenets of the SBC."

If the D.C. convention fails to comply, it stands to lose up to $475,000 a year from NAMB, nearly one-third of the convention's $1.5 million annual budget.

Now you can see why Haggray considers NAMB's move an ultimatum.

The problem is that NAMB has no business seeking to dictate to an autonomous convention how it should organize its staff, what it should publish in its paper or what views speakers should espouse.

The purpose of a cooperative agreement between NAMB and any state convention is to determine the amount of funding NAMB will provide for jointly developed mission projects and missionaries. It is not to use Cooperative Program funds to force a convention to stay in line with NAMB's views on news coverage, speakers and other issues.

In fact, the DCBC's current agreement with NAMB specifies that "general administration and promotion of the strategic mission plan shall be by the state convention."

That fits in well with the SBC's Baptist Faith and Message statement on cooperation which notes that associations and conventions "are voluntary and advisory bodies" that "have no authority over one another or over the churches." NAMB's role is to serve as a resource to state conventions, not to dictate ministry philosophies to them.

Make no mistake. If NAMB succeeds in dictating ministry decisions to DCBC, it eventually will seek to do the same thing elsewhere. Conventions in Mississippi and Texas are opting to retain funds for mission work within their states, reducing NAMB's role as a ministry middleman. Perhaps it's time for Kentucky and other conventions to consider similar action.

In the meantime, hopefully NAMB's heart will grow three sizes and Whoville, D.C., will be saved - along with historic Baptist autonomy.

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1/5/2002 12:00:00 AM by Trennis Henderson , Editor, Western Recorder (Kentucky) | with 0 comments
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