Southern Baptist chaplaincy head unexpectedly 'leaves' post
January 24 2003 by Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press

Southern Baptist chaplaincy head unexpectedly 'leaves' post | Friday, Jan. 24, 2003

Friday, Jan. 24, 2003

Southern Baptist chaplaincy head unexpectedly 'leaves' post

By Mark Wingfield Associated Baptist Press

ATLANTA - Bob Vickers has "left" his position as director of chaplaincy evangelism at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), according to a statement issued by NAMB Vice President John Yarbrough.

Others familiar with the situation, however, contend Vickers was forced to resign because he did not enforce stringently enough NAMB's newly tightened doctrines on female chaplains and chaplains with divorce in their backgrounds.

Under terms of a severance agreement, Vickers reportedly cannot speak about his departure. News of the termination had begun to filter out among the chaplains endorsed for service through NAMB, however, particularly among the ranks of military chaplains whom Vickers once served alongside.

Some chaplains, as well as others close to Vickers, are angry about his dismissal, which they contend is an attempt by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) mission board to exert further control of the chaplains they endorse but do not pay.

One chaplain described Vickers' dismissal as "brutal" and akin to "the Taliban taking over." Another person well connected to the situation asserted that NAMB administrators and trustees "want total control over these people's lives."

NAMB acts as the SBC's agent to endorse chaplains serving in the military, health care, prisons, business and industry. Most chaplains, although paid by the companies or government entities that use their services, must be endorsed by a religious body to be hired.

Last year, NAMB trustees announced they no longer would endorse female chaplains who have been ordained, even though the military and other organizations require all chaplains to be ordained for their roles. NAMB and its Chaplains' Commission also reportedly have been giving more scrutiny to applicants who have experienced divorce, even if the divorce occurred 15 or 20 years earlier.

Those with knowledge of the Vickers termination were reluctant to speak on the record about it, for fear of jeopardizing Vickers' severance agreement with NAMB. However, the story they told was verified by multiple interviews with people knowledgeable about what has occurred.

For its part, NAMB released a brief written statement from Yarbrough, who is vice president for evangelism. About the departure, the statement said, "Robert C. Vickers left his position as director of chaplaincy evangelism at the North American Mission Board, SBC, December 31, 2002." It added: "It is not NAMB's policy or practice to discuss personnel matters with those not directly involved."

While Yarbrough praised Vickers as "a tremendous Christian gentleman" whose "love, support and desire to equip chaplains is without question," he gave no reason for the dismissal.

Vickers had managed NAMB's chaplaincy unit since May 1998. He had been director of military chaplaincy two years prior to that. From 1975 to 1996, he was a chaplain in the United States Army, achieving the rank of colonel.

Vickers, a Lexington, Ky., native, holds degrees from Eastern Kentucky University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lexington Theological Seminary and Vanderbilt University. Among his degrees are two master's and two doctorates.

Increased narrowness in NAMB's endorsement process in recent years has led several hundred chaplains to leave the SBC's fold and seek endorsement from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Baptist General Convention of Texas and other religious bodies.

To date, NAMB has not required chaplains to sign or affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message doctrinal statement as some Southern Baptist missionaries have been asked to do.

However, individuals familiar with Vickers' case said they fear that could be the next step.

"The minute they dare require a chaplain to sign something, there's going to be a mass exodus," predicted one person who has worked on the inside of the chaplain-endorsement process at NAMB. "I think there's going to be an exodus anyway."

Chaplains currently endorsed by NAMB "are Southern Baptists wholeheartedly," this insider said, "but they'll give that up in a moment if it gets to the point where we say: 'We're going to control your life. You've got to look like me, act like me, talk like me or you're not one of us."

Friends described Vickers as the kind of person who sought to encourage chaplains, to include rather than exclude, to bridge gaps rather than build walls.

While Vickers sought to follow the endorsement policy set by NAMB, he "never suggested that God can't call women as chaplains," one colleague said. "That got him in trouble."

A NAMB spokesman said he could not answer any further questions about Vickers' departure beyond what was contained in the statement from Yarbrough.

Vickers himself could not be reached for comment, apparently because of the terms of his severance agreement.

The NAMB statement insisted the SBC mission board "continues to be committed to endorsing and assisting Southern Baptist chaplains as a key part of impacting North America with the gospel."

That may be true, Vickers' supporters said, but it likely will be done with fewer chaplains and a less diverse corps of chaplains due to Vickers' dismissal.

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1/24/2003 12:00:00 AM by Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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