IMB missionaries terminated; reasons disputed
November 22 2002 by Rob Marus and Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press

IMB missionaries terminated; reasons disputed | Friday, Nov 22, 2002

Friday, Nov 22, 2002

IMB missionaries terminated; reasons disputed

By Rob Marus and Mark Wingfield Associated Baptist Press

VIRGINIA BEACH - A Southern Baptist missionary, who has taught in a Brazilian Baptist seminary, says he was fired by the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board (IMB) for teaching contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M) 2000 on the issue of biblical inerrancy.

The missionary and his wife, who was terminated by IMB policy along with her husband, contend the BF&M 2000 does not address the term "biblical inerrancy."

They believe their termination resulted from trumped-up charges brought against them because they refused to sign an affirmation of the BF&M 2000 as requested by IMB President Jerry Rankin.

Chris and Karen Harbin made their announcement public Nov. 9 at a breakfast meeting of Virginia Baptists Committed during the annual session of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.

The Harbins had served in Porto Alegre in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul the last six years.

The IMB has not made public any specific charges against the Harbins. IMB trustees reportedly affirmed their termination during their Nov. 1 meeting in Dallas, but it was not discussed in the plenary session open to reporters.

While the Harbins contend their dismissal is related to their unwillingness to affirm the 2000 BF&M, IMB officials insist no missionaries have been terminated for that reason.

IMB regional administrator Robin Hadaway, in a Sept. 29 e-mail to the Harbins, accused them of sending out a mass e-mail with a report that they were being terminated for not signing the 2000 BFM.

"This is not true," Hadaway wrote. "No IMB missionary has been terminated for this. You are being terminated for 'the persistent advocating of doctrinal positions inconsistent with the Baptist Faith & Message.'"

The Harbins contend they did not send the mass e-mail and were unaware of its distribution.

Last April, the Harbins were asked in a telephone call from an IMB administrator if they planned to sign the affirmation of the 2000 BF&M as requested by Rankin. When they said no, they were asked to meet with Hadaway, regional leader for eastern South America.

Upon arrival at that meeting, they were told the discussion would concern questions that had been raised by 12 Brazilian Baptists about Harbin's class notes related to biblical authority. Those accusers never have been identified, and administrators at the Brazilian seminary say they have received no complaints.

Harbin was asked to translate his notes into English for further review, and then a subsequent meeting was scheduled with Hadaway Sept. 12.

At the second meeting, Hadaway presented the Harbins with a prepared letter of termination "for the persistent advocating of doctrinal opinions inconsistent with the Baptist Faith & Message."

The letter stated: "You are required to leave the field two weeks from today. ... You may not teach any more seminary classes. You may visit the seminary class once to say goodbye if field leader Larry Braswell goes with you. You are not permitted to have meetings or fellowship meetings with Brazilians or missionaries without the presence of Larry Braswell."

When the local pastors' council drafted a letter of commendation for the Harbins' service and included a request that they return to Brazil under appointment by some other mission agency, Hadaway chastised the Harbins in an e-mail.

"You must follow Larry Braswell's instructions precisely concerning operating on the field in your relationship with nationals and missionaries, or I will strictly follow the (policy manual) concerning your departure," Hadaway wrote. "If you do not follow Larry's orientation, you will have 600 cu. ft. of freight, your salary will end on 1 November and you will be departing Porto Alegre at the end of this week and not next week."

In another e-mail, Hadaway chastised the Harbins for the tone of a letter they had written asking clarification on the charges against them: "The tone and content of (your) letter is the kind of letter which I said during our meeting you needed to avoid. A repeat of this kind of letter, statements to nationals, or other publicity (or not following Larry Braswell's instructions) will make it necessary for me to revert to the original plan of ending your association with the IMB on 1 November 2002 ... (including salary and insurance)."

Karen Harbin contends Braswell has threatened to launch public charges of heresy against her husband among Brazilian Baptists if the couple attempts to return to the seminary.

In an e-mail dated Sept. 20, she confronted Braswell on this topic, accusing him of contemplating "acts completely disconnected from a Christian moral ethic. Such an attitude does not proceed from Jesus Christ. It is shocking for its falseness and the desire for rigid theological control expressed."

She also wrote: "It would seem hard to maintain that students and administrators who during six years of teaching in Rio Grande do Sul had in their hands Christopher's written theological material (which follows in accord with the Broadman Bible Commentary), would not be able to recognize theological error and would still ask in writing for our return to Brazil if alleged doctrinal deviation were more than imaginary."

In an e-mail reply from Hadaway, the Harbins were told that, although the seminary is "an autonomous institution" and "may employ who they wish," that nonetheless the IMB "reserves the right to advise our Baptist partners concerning the advisability of accepting as professors former IMB missionaries who have been terminated for doctrinal reasons."

Hadaway and Braswell were contacted for comment on the story Nov. 13, but they did not reply by the Baptist Standard's publishing deadline the evening of Nov. 14.

However, IMB spokesman Mark Kelly told Associated Baptist Press the issue had entirely to do with the IMB's view that Harbin's teachings were unorthodox.

"IMB leaders have read Chris Harbin's writings, and numerous positions on the nature of the Bible are clearly outside the parameters acceptable to Southern Baptists," Kelly said. "It is unfortunate that he did not balance positions he said were designed to 'challenge the thinking of his students' with a strong presentation of advocacy for the inerrant word of God."

The Harbins followed IMB procedure in appealing the termination and ultimately appealed to Avery Willis, the IMB's senior vice president for overseas operations. Willis told Harbin in a letter: "the termination is based on your own translation of your written syllabus. It is clearly over the line regarding the nature and inerrancy of Scripture."

However, the Harbins note, the Baptist Faith & Message says nothing about the Bible's "inerrancy."

Willis told the Harbins that, in order to appeal their termination one last time, Harbin would have to submit a "written rejection of those parts of the syllabus that are contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message."

Willis explained: "Since your syllabus is clearly beyond the policies of the board to 'not teach contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message,' we cannot just make this a resignation unless you can give us the clear written response asked for above."

Karen Harbin believes Willis' letter "linked our appeal to the need to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message." She said her husband responded by affirming the 1963 version of the Southern Baptist confessional document rather than the 2000 revision, and telling Willis that the class syllabus excerpts on which the charges of heresy were based "did not reflect his beliefs, being either taken out of context, badly worded, or stating positions that he was refuting."

The portions of Harbin's syllabus questioned by IMB officials were not immediately released.

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11/22/2002 12:00:00 AM by Rob Marus and Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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