Plan C motion sets stage for identity crisis
November 22 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Plan C motion sets stage for identity crisis | Friday, Nov 22, 2002

Friday, Nov 22, 2002

Plan C motion sets stage for identity crisis

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

The most significant business item to emerge from the Baptist State Convention's (BSC) annual meeting is the creation of a study committee to determine whether the convention's Plan C giving option is consistent with the BSC constitution.

An objective committee should be able to conclude its work in about half an hour, if introductions take no more than 20 minutes. It should take no more than five minutes to digest the first three articles of the constitution and another five minutes to agree that Plan C is perfectly consistent with both the intent and the letter of the BSC's governing document.

Article II of the constitution lists the various purposes of the Baptist State Convention. Its primary reason for being is "to assist the churches in their divinely appointed mission."

Associated functions are "to promote missions, evangelism, education, social services, the distribution of the Bible and sound religious literature."

Finally, the BSC is "to cooperate with the work of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)."

Not one word implies that the BSC cannot also cooperate with the work of other bodies, and it has done so throughout its history.

So why is this an issue? It is an issue because our diverse convention includes some members who support the SBC so ardently that they want to exclude BSC cooperation with any other body.

This was not the vision of those who founded the Baptist State Convention, long before the SBC came into existence.

According to Livingston Johnson's 1908 History of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, Martin Ross asked the Chowan Association in 1809 to consider "establishing a meeting of general correspondence, to be comprised of the neighboring associations."

A "North Carolina Baptist General Meeting of Conference" was organized, meeting annually "to secure more perfect cooperation, and to promote the interest of missions." Its missions focus led the organization to rename itself "The North Carolina Baptist Benevolent Society."

Minutes of the 1826 meeting include a resolution that the formation of a state convention be considered, and in 1830 the organization voted without dissent that "this society be transformed into a State Convention."

Thomas Meredith, who became the founding editor of the Biblical Recorder just three years later, was appointed to draft a letter inviting all Baptists in the state to participate.

The state convention began immediate participation with other bodies beyond state lines. In 1834, for example, three delegates were sent to the "Triennial Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of the United States," and fraternal messengers were dispatched to meetings in South Carolina and Virginia. In 1837, delegates attended a "Bible Convention" in Philadelphia.

The Southern Baptist Convention was formed some years later, in 1845. In its annual meeting that year the BSC passed a resolution showing approval of the new regional entity and its two mission boards, recommending that churches contribute liberally to its causes.

From that time, the BSC has continued to cooperate with the SBC, but has never foresworn its freedom to cooperate with or contribute to other entities.

The development of the current giving plans has effectively preserved the autonomy of local churches and the state convention alike, allowing both to choose how their contributions will be directed within the umbrella of cooperative giving.

Still, some say this violates the constitution. Tim Rogers, who asked for the study committee, originally intended to ask messengers to delete Plan C. The giving plans were never intended to allow support of non-SBC entities, he said. Since the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has now declared itself separate from the SBC, he suggested, the giving plan that supports it no longer fits within constitutional parameters.

But the giving plans have sent money to other non-SBC entities from their inception. Plans B and C include a small percentage for the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Associated Baptist Press, and the Baptist Center for Ethics. All four plans include contributions to the Baptist World Alliance and the Christian Action League.

No interpretation of Article II can overrule Article III of the constitution, which clearly defines the BSC as "independent and sovereign in its own sphere."

From my perspective, any claim that the BSC is constitutionally bound to an exclusive relationship with the SBC distorts the constitution's clear intent and contradicts historical precedents and practices.

But there are other perspectives. Bill Sanderson, president of Conservative Carolina Baptists (CCB), sent the Recorder a statement following the annual meeting. Sanderson concurred with Steve Hardy, who spoke against another motion at the convention that would have diverted some of the Biblical Recorder's funding to his organization's occasional publication, the Conservative Record. He did so on the basis of a belief that "the giving plans should only offer options which are directly connected to the BSCNC or the SBC," according to the statement. Sanderson said churches could contribute to other entities if they choose, but should not be able to send the money through the BSC and consider it as Cooperative Program funds.

"The Conservative Record does not want to perpetuate this perversion of the BSCNC constitution," said Sanderson.

The BSC hasn't completely abandoned use of the term "Cooperative Program" in reference to its annual budget, but neither does it define "Cooperative Program" in the same exclusionary way as the SBC. Recognizing that North Carolina's budget plan is more inclusive, the BSC's budget committee has brought the convention a "Cooperative Missions" budget (instead of a "Cooperative Program" budget) since at least 1994.

But the motion now destined for study is not really about the budget: it is about identity.

It is about deciding whether the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is an autonomous body that makes its own decisions and cooperates by its own volition, or whether it is a state franchise of the SBC and thus subject to the SBC's singular definition of "cooperation."

We don't yet know who will be on the Plan C study committee or what they will recommend. One thing seems sure, however. Messengers to next year's annual meeting will be challenged to decide whether the BSC will continue standing on its own autonomous feet, or choose to sell its historic birthright for a mess of denominational pottage.

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11/22/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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