October 2003

BSC quietly removes church, debate continues

October 3 2003 by Steve DeVane and Tony W. Cartledge , BR Staff

BSC quietly removes church, debate continues | Friday, Oct. 3, 2003

Friday, Oct. 3, 2003

BSC quietly removes church, debate continues

By Steve DeVane and Tony W. Cartledge BR Staff

ASHEBORO - The Baptist State Convention's (BSC) Executive Committee has agreed to hear an appeal from a Concord church that was quietly removed from the BSC several months ago.

McGill Baptist Church was taken off the BSC rolls on grounds that it violated BSC policy on publicly affirming homosexuality by baptizing two gay men. The church was removed from Cabarrus Baptist Association in April.

Jim Royston, executive director-treasurer of the BSC, raised the issue as the Executive Committee meeting was winding down on Sept. 30.

Royston said that after the McGill situation became public, he and other convention leaders considered news reports and documents provided by the Cabarrus Association in concluding that the church's actions met the criteria for an "official action which manifests public approval, promotion or blessing of homosexuality."

In 1992, the BSC General Board changed its financial policy to exclude any church that knowingly takes such action. Such churches are therefore not cooperating churches, the General Board said.

"Technically, it wasn't because they were removed from the association," Royston said in an interview several days before the Executive Committee met. "It was the issue that brought it about.

"The issue as far as I could tell that impacted us was the public action of a church being removed from an association related to the homosexual issue."

Steve Ayers, pastor of McGill, said the church has not made homosexuality an issue.

"We're just talking about accepting members," he said. "I hope this doesn't mean that all gay members of churches would be purged from churches affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina."

Ayers said he thinks the BSC is "treading on very shaky ground" if it's going to decide who can be members of cooperating churches.

"If someone thinks there's not gay people in churches, somebody needs to look around," he said.

Ayers said the church has not asked the men if they are gay, but he doesn't doubt that they are. The men first came to the church because they were invited, he said.

He said he wonders if churches now must have a list of questions to ask people before the church agrees to baptize them.

"When someone says they've accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their life, do you believe them or not?" he said. "That's what it comes down to."

Ayers said he believes that only God is capable to judge.

"I could not stand before God and tell Him that I kept anyone out of His church," he said. "That's what this comes down to."

Ayers questioned why the BSC's decision would be related to the association's action.

"That's not Baptist polity," he said. "We've become very hierarchical."

Ayers said he found out that the church was no longer in the BSC in September when he discovered that the church was not on the church locator program on the BSC's Web site.

"It was just a shock that came out of the blue," he said. "No one from the state convention has ever asked us our interpretation on this."

Ayers wrote an e-mail to the BSC's webmaster. He received a reply from Royston saying the BSC would no longer receive contributions from the church, making it ineligible to be a cooperating member of the BSC.

Royston said in an interview that the BSC should have notified the church earlier.

"I just regret that happened," he said. "That's not fair."

Royston said he expected the issue to come up during the BSC Executive Committee and General Board meetings in May, but it didn't. He informed the BSC's business office that the BSC would not be accepting any more contributions from McGill and asked them to let him know if the church sent any money.

The church sent the BSC a check for more than $4,400, which Ayers said the BSC cashed in early September.

Royston said the BSC had mistakenly cashed the check and has sent a check for the same amount back to the church.

At the Executive Committee meeting, Royston said that he privately apologized to Ayers for the delay in sending an official notification that the church had been removed from membership in the BSC.

Royston also offered to bring the matter to the Executive Committee if the church wished to appeal the decision, and Ayers indicated that the church would like to present a case that it has taken no public action on the issue of homosexuality.

Wayne Hager, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Mt. Airy, made a motion that the Executive Committee accept the church's statement that it has made no public declaration regarding homosexuality, accept funds from the church, and reinstate it.

Following a second, there was considerable discussion about whether the baptism of someone presumed to be gay constitutes an official action with regard to homosexuality.

George Smith, of White Oak Baptist Church in Clayton, asked that Hager's motion be tabled so the Executive Committee could request further information and return to the matter at its next meeting. His motion passed by an approximate vote of 13 to 3.

The matter arose again in the closing stages of the General Board meeting, when Dale Tanner, of Calvary Baptist Church in Kannapolis, asked the General Board "to reaffirm the policy on not accepting funds from churches that accept practicing homosexuals as members." Although the current policy does not speak to the issue of church membership, the motion was understood as a reference to the policy adopted by the General Board in 1992.

Tanner, a member of the Cabarrus Association, said a lot of unkind things have been said about the association, which had agonized over a very difficult issue.

Royston reviewed the specifics of the case, and noted that the Executive Committee had agreed to review the matter at its next meeting. He further explained that the issue at hand was a matter of interpretation as to whether baptizing a gay person met the criteria of the 1992 policy.

"I feel we have a moral obligation to talk with the church," Royston said. "It's only fair for us to hear their side of the story."

Randy White, who was presiding at the time as vice-president of the General Board, asked president Leland Kerr to take over as moderator so he could make a statement.

"I have to tell you I don't see any lack of clarity in the policy," he said. "When you receive and baptize and hold a press conference, you have made a public affirmation. I have no problem interpreting this. I think it is as clear as crystal."

Ayers said in an interview that the church has never held a press conference over the issue, but only responded openly and honestly to questions it was asked.

"We have never sought any publicity," he said. "In fact, this was never an issue in the congregation."

The only people who made it an issue were outside the congregation, Ayers said.

"It seems we're doing Baptist polity by tattle-tale," he said.

After Kerr returned the gavel to White at the General Board meeting, there were several calls for an end to the debate. White asked those in favor of ceasing debate to say "aye," and received a rather weak response. He did not if any were opposed, but no one raised an objection when he moved on to the motion that the General Board reaffirm the 1992 policy regarding churches that take official actions regarding the acceptance of homosexuality.

White again asked for a voice vote and the motion passed, though with noticeable opposition. No one requested a show of hands or standing vote, so the voting percentage could not be determined.

The Executive Committee's next meeting is scheduled for the morning of Nov. 10 in Winston-Salem. The BSC's annual meeting begins that evening.

Ayers said the church usually sends messengers to the BSC annual meeting. Royston said in the interview that the church will probably not receive messenger cards this year. If the church sends anyone to the BSC annual meeting in November, the BSC credentials committee would have to decide whether or not the church could have messengers, he said.

Ayers said the church would likely send a representative to meet with the Executive Committee.

"We'll give them the courtesy they didn't give us," he said. "We'll listen and respond. I wouldn't call it an appeal. If they want more information, we'll give it."

The BSC policy at issue was first used to effectively remove Pullen Memorial and Binkley Memorial churches from the BSC in 1992. Pullen in Raleigh had voted to bless the union of two homosexual males. Binkley in Chapel Hill voted to license a gay man to the ministry.

In 1999, the policy was used to remove Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. The church held a same-sex union for two lesbian members in September 2000.

10/3/2003 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane and Tony W. Cartledge , BR Staff | with 0 comments

Committee to study giving plan proposal

October 3 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Committee to study giving plan proposal | Friday, Oct. 3, 2003

Friday, Oct. 3, 2003

Committee to study giving plan proposal

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

ASHEBORO - The Baptist State Convention's (BSC) four giving plans could become an endangered species in 2005 if next year's budget committee looks with favor on a proposal presented to the General Board.

During budget discussions on Oct. 1, Cherryville pastor Wayne Key made a motion that the four giving plans should be replaced with one standard plan and an optional plan that each church could tailor for itself.

Key, who is concerned that the term "Cooperative Program" has given way to "Cooperative Missions Giving" in North Carolina, suggested that Plan A be retained as it is, and that it be called "Cooperative Program Giving."

An alternative plan, to be called "Cooperative Missions Giving," would allow churches to designate any amount to any Baptist entity in the current plans, as long as the BSC receives a minimum of 50 percent, the amount currently designated in Plan D.

Giving to both the "Cooperative Program" and "Cooperative Missions" plans would be counted in determining a church's allotment of messengers to the annual convention, according to the proposal.

It appeared that Key's motion might die for lack of a second, but after a lengthy pause, someone offered to second the motion "for the sake of discussion."

Key said he believes the current plans are divisive, that churches should be able to decide where their money will go, and that his proposal would cause giving to increase rather than decrease.

Budget committee chair Tom Crow agreed that he has heard "a lot of sentiment" from N.C. Baptists favoring a single giving plan, but said "we have developed these options through the years as a way of maintaining family" and continuing to serve together. After huddling with other BSC officials, he suggested the Key's motion be referred to the budget committee for study and consideration in 2004.

Moderator Randy White asked for a vote to "kill the first motion" in favor of a motion to refer the matter to the budget committee, and it passed.

After further discussion, a motion to cease debate was approved.

White then called for a voice vote on a motion to refer the suggestion for consideration by the 2004 budget committee. There was noticeable opposition, but the "ayes" in favor were louder, and White ruled that the motion had passed.

10/3/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments

Executive Committee debriefs downsizing, approves more aid

October 3 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Executive Committee debriefs downsizing, approves more aid | Friday, Oct. 3, 2003

Friday, Oct. 3, 2003

Executive Committee debriefs downsizing, approves more aid

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

ASHEBORO - The Baptist State Convention (BSC) Executive Committee took action Sept. 30 to make additional salary and insurance assistance available to short-term employees affected by the convention's recent downsizing.

Nine of the 15 employees whose positions were eliminated on Aug. 31 had been employed by the BSC for more than 10 years, and qualified for retirement benefits that include paid health insurance.

All terminated employees received one week of severance pay for each year worked, with a minimum of four weeks pay.

That left six employees with little time to find other work, and no insurance coverage beyond the severance period.

Mount Airy pastor Wayne Hager raised the issue during the Executive Committee meeting. Noting news reports that the committee had voted unanimously to endorse the plan on Aug. 26, Hager said the vote would not have been unanimous if a funeral had not prevented him from attending the meeting.

Dixon Free, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lincolnton, also said he would not have voted for the plan, but was unable to attend the called meeting.

Hager said the downsizing amounted to a restructuring of the convention staff, and that the Executive Committee should have had more input into decision-making. Free said he thought the process was flawed, and the Executive Committee was not brought into the game until the ninth inning, with two outs.

Free made a motion asking General Board president Leland Kerr to appoint a committee to study the procedures and methodology employed so the process could be improved if similar measures should be needed in the future.

Robert Evans, of First Baptist in Granite Falls, said he trusted the leadership to make the right decisions.

Marshall Pridgen, of Burkemont Church in Morganton, said, "I was here, and it wasn't just laid out for a 'yes' or a 'no.' We struggled with it and walked out heavy of heart." Pridgen said he trusted the administration, knowing that they had more information than he did. "I stand on it," he said, "but I still don't feel good about it."

Hager said he was concerned about "the model we set out as the largest religious body in the state, what it says about how we treat employees." While long term employees got a better financial package than if they had retired under normal circumstances, short term employees could be affected for years, he said.

Kerr called for a vote on the motion to appoint a study committee, which passed, and said committee members could continue to discuss their feelings if they wished.

Doug Robinson of Cove Creek said he had grieved over the decision, but stood by his decision that "it had to be this way."

David Horton, the BSC's second vice president, said he had heard hints for months that something would have to be done. The proposal "was brought to us by people I trust to deal with the tough, tough issues," he said. Horton noted that during all of the discussions, he never heard the terms "conservative" or "moderate" mentioned. "I want to affirm the process that was used," he said, "though the outcome was tough. I don't know how it could have been done differently."

Executive Director-treasurer Jim Royston said nothing in his 33 years of ministry had prepared him for the painful experience of terminating long time friends. The process may have been flawed, he said, but was as careful and informed as possible. "I didn't walk in blindly and throw darts on the wall."

General Board vice president Randy White said he didn't think it was fair for people to say how they would have voted if they were not at the meeting. "It was the most difficult decision I've ever been a part of," he said. Discussions were intense, it wasn't easy, and no one left feeling good, he said.

Don Warren of Gastonia said he left the meeting feeling somber and emotionally moved for the sake of those who would be affected, but also with confidence that all had been dealt with carefully. Warren said he trusted the leadership and didn't think the Executive Committee should try to micromanage administrative decisions.

Terry Brooks, who is also a member of the budget committee, said the process was the toughest three weeks of his life. "I cried in my heart all the way home from the meeting," he said, "but through it all, I support the administration."

As a matter of new business, Hager made a motion asking that severance pay for short-term employees affected by the downsizing be extended through Dec. 31, with health insurance provided through March 31, if needed.

Convention officials pointed to legal issues involved in restructuring the severance packages, but suggested that the Minister's Emergency Fund might be made available to former employees who have not found other jobs.

The Emergency Fund is most commonly used to assist pastors who have been terminated or who have left their churches under difficult circumstances. It provides a limited salary stipend and health insurance for up to 13 weeks, with the possibility of extending health insurance for an additional 13 weeks. Last year, the fund was also made available to missionaries who had been fired or who had resigned because they would not affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement, Royston said.

Hager withdrew his motion, and Kendell Cameron moved that the Minister's Emergency Fund be made available to terminated convention staff who might need it, that convention officials should proactively inform the individuals that they can apply for assistance, and that any funds used should be replenished from the same Contingency Reserve account that was used for other expenses related to the severance packages.

Several members expressed approval and the motion carried with no discernable opposition.

10/3/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments

General board approves smaller budget for 2004

October 3 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

General board approves smaller budget for 2004 | Friday, Oct. 3, 2003

Friday, Oct. 3, 2003

General board approves smaller budget for 2004

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

ASHEBORO - Facing the reality of declining income, the General Board approved a budget for 2004 that is $2.4 million smaller than the 2003 budget, but more in line with current giving.

As of Sept. 19, Cooperative Missions Giving was $1.85 million, or seven percent, behind budget expectations for the year. The budget presented during the annual meeting will call for $35.2 million in 2004, 6.3 percent less than the $37.6 million budget for 2003.

This also marks the first time the convention will adopt a two-year financial plan. The proposed budget for 2005 adds 1.4 percent, rising to $35.7 million.

Budget committee chair Tom Crow said the committee began its work with the idea of cutting the budget by three percent, but declining revenues forced additional reductions.

Notable aspects of the budget, which must be approved by messengers to the annual meeting on Nov. 12, include the following:

Changes in giving plans Plans B, C and D will include a new 0.5 percent line item for the Southern Baptist Annuity Board's "Adopt an Annuitant" program, designated for retired N.C. pastors. The program provides supplemental funds for retired pastors who have very limited income.

To support the new line item, 0.5 percent will be moved from the "North America & International Partnerships" line, reducing it from 4.0 to 3.5 percent in Plans B and C, and from 5.0 to 4.5 percent in Plan D.

In addition, giving to four entities that receive small percentages from Plans B and C will be adjusted so that all receive the same amount. Currently, both plans include 0.25 percent for the Baptist World Alliance, 0.60 percent for the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, 0.50 percent for Associated Baptist Press, and 0.50 percent for the Baptist Center for Ethics.

The 2004 and 2005 budgets call for each of the four entities to receive 0.4625 percent. Crow said the move was designed to provide additional help for the Baptist World Alliance, which recently had its funding cut by the SBC.

Agencies and institutions Agencies and institutions related to the BSC will receive a 6.2 percent decrease in funding for 2004, with no increase in 2005. The percentage devoted to each entity remains relatively unchanged, with the reduction arising from decreased income expectations.

Staff salaries The budget contains no across the board salary increases for the General Board staff in 2004, and a one percent cost of living increase for 2005. Crow said there is some provision, however, to provide additional compensation for staff members whose workload will "spike dramatically" as a result of the recent staff downsizing.

The increase in health insurance costs alone is estimated to be more than $300,000 for 2004, Crow said.

After a period of discussion that included one proposal to scrap the current giving plans (see separate story), the General Board approved the revised budget with no voiced opposition.

Executive Director-treasurer Jim Royston spoke to the board about the BSC's recent downsizing of staff, and responded to concerns expressed by board members. "The simplest answer to what we've gone through is economics," he said. "We were spending more money than we were taking in." Royston said even more painful consequences could have resulted if the BSC had resorted to borrowing rather than proactively reducing the payroll. "Were there others ways to get at it?" he asked. "Yes. Without being on borrowed time? Probably not."

Royston said cuts were made in every single area of ministry. "There were no favorite sons or daughters, no turf protected," he said.

Eight positions had already been trimmed by attrition over the past 18 months, he said. Overall, the convention staff has gone from a high of about 140 to the current level of less than 110 employees. "Everybody is doing more stuff, answering more phones," Royston said. "The staff is doing a marvelous job of carrying the extra load, and we hope they don't have to carry it forever."

The elimination of certain positions did not mean their work was not "mission critical," Royston said, but "their work could be most easily absorbed by others."

Officials studied downsizing actions taken by two other state conventions and a national entity before deciding how to proceed, he said. Royston described the process involved as the most painful and agonizing time in his life.

Other matters Richard Brunson presented an update on relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane Isabel, and asked the General Board to approve an extension of the BSC's partnership with Honduran Baptists for three more years, through 2006. The board approved the extension with no dissent.

At the request of the Congregational Services Committee, the General Board adopted a resolution in support of N.C. Baptist chaplains.

The board also affirmed a resolution from the Council on Christian Life and Public Affairs that lauded Doug Cole for his 24 years of service as the council's executive director. Steve Sumerel is expected to be named as the next executive director for the council.

The Council on Christian Higher Education reported that John Roberson was elected as its new executive director. After the council's paid staff was laid off in the recent downsizing, most of its responsibilities were assigned to the Resource Development and Promotions group, where Roberson is executive team leader. Presidents from all five N.C. Baptist colleges were present for the council meeting. They expressed appreciation for Wayne Wike's past leadership of the council, and confidence in Roberson's future service.

10/3/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments

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