- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

Top Southern Baptist leaders are using their financial clout to shape the actions and priorities of other Baptist groups.
Critics say the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Baptist body, has used its purse power to try to control the D.C. Baptist Convention, foreign missionaries and the Baptist World Alliance. Convention officers say it merely reflects the convention's priorities in church work.
"Convention funds will follow the mission and go to those that have an agreement about strategy," says the Rev. David E. Hankins, president of the SBC's $178 million annual Cooperative Program, made up of contributions of individual Southern Baptist churches.
Yet a pattern of three disputes, critics say, suggests rewards go only to those who ally with the agenda of conservatives in the SBC leadership.
In June, the SBC's North American Mission Board cut $476,000 in annual funding to the D.C. Baptist Convention over disagreements in mission approach.
The Baptist World Alliance also may lose $425,000 in SBC donations if it allows a more liberal Southern Baptist group to become a member next year.
Last month, the head of the SBC's International Mission Board (IMB) asked all missionaries to sign a doctrinal statement to safeguard $89 million in centralized SBC support, or about 38 percent of its budget.
"Because of our willingness to affirm doctrinal accountability to the Southern Baptist Convention, the consequences that could have been disastrous for the credibility and support of the IMB have been" averted, the International Mission Board's president, Jerry Rankin, wrote in a July letter.
These three developments signal to some Southern Baptists a top-down use of money to enforce conformity, but Mr. Hankins says they reflect budget priorities of conservative voting "messengers" who go to annual meetings. "How the convention votes each year sets the pattern," he says.
The conservative agenda in SBC mission work has condemned abortion and homosexuality, required affirmation of a doctrinal "Baptist Faith and Message" statement and distanced itself from more liberal Baptists and ecumenical church projects.
Southern Baptists, while preserving authority in local congregations, have built the largest cooperative funding system for missions of any U.S. denomination. It is managed by the Executive Committee and distributed to various mission agencies.
Critics say that, at both the committee and agency levels, there has been a decision to defund more-liberal missions and reward conservative ones.
"They use the dollars for whatever leverage they need," says the Rev. Jeffrey Haggray, executive director of the D.C. Baptist Convention, which lost its funding.
"The North American Mission Board is using financial leverage to undermine the authority of state conventions," Mr. Haggray says. The board receives about 23 percent of the annual Cooperative Program funds and dispenses it to various state projects.
Mr. Haggray says the D.C. Baptist Convention lived up to its cooperative agreement for using SBC funds but finally was penalized for working with the more liberal Progressive Baptist and American Baptist churches formerly Northern Baptist Convention churches in Washington.
"We offer a presence in the nation's capital and bring Baptists of all backgrounds together," Mr. Haggray says. "We focus on the gigantic things we unite around and not the small things we disagree over."
In Spain last month, the more liberal Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) was recommended for membership in the Baptist World Alliance, drawing protests from Executive Committee president, the Rev. Morris Chapman.
According to Baptist news sources, Mr. Chapman said at the July 12 session that the membership recommendation may have left ties between the SBC and world Baptists "damaged beyond repair."
The SBC's annual contribution comes from operating expenses of the Executive Committee and amounts to a quarter of the Baptist World Alliance budget.
The alliance's general secretary, the Rev. Denton Lotz, says the membership decision is a year away. "We're still in discussions," Mr. Lotz says. "The decision [on CBF membership] will not rest on the issue of finances, but on the question of unity."
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, formed in 1991, is a rival of the SBC's conservative leadership with its own seminaries, missions and funding from individual churches. "We hope the Southern Baptist Convention continues as a member of the Alliance," says the Rev. Dan Vestal, president of the fellowship. "We don't desire in any way to fragment the Baptist family any more."
Still, he says many churchgoers who give to the Cooperative Program probably want more diversity in funding. The evidence for diversity, he says, was his winning 45 percent of the vote in 1989 and 42 percent in 1990 in bids for the SBC presidency.

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