Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Hypocrisy at the BWA?

According to the Associated Baptist Press story covering the annual meeting of the Baptist World Alliance, two new Baptist bodies have been admitted to the BWA in this year's session: "The Argentine Baptist Association and the Uganda Baptist Convention were accepted by unanimous vote. The Argentine association was formed in 2005 and includes 40 churches with about 5,000 members. The Uganda convention, organized in 2000, has more than 21,000 members in 366 churches." The inclusion of these groups brings the membership in BWA up to 216 bodies of Baptists.

What is especially interesting to me (and should be to all Southern Baptists) is that both the Argentine Association and the Uganda Convention "were formed following disagreements with older Baptist bodies in their respective countries, but Alistair Brown of Chicago, chair of the membership committee which recommended the two, said the conflicts have been resolved and that both older conventions recommended acceptance."

This is an interesting scenario, because it was on these grounds that Southern Baptists opposed the inclusion of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) into the BWA several years ago. As the largest Baptist body in the world and the largest financial contributor to the BWA, the leaders of the SBC felt that the BWA was not abiding by the governing principle of refusing membership to groups that had splintered from member-organizations. The CBF consists largely of churches who have abandoned the SBC since 1979 when the Conservative Resurgence began. In the case of the CBF, however, the BWA did not ensure that the conflicts with the SBC had been resolved nor did it seek the recommendation from the older convention (SBC) for acceptance of the CBF. Therefore, in a controversial, monumental, and largely unpopular move, the SBC withdrew from the BWA. As a messenger at that convention where the vote was taken to withdraw from BWA, I can attest that once all the relevant information was presented, the vote was overwhelming.

Why is it that the BWA seems more concerned about this governing principle of unity among members than it did some years ago when the issue of the CBF was under consideration? Might it be that some in BWA leadership at that time had an anti-SBC or pro-CBF (or both) bias? Perhaps. Might it be that the withdrawal of the SBC has left a gaping hole in the life of the BWA that now needs to be filled by other groups? Perhaps. Or it could be because of another turn of events. The ABP article which informs of the inclusion of these new groups also speaks of the desperate financial situation the BWA finds itself in. The 2010 budget of the BWA is exactly the same as the 2009 budget, which was a reduction of twenty-five percent over previous years. The article cites one cause for the financial hardship: "The worldwide economic recession has had a highly negative impact on BWA’s investments, which have lost about $1.5 million of their value." Missing from the article is any mention of the impact the SBC's withdrawal has had on the BWA.

In fairness, I must say that it is not as if the SBC has gone on to bigger and better things. While departure from the BWA was supposed to pave the way for new and greater global partnerships, messengers to the annual meeting have had little reason for rejoicing in this area of Baptist life in recent years. An unknown amount of money (unknown to me anyway) has been spent flying Dr. Bobby Welch all over the world to forge these partnerships, but little fruit is evident on the vine. Might it be that the SBC needs the BWA after all, and that the BWA needs the SBC? I think it is probably true. The bigger question is whether either or both will be humble enough to admit it.

What will it take for the SBC and BWA to reunite? I cannot say, for I am merely the pastor of a small SBC congregation. This decision would have to be made by the powers that be in both bodies. In my opinion, it must begin with the BWA demonstrating some consistency and humble repentance toward the SBC over the issues with the CBF. I do not think it is arrogant for the SBC to expect equal treatment with these other bodies. Perhaps the BWA should hold some talks with leaders of the SBC and CBF to determine what hindrances would prevent both from being partners in the BWA. Hopefully those issues could be prayerfully resolved and the SBC could return to the table of the BWA. Will it happen? I am sure I am not alone in having my doubts, but we can all hope and pray.

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