Alarmed Baptist leaders around the world are pleading with the Southern Baptist Convention's executives to keep the denomination in the Baptist World Alliance. The BWA is a global umbrella for more than 40 million Baptists, with headquarters in suburban Washington, D.C. The 15 million-member SBC helped found the BWA 99 years ago and is its largest member denomination and chief funder (currently about $450,000 a year).
But that relationship is about to end, if key SBC leaders have their way.
An SBC study committee has recommended that the denomination withdraw from the BWA at this summer's SBC convention and cancel funding by Oct. 1. The nine-member committee is chaired by SBC chief executive Morris Chapman and includes SBC president Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Seminary and a leading architect of the conservative takeover of the
SBC's power center almost 25 years ago. He drafted the committee's proposal.
Although the BWA constituency is largely evangelical, committee members have long complained that BWA membership requirements are too loose theologically, allowing prominent liberals in some denominations a platform and enabling them to champion questionable causes.
The last straw came in Brazil in 2003 when over the objections of SBC leaders the BWA voted to accept the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) as a member, following a three-year review. The liberal CBF broke away from the SBC in 1991 in a battle over theology and power. Following the BWA vote, Rev. Patterson declared: "The admittance of the [CBF] to full membership provides the ultimate confirmation that the BWA is moving toward increased antagonism against the SBC ... and biblical theology."
BWA general secretary Denton Lotz, an American Baptist, replied that the BWA "stands firm on its historic commitment to Jesus Christ as the only way for salvation." Leaders of four national Baptist groups in Latin America, including two BWA
vice presidents, issued a joint statement: "We declare unacceptable the allegation of liberalism." Heads of some Baptist groups
in Europe complained that the proposed defunding will cripple
SBC leaders hint they will establish a new international Baptist fellowship that will focus not only more clearly on evangelism and missions (which the BWA emphasizes, too), but also on biblical authority.
The SBC Executive Committee is set to vote on the committee proposal on Feb. 16. If it is approved, as expected, it will go before the SBC convention this summer.