By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
National Woman's Missionary Union executive director Wanda Lee will fulfill an obligation to speak at the Baptist General Convention of Missouri annual meeting in April -- despite an attempt to convince her to decline.
In a March 17 letter to Missouri Baptist pastors and WMU leaders, Missouri Baptist Convention executive director David Clippard noted that he called Lee as soon as he learned of the BGCM invitation.
"In our conversation, I spoke to her about the relationships that exist in the [S]tate of Missouri. Specifically that the BGCM staff has personally and actively been soliciting MBC/SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) churches away from the MBC," Clippard wrote.
A group of ministers and laypeople representing churches "weary of denominational politics and conflict" formed the new convention, according to a statement released at the BGCM's organizational meeting in April 2002.
"The Baptist General Convention of Missouri has no interest in recruiting churches or attacking other organizations," BGCM interim executive director Jim Hill said by e-mail on April 1. "We believe every church has the right and responsibility to determine how the congregation should cooperate for missions and ministry."
The BGCM is "thrilled" that Lee has agreed to be the mission's speaker at the organization's annual meeting, Hill said.
In his letter, Clippard said he told Lee that he believes the BGCM would divert Cooperative Program funds away from Southern Baptist missions.
Apparently Clippard also had suggested to Lee that national WMU is restricted in its relationships with other Baptist entities.
In a response to Clippard, Lee noted, "You stated in our phone conversation that WMU works with only one convention in a state. I need to correct that misstatement.... WMU relates to the WMU organization in a state, not the state convention."
In her letter to the Missouri executive director, Lee pointed out WMU's mission purpose. "My greatest disappointment in Baptist life is the wasted time and energy spent on things that take us away from our purpose," she wrote.
Lee accepted the BGCM invitation for two reasons, she said. She pointed out that some churches affiliated with the BGCM have WMU organizations. Many of those churches send Cooperative Program gifts directly to the SBC Executive Committee and are still considered SBC churches.
She also noted WMU's desire to help churches promote missions. "Secondly, the purpose of WMU is to resource all churches that decide to grow in their missions awareness and commitment," she wrote.
She reminded Clippard that "many of our past Missouri WMU leaders are members in these churches as well.... It is our desire to work in harmony with your convention, and all the others, as we strive to fulfill the Great Commission," Lee concluded.
However, Clippard told Missouri pastors and WMU leaders that he still considers Lee's appearance a mistake. "Personally, I believe Mrs. Lee has placed her greatest Missouri supporters, allies and partners for WMU nationally in extremely difficult and unnecessary pressure situations across the churches of our MBC. Only the Lord knows what this will ultimately mean in relationships," he wrote.
Clippard also has e-mailed each state executive director about his concerns.
Missouri WMU president Lorraine Powers does not think Lee's appearance will alter the state organization's standing with the national body. "It should not affect how we relate to them or how they relate to us," Powers said.
The state president sent copies of Lee's response to all Missouri WMU board members. She noted that board members will be available to answer questions about recent decisions at the WMU annual meeting set for April 15-16 at First Baptist Church, Ellisville. The informal discussion will take place following the Friday evening session. (04-01-05)