NASHVILLE — A top official in the Southern Baptist Convention used the denomination's news service to urge defeat of recommendations of a panel on denominational effectiveness to be presented to messengers at the convention's upcoming annual meeting.
Morris Chapman, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, wrote lengthy articles critical of the final report of a Great Commission Task Force, established by convention action last year in Louisville, Ky., and appointed by SBC President Johnny Hunt, that appeared in Baptist Press June 2 and June 3.
On Friday, June 4, the news service carried Chapman's "open letter" to Southern Baptists urging messengers at the upcoming convention June 15-16 in Orlando, Fla., to reject the measure and a substitute list of his own recommendations titled "A Better Way Ahead." Chapman's alternative is not a formal report, but he suggested that individual messengers who agree offer them as substitute motions at microphones on the convention floor.
"I am concerned that if the convention approves the task force recommendations, it will be embarking upon a harmful course," Chapman wrote.
Chapman said he has nothing personal to gain by speaking out publicly, because he is retiring from his post Sept. 30, but because of his "advantage of close appraisal," he has a greater understanding of the importance of the Executive Committee than the person in the pew.
Chapman said one particular recommendation, to take 1 percent of the SBC's unified budget away from the Executive Committee and reallocate it to the International Mission Board, would "gut" the agency's ability to function.
Chapman said increasing the IMB's budget by $2 million would have only "token" effect on the work of a mission board that already receives 50 percent of money allocated nationally through the Cooperative Program unified budget. Chapman said the Executive Committee, on the other hand, would "be profoundly affected negatively" by having its budget reduced by 30 percent.
"With all due respect to those (past, present, and future) leaders who have endorsed the recommendations, they do not sit where I sit and they apparently are unable to see the dangers of these recommendations from the vantage point of my position," Chapman said. "My responsibility is to alert, even warn Southern Baptists of the impending dangers I see if the last five recommendations are embraced by the SBC."
Chapman said those recommendations, including one that introduces a new giving category to encourage churches to designate gifts to particular causes, would
demote, devalue, and potentially destroy the cooperative spirit, the Cooperative Program, and for certain, the Cooperative Agreements between the NAMB and the state conventions."
Chapman said the "concentration of the entire report is focused upon the GCTF leaders' affinity for the International Mission Board and their interest in making 'Great Commission Giving' the new metric for recognizing churches whose pastors lead them to give more to designated giving and less through the Cooperative Program."
Chapman said he would like to see the IMB receive more funding, but he wondered why the Executive Committee was singled out among all convention entities to sacrifice. He said committee members never consulted him before making the recommendation, and he wondered aloud if one or more of the task force members "may have had an anti-Executive Committee disposition."
He also wondered if the task force questioned the IMB about philosophy and strategy including, "Are our alliances in church planting producing churches that reflect Southern Baptist beliefs or those of other faith traditions strategies?" That was an apparent reference to questions raised by some in recent years about whether the IMB's strategy of cooperating with indigenous church-planting movements overseas result in congregations that are not doctrinally sound.
Chapman also found it curious that the task force report introduced a "missional" vision for the convention, a description Chapman described as a "modern buzz word" that "has only recently appeared on the scene in Southern Baptist life."
Among groups fond of the term, Chapman singled out the Acts 29 Network, a church-planting group he said views "the historical emphasis on separation from worldly pleasures and pursuits by many Southern Baptist congregations as outdated and outmoded in the modern context of planting new churches among younger generations of Americans."
At last year's convention, five motions from the floor related directly or indirectly to influence by Mark Driscoll, senior pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and founder of the Acts 29 Network, in Southern Baptist life.
The impending Great Commission Task Force vote has dominated Baptist blogs and media in the weeks leading up to this year's SBC annual meeting. Several high-profile leaders have endorsed the report. Others argue it will harm the convention rather than help it.
Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga. — who along with Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin launched last year's "Great Commission Resurgence" movement that led to the task force — completes a second one-year term as SBC president and is ineligible for re-election.
Four candidates have announced their intentions to be nominated to replace him. Two candidates support the task force recommendations, one opposes them and the fourth has expressed concerns it might weaken the Cooperative Program.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.