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SBC Severs Ties with BWA as Theological Concerns Remain

  • Don Hinkle Baptist Press
  • Updated Jun 16, 2004
SBC Severs Ties with BWA as Theological Concerns Remain

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting voted overwhelmingly July 15 to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance.

The BWA is not a governing body but is a fellowship organization with headquarters in Falls Church, Va. The BWA, which includes 211 member Baptist conventions/unions, was formed in London, England, in 1905, in large part by Southern Baptists.

"We have noted, with sorrow in our hearts, a continual leftward drift in the BWA," Paige Patterson told messengers during the Executive Committee's report at SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis. Patterson is president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of nine SBC leaders named to a committee formed in 1997 to evaluate the relationship between the SBC and BWA.

The SBC study committee noted in recent years the BWA's increasingly anti-American stances, tolerance of liberal theology and disregard for its own procedures in accepting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a member in 2003.

SBC messengers, in 2003, approved an Executive Committee recommendation to cut BWA funding in its 2004 fiscal year from $425,000 to $300,000, but to continue dialogue with the BWA toward possibly resolving the dispute. Leaders for both sides met as recently as this past spring in Nashville, but those talks failed to assuage SBC leaders' concerns.

"We have attempted ... through letters, statements of concern and appeals to the [BWA] body to do something to right the direction of the BWA. We have had no reception on the part of the BWA leadership," Patterson said.

Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary, took exception to Patterson's assertion that the BWA has moved to the theological and political left.

"All of that is so relative," he told a handful of reporters in a post-vote press conference.

Lotz expressed sorrow over the SBC's vote to leave the BWA, noting that "Billy Kim [BWA president] is very sad because he has had 2,100 women deaconesses praying every morning at 5 that Southern Baptists would postpone their vote."


At an earlier press gathering after the vote, Lotz seemed to suggest that Patterson misled messengers by bringing up issues that had not specifically been discussed in meetings between BWA and SBC leaders.

Lotz referred to Patterson's remark to messengers that a key member of the BWA, the American Baptist Churches (ABC), had accepted for membership an organization -- the Evergreen Baptist Association based in Kent, Wash. -- that has two churches sympathetic to practicing homosexuals.

Patterson, calling attention to the word "alliance," warned messengers: "What you are allied with, you are giving tacit -- at least -- agreement to," adding that Southern Baptists can no longer afford to give "either money or [their] name" to support an organization like the BWA.

Rhetorically, Patterson asked, "Why not delay this [vote] until a later time?" He answered, "We can no longer afford in this particular day, when the press for 'gay marriage' is on, to be in an alliance of any kind with denominations which support 'gay marriage' in any form or fashion."

Patterson continued, "Nor is it possible for us to be any longer in affiliation with some of the denominations of the BWA who do not believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture and regularly call it into question."

Lotz said the ABC has "a statement that says that homosexuality is inconsistent with the Christian lifestyle. So I think the American Baptists are going to want to respond to that attack, which became the basis for the delegates voting for withdrawal.

"I would be very, very sad and shocked if this speech by Dr. Patterson becomes the reason why the Southern Baptist Convention left the BWA," Lotz said. "I think the American Baptists are going to be very hurt and shocked."

About a dozen ABC regional associations around the country also have congregations that affirm homosexuals, according to an article in the Christian Century magazine on Sept. 20, 2003.

A Schism?

Lotz repeatedly characterized the BWA as a "conservative evangelical movement" and blamed the SBC for the estrangement, characterizing it as a "schism."

When a reporter asked Lotz what holds the BWA together, Lotz responded, "Jesus Christ. The essential oneness of Him."

Asked if Southern Baptists worship the same Jesus in light of their vote, Lotz replied, "It is a human problem."

The recommendation called for the SBC to "withdraw its membership from the Baptist World Alliance, effective Oct. 1, 2004, and encourage the Executive Committee and the Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG) Task Force to continue studying how the SBC may establish an even closer bond of fellowship with conservative evangelical Christians around the world."

Larry Walker, an ambassador-at-large from First Baptist Church in Dallas, was the lone messenger to speak against the Executive Committee's recommendation, before messengers voted to end debate.

"To some Baptist bodies around the world, Southern Baptists are considered liberal because our ladies wear makeup and color their hair and our gentlemen do not greet each other with a kiss on the lips; yet these organizations have not pulled away for fear of their reputations being tainted by their association with us liberal Southern Baptists."

A Nursery

Walker said he sees the BWA as a nursery, in which the "big, strong spiritually mature Baptist giants like" Southern Baptists can aid some of the organization's smaller members. "We may not need them, but they desperately need us. We may not agree with everything they do, but is there something we can do to resolve and reconcile this relationship?"

Patterson cautioned against interpreting the SBC's action as "abdicating our position in the world," noting that the International Mission Board "will continue its ministry in far more nations than are touched in any way by the BWA." He said LifeWay Christian Resources now provides material to Baptists around the world, while all six SBC seminaries are involved in mission work with countries overseas.

Southern Baptists, Patterson said, are taking to the mission field in "unprecedented numbers," through volunteer missions. "Nothing in the world changes except that we take the money that we have been giving to the BWA and put it directly into efforts to make a difference in our world in terms of evangelism and training for our churches," Patterson said.

Wiley Drake, pastor, First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Vista, Calif., expressed support for the recommendation and called for messengers to vote on the matter.

"Our committee has done an excellent job and we need to move forward with this and sever our ties with this organization because of what has happened," Drake said. "We love everybody, but there comes a point when you have to do something out of love." His motion to end debate passed overwhelmingly and was followed immediately by the decisive vote.

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Photo Van Payne: Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting vote June 15 for the SBC to withdraw from membership in the Baptist World Alliance. Messengers convened in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis June 15-16 for the 147th session of the SBC, in its 159th year.