November 19, 2007

Control instead of Cooperation

A growing trend in Baptist life these days seems to be attempts by conventions to gain more control over other ministry organizations, instead of merely cooperating together for the sake of the Gospel. In Louisiana, the state convention voted to change the charters of various state ministry organizations in order to clearly stake out the convention's ownership and control of them. This should not be too surprising since the Louisiana Baptist Convention's executive director, David Hankins, has continually pushed for greater control and hierarchy in Baptist life. For more information, see my Ethics Daily column (An Expert on Baptist Polity?) critiquing Hankins.

In North Carolina, the state convention decided not to give funds to the state's Woman's Missionary Union because the group would not (graciously) submit to the convention's control. If the WMU has become a ministry that you are unwilling to support, then there is something wrong with you. The North Carolina convention also moved closer to ending its relationship with other state ministry groups whom the convention will not fund unless it has control over them.

Other states have taken similar actions over the past few years. But why must we seek greater control over ministries? Why is that path being taken even though it is destroying our cooperation? Why do we think we have to control a ministry before we are willing to fund it? Personally, I give money to various ministries that I have no control over. I do not give in order to gain control but because I want to support the great ministry work they are doing. It is time for our conventions to get refocused on supporting and cooperating with ministries instead of focusing on trying to control them.

3 comments:

  1. Chuck9:17 AM

    Brian,

    Much of this convention control firestorm was ignited by Baylor's unilateral escape from the BGCT in the mid-90's. Baylor's trustees, led by President Herbert Reynolds, chose what was legal over what was ethical, breaching the Convention's by-laws to become self-perpetuating.

    The relationship between Baptist conventions and the institutions/agencies they support, and had assumed they legally owned, has not been the same since.

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  2. Brian,

    I think the idea of "control" is simply a partisan way to frame this debate. After all, I don't think the majority of Baptists who vote for things like this care as much about "control" as they do financial stewardship. I think this is a much more complex issue than you have made it here.

    1) I don't doubt that there may be some who simply want to control assets. But who are they? How can we judge their motives in that way?

    2) Southern Baptists started and/or majorly funded many of these institutions with the goal of serving the needs of either their members (in the case of the colleges), or those who need the Gospel (in the case of the WMU). For them to pull away, still taking our money, but refusing to act in accordance with our wishes, is a bit of a slap in the face. And in some cases it is simply unethical of them.

    3) While you can give your money away to organizations you have no control over, it's still your money. They are only accountable to your funds. But the SBC is accountable for the funds of millions of people and they have a responsibility to make sure it is appropriated properly. I know that as a Calvinist I would be very disappointed if I heard that my CP dollars were going to missionaries that were open-theists, pluralists, or worse. I think the SBC should take its stewardship seriously and this is one way.

    4) Finally, cooperation can only go so far. Sometimes cooperation is wrong and dangerous to the Gospel. I think we must evaluate how the CP dollars are used and make sure that we don't cooperate in ways that violate our most deeply held beliefs. And if we can secure the fact that this will not happen in our institutions (institutions that we have poured millions upon millions of dollars into), then we should do that.

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  3. Thanks for the comments!

    Chuck: I do not know the details of the specific situation you mention. However, you seem too focused on control and ownership.

    DR: This is not about stewardship; in most of the conflicts right now there is no suggestion that the ministry organizations have not been wise stewards. And yet the conventions want complete control anyway. Everything you are concerned about can still be handled under a system where there is just cooperation and not control. As long as the ministry continues, we can support it. If they fall away, then you withdraw money. But to withdraw support when nothing has changed in the ministry shows that this is really about control.

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