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CP escrowing by churches draws EC attention

 

Executive Committee chairman Stephen Rummage said the "prominence" of churches' escrowing CP funds justifies a "special look" at the issue. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)

NASHVILLE — Amid continuing discussion of churches’ escrowing or withholding Cooperative Program funds, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee launched two efforts to study the issue at its Feb. 20-21 The EC also authorized its officers to study the feasibility of selling the SBC Building in downtown Nashville.

The EC declined to recommend amending Article III of the SBC Constitution to list racial discrimination as evidence a church is not in friendly cooperation, noting the Baptist Faith and Message and convention resolutions already make clear that racism is grounds to disfellowship a congregation.

The EC’s actions related to CP came less than a week after it was reported that Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church would escrow CP funds over “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.” Other churches have taken or are considering similar action over concerns related to multiple SBC entities, according to reports received by the EC.

In light of such reports, the EC’s CP Committee unanimously adopted a motion “that the chairman of the Cooperative Program Committee form a subcommittee ... to study and recommend redemptive solutions to the current reality in Southern Baptist life of churches’ either escrowing or discontinuing Cooperative Program funds, with the report being brought back to the September 2017 Executive Committee meeting.”

Adoption of the motion followed extended discussion, in which EC members and other attendees urged the committee to take action.

CP Committee chairman Rolland Slade told Baptist Press the “concern of the committee is anything that’s negatively impacting the Cooperative Program,” Southern Baptists’ unified channel for funding missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.

“We need to know about” such challenges, said Slade, pastor of Meridian Southern Baptist Church in El Cajon, Calif., “and be on top of creating redemptive solutions.”

The ad hoc subcommittee likely will be appointed by Feb. 25, Slade said.

During a Feb. 21 plenary session, EC member Tony Crisp requested that EC officers “monitor the activities of our various Southern Baptist entities since our last convention ... in relation to how those activities might adversely affect” CP and “our churches and other stewardship structures of Southern Baptists.” He requested a report to the full EC at its June 12 meeting in Phoenix.

EC chairman Stephen Rummage responded that the request was “certainly within the purview and responsibilities of our officers ... so we are glad to comply with that request.”

Rummage, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., told BP the two efforts to study CP challenges — by the CP Committee and the EC officers — are “complementary” and will “help inform” one another.

“The issues behind (churches’) escrowing funds have risen to a level of prominence that justifies us taking a special look” at what is occurring, Rummage said.

SBC Building

While any sale of the SBC Building must be approved by both the EC and the SBC, the EC authorized its officers “to study the advisability and feasibility” of a sale “in light of interests being expressed in developing the area of Nashville, Tennessee, that includes the SBC Building.”

Financially, the convention does not need to sell the building, according to a report received by the EC’s Bylaws Workgroup. But multiple offers on the property are anticipated, and EC leaders want to be prepared to field them adequately.

The adopted recommendation requires officers “to regularly report” their progress and “any significant developments” to the EC.

EC President Frank Page told BP, “We have not made a decision about selling the building but wanted to get the process in place that would allow us to consider it ... in case we do receive an offer that is wonderful and if God leads.”

Constitutional amendment declined

The EC’s decision not to recommend amending Article III of the SBC Constitution came in response to a request at the 2016 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis.

The EC believes “the Convention’s previous resolutions and its adopted statement of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message, speak clearly and adequately to the issue addressed in the suggested amendment,” according to the EC’s recommendation, “and it is already possible to challenge the friendly cooperation of any church on any grounds via the motion process.”

Page told BP, “We don’t want anyone to think that we are accepting racial discrimination as anything less than reprehensible. We simply realize there are a plethora of issues that could have been added to the Article III exclusionary list.”

If there is evidence of “systemic, official racial discrimination on the part of any church, we will deal with that,” Page said.

SBTC special CP gift

Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, presented the EC with a special CP gift of $200,000. The gift was in addition to the 55 percent of CP receipts the SBTC forwarded to SBC causes in 2016.

Messengers to the 2015 SBTC annual meeting voted to send the EC 100 percent of 2016 CP receipts that exceeded the budget, Richards said. When 2016 did not yield much overage, the SBTC Executive Board voted to send the $200,000 from the convention’s reserve funds out of a desire to support SBC missions and ministries.

In other action, the EC:

— approved a 2017-18 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of $192,000,000 for recommendation to the SBC during the June 13-14 annual meeting in Phoenix.

The proposed budget maintains current allocations to the convention’s ministries, including 50.41 percent of receipts to the International Mission Board and 22.79 percent to the North American Mission Board, for a total of 73.20 percent allocated for world missions ministries. (BP)

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