Missouri WMU rebuffs BGCM funding
2005-06 money from moderate convention rejected
By Allen Palmeri
March 22, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – In another stinging setback to the Baptist General Convention of Missouri (BGCM), the Missouri Woman’s Missionary Union (MWMU) Executive Board voted March 15 to not accept funds from the 2005-2006 BGCM budget and mission offering.
The board, in executive session, voted to reaffirm the section of their bylaws that states: “MWMU shall cooperate with such state and national entities as determined by the Board of Directors, with focus on Missouri/Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) missions.” It remains unclear whether the board action means that BGCM funds will only be rejected for one year, or indefinitely. The interpretation of “Missouri” in their bylaws as opposed to the phrase “Missouri Baptist Convention” seems ambiguous.
This marks the second time in three years that a significant organization with which the MBC is affiliated has rejected funds from the theologically moderate BGCM. Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, notified the BGCM in a Jan. 25, 2002, letter that the SBC will not “enter into a relationship with your proposed new Baptist state convention in Missouri whereby you would collect Cooperative Program gifts to forward to us.”
MWMU board members also voted to instruct “the President to decline requests for participation in BGCM board meetings or exhibits.”
The MWMU action suggests that the organization is unwilling to compromise theological doctrine for money and would seem to move the organization closer to the MBC, a development MBC leaders have diligently sought for more than two years. It also puts the spotlight on WMU Executive Director Wanda Lee, who is apparently going to keep her commitment to speak at the BGCM’s annual meeting April 29-30 at the besieged Windermere Baptist Conference Center.
Lee’s decision put MWMU leaders in an uncomfortable position because of the on-going battle between the MBC and the BGCM, an organization that has aggressively recruited MBC churches. Lee is coming at the request of BGCM interim Executive Director Jim Hill, the former MBC executive director who resigned in 2001 after saying that he could not work with majority theological conservatives on the MBC Executive Board. Hill is also a top executive in a Springfield company that is involved in a controversial construction project at Windermere that has shackled the beloved conference center with more than $18 million in debt. Also, some of the BGCM’s membership is tied to five MBC agencies where moderate trustees voted to make their boards self-perpetuating, triggering multiple lawsuits over ownership of assets totaling more than $200 million.
“Our MWMU Executive Board has taken a courageous position,” said MBC Executive Director David Clippard.
Vivian McCaughan, MBC WMU/women’s missions and ministry specialist, agreed.
“We came out of that meeting having made, I think, a very right decision but a very difficult decision, realizing that there are Missouri WMU women who will be affected by the decision,” McCaughan said. “My challenge to the women, as well as my challenge to myself, is that we look at our five strategic WMU tasks and what the Lord’s called us to do, and we focus on those as the places that we give our time and our energy. I think that was well stated in our Article III, Section 3 business. For Missouri WMU, it is missions.”
McCaughan said the intent of the March 15 meeting was to inform. She and MWMU President Lorraine Powers shared a sequence of events with board members triggered, in large part, by Lee’s decision to speak to the BGCM.
“I find it curious that Wanda would want to represent WMU at the meeting of a group (BGCM) which has made no effort to hide its hostility toward both the MBC and the SBC,” said Roger Moran, research director, Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association. “She may or may not be aware that she is about to be used to create an air of credibility and legitimacy to a renegade state convention that is not even recognized by the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Clippard tried to head off the tension by calling Lee shortly after he learned that she had accepted Hill’s invitation. In a March 17 letter to all of the pastors, directors of missions and WMU leaders in Missouri, Clippard revealed some of the details of his conversation with Lee.
“I spoke to her about the relationships that exist in the state of Missouri—specifically, that the BGCM staff has personally and actively been soliciting MBC/SBC churches away from the MBC,” Clippard wrote. “The BGCM knows that missions giving they receive will not be applied to the SBC Cooperative Program of missions support. This is a result of a decision reached by the SBC Executive Committee reported to Dr. Jim Hill in a letter dated January 25, 2002.”
Powers emphasized that Lee is appreciated as a leader of WMU and that the MWMU Executive Board is by no means trying to stand up to her. Lee has a right to make her own decisions, Powers said, and nothing that the MWMU Board did March 15 should be construed to mean that board members are in opposition to anything she has done.
“I appreciate all WMU members in Missouri,” she said. “I respect Wanda Lee in her position as a national WMU leader. I am proud of the MWMU Board which consistently makes the effort to do the ‘right thing’ in order to be able to continue to work with all Missouri WMU groups.”
Moran said the Missouri WMU board members have taken a historic step forward in a struggle that dates back to September of 2000, when Mainstream Missouri Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) first attempted to use the Missouri WMU to divide Missouri Southern Baptist conservatives. Moran published an article in October of 2000 that exposed that strategy, essentially arguing that moderate and liberal Baptists do not have a claim on the WMU. His feelings today are basically the same.
Referring to the old CBF and Mainstream Missouri Baptist leaders who now make up the BGCM, Moran reiterated what he said in 2000.
“We are as two different trains on two different tracks going in two different directions, with two distinctly different destinations,” Moran said. “Those who claim they can comfortably ride both trains either don’t know where they are being taken or don’t care where they are going. Missouri WMU now seems to be stating that they know and they care.
“This action by the Missouri WMU will go a long way in sending a clear message to the national WMU that Missouri Baptists are morally, socially and theologically conservative, and while we all want peace and unity and harmony, it must not be obtained at the price of biblical truth, theological integrity or compromise that would ultimately put us on the same track as those who have rejected the SBC in favor of the CBF.”
Clippard said a resolution has been drafted and will be presented to the MBC Executive Board for their approval at their April 11-12 meeting, praising the Missouri WMU for their decision to reaffirm (the MWMU ratified Article III, Section 3 of the MWMU bylaws at the request of the MBC at last year’s annual meeting in Poplar Bluff) their ties to MBC and SBC missions.
“The MBC and MWMU share a passion for missions,” Clippard wrote.
Moran, who is a member of the SBC Executive Committee, said it is appropriate to celebrate the bond that Missouri Southern Baptists have with the many WMU leaders throughout the state who remain faithful to the mission work of the MBC and the SBC. Referring to the MWMU Executive Board’s decision to request the withdrawal of MWMU from the 2005-2006 BGCM budget and mission offering, Moran said he is grateful to Jesus.
“We should give thanks to the Lord that we have some WMU ladies in Missouri who are committed to the Word of God and to the course the vast majority of MBC messengers have charted since 1998,” he said. “Now we’ll wait and see if the rank and file will follow their leadership.”