For the WMU, fence-sitting is a precarious place to be
March 22, 2005
Southern Baptist women let their voices be heard March 15 when the Missouri Woman’s Missionary Union’s (MWMU) board of directors voted not to receive 2005-2006 money from the theologically moderate Baptist General Convention of Missouri (BGCM).
The action reflects courage on the part of the board and other leaders who have been patiently working for more than two years to enhance the relationship between the MBC, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the MWMU. The effort has often met resistance from more moderate influences in the organization who seem more interested in relationships and pushing emotional hot-buttons than adhering to Biblical and theological fidelity. While the board’s action only rejects funds for 2005-2006, it is at least an encouraging move from the MBC and SBC perspectives.
Encouraging a closer relationship between the MBC/SBC and MWMU has proven difficult for two reasons: (1) the fight-to-the-death battle over the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture; (2) control of five MBC institutions where trustee boards have voted to go self-perpetuating and (3) the national WMU’s seemingly defiant determination to embrace ecumenicalism – a move supported by the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and opposed by the SBC. Let’s examine these influences.
Whether anyone involved wants to admit it, much of the turmoil within the MWMU can be traced directly to the 25-plus-year battle between conservatives and moderates in the SBC over the nature of Scripture (the Bible “contains” God’s words, according to moderates, while conservatives maintain the Bible “is” God’s Word). While the main issue is theological, it is true that politics – something women seem to detest more than men – has been the means by which conservatives have largely rescued the SBC from the Scriptural and theological infidelity of moderates tolerant of liberal political views and neo-orthodox theology.
The national and state WMUs have been slow to react to the seismic changes in the SBC and many of its state conventions. It should be pretty obvious that the national WMU was not interested in the changes in the SBC. From 1974-1989 Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler – a CBF leader – served as the WMU’s executive director. Crumpler was also involved with the pro-homosexual Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and served on the religious liberty council of the controversial Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, an organization defunded by the MBC in the late 1990s for its rank liberalism. Perhaps the most blatant example of anti-SBC/MBC sentiment exhibited by the WMU came during the SBC’s annual meeting in 1998 in Salt Lake City. The WMU’s featured speaker was American Baptist sociologist Tony Campolo, who in his address referred to conservative SBC leaders as a bunch of “suckers.” Campolo said at the CBF’s 2003 annual meeting that the SBC was “evil” and “sinful” for its Scriptural view that females cannot serve as pastors. He later apologized for his remarks.
The WMU seems to want to “sit on the fence,” which is a precarious place to be on a battlefield. Moderates, no doubt influenced by the Crumpler years, maintain positions of leadership, although I suspect the average WMU member is much more conservative. I have never understood why the women of the WMU, much less the MWMU, did not realize that the battle over Scripture between conservatives and moderates in the SBC, would impact them. This may be the reason behind the ambiguous statements made by MWMU President Lorraine Powers after the March 15 board action.
“The MWMU Board did not affirm the MBC” and decisions “were made with difficulty.” She went to say that the board action should not be interpreted as the board “standing up” to WMU Executive Director Wanda Lee’s decision to speak at the BGCM’s annual meeting in April (more about this later) – despite a request by MBC Executive Director David Clippard that Lee not do so.
No doubt the on-going legal battle between the MBC and moderate trustees, who have attempted to steal five institutions belonging to the MBC, has taken its toll on MWMU members as well. Though rarely – if ever – discussed, it seems reasonable to think that relationships have become strained. It is unlikely this will change and the pressure between conservatives and moderates in the MWMU will only build.
There is also some bewilderment, if not suspicion on the part of conservatives observing from the outside, as to why the WMU thinks it can remain effective when its members are not in agreement over the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, or that its members are willing to work with more than one state convention in each state – in apparent violation of its constitution. This is what makes Lee’s scheduled appearance at the BGCM’s annual meeting all the more puzzling to the more conservative MBC. Lee has steadfastly said the WMU is focused solely on missions and is willing to work with anyone who shares that view. But Missouri is much more complicated than that. Lee seems unable – or unwilling – to see that she is about to step on a land mine.
The fact that the meeting is being held at the Windermere Baptist Conference Center, one of the five institutions involved in the legal battle, is a slap in the face to every Missouri Baptist. Lee is aiding and abetting an entity that would do harm to the MBC. Lee’s BGCM speaking engagement legitimizes a miniscule organization that has attempted to steal MBC churches. In addition, many BGCM members are involved in the legal battle over the five MBC agencies. Clippard has rightly asked her not to attend, but he should not have had to ask. Lee ought to know better and only time will time what the fallout will be.
This is not the first time Lee has taken sides against Southern Baptists. Her organization has affirmed its relationship with the liberal Baptist World Alliance (BWA), an organization from which the SBC withdrew in 2004. She intends to attend the BWA Congress in London this summer. She also refused to condemn the Virginia WMU in 2004 after that organization adopted a “Declaration of the Dignity of Women” statement, which took particular aim at the SBC’s Baptist Faith & Message 2000. The MWMU board has displayed courage in the face of all these issues. Too bad the same cannot be said about the WMU’s executive director in her dealings with the MBC.