May 6, 2003
LIBERTY – The issue before the Missouri Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) is not so much the ramifications of its status as a 501(c)(3) corporation as it is its theological fidelity, according to David Clippard, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) executive director.
Clippard came to the WMU annual meeting April 25 at William Jewell College seeking clarity. He wanted delegates to tell him which type of Baptist—Primitive, Free Will, Southern, etc.—they are. He left that day wanting to know more.
"They say they are Southern Baptist, but they are willing to promote Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and Baptist General Convention of Missouri (BGCM) which are theologically different from us," Clippard said.
When it comes to the WMU, Clippard often sounds like a man courting a woman. He bats his soft, blue eyes and in a calm tone of voice takes you back to the 19th century. The theological fidelity of Annie Armstrong, the first WMU corresponding secretary who served from 1888-1906, makes sense to Clippard.
"Don’t leave your heritage," he said.
Delegates armed with questions unloaded on Clippard during a breakout session at Gano Chapel that lasted 51 minutes. In her eight-minute introductory talk, WMU State President Debbie Miller chronicled 30 years of tension between the WMU and the MBC. Clippard sought to clarify his position.
"Ladies, I don’t want you to go anywhere," he said. "I want a closer relationship with WMU, not one that’s more distant."
He challenged the WMU to have more of a missions heart in the context of a bold MBC that is aiming to plant 1,000 churches in the next 10 years. He said that the WMU, which has historically been an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), ought to be in the forefront of this church planting movement.
"Where do we start?" Clippard asked. "The WMU."
The executive director then contrasted his vision for the WMU with the reality of some WMU leaders embracing different theological systems. He said that he cannot look the other way if these women prefer the BGCM, for example.
"Choices have consequences," Clippard said. "I can’t put Cooperative Program dollars into those ministries when someone has chosen to leave."
Budget cuts since 1973 have hurt the WMU, Miller said. Talks triggered by the release of Kathy Scott, former WMU director for the MBC, have been ongoing. More talks with MBC leaders are planned, Miller said.
"We’re making progress but we’re not there yet," Miller said. "We want to keep working."
Clippard expressed confidence that it will all work out.
"You’re going to find over time that I am your advocate, not your adversary," he told the assembled delegates.
He advocated more leadership within the ranks, especially from the body as a whole. If the MBC is to help the WMU, the WMU is going to have to help the MBC by improving in this vital area, Clippard said.
"Leaders lead somewhere," the executive director said. "Where are you all going?"
Clippard said he has a right to raise questions in the context of him having to answer questions like the one posed by Barbara Bray, past president of the Missouri WMU from 1981-1986. Bray, a member of Second Baptist, Liberty, questioned the sincerity of Clippard’s intentions toward the WMU.
"Does your church support the Southern Baptist Convention?" Clippard asked.
"No," Bray said.
Under Article VI, Section 3 of the Missouri WMU bylaws, the president by virtue of her office shall serve as vice-president of the WMU, Auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention. A president like Bray who does not model theological fidelity to the SBC would hold views that would be inconsistent with the bylaws, Clippard said.
Clippard said he also has a right to ask questions about the WMU flirting with an old flame – the societal method of doing missions. The ongoing question about the 501(c)(3) status, a process which was launched by the Missouri WMU in 2001, keeps this issue in play. Since 1925, Southern Baptists have relied on the Cooperative Program to fund missions.
"There are many difficult issues," Miller said.
Upon greeting the delegates, Clippard told a joke about Elizabeth Taylor telling her seventh husband, "Don’t worry, I won’t keep you long." The audience laughed and the executive director kept his promise, speaking for only three minutes.