BGCM, BGCT form partnership
By Don Hinkle
March 21, 2006
JEFFERSON CITY – Board members of the theologically moderate Baptist General Convention of Missouri (BGCM) and Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) have formalized a relationship that has been informally cozy since the battle for control of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) began more than a decade ago.
The agreement was reported on the BGCT’s Web site March 2 and featured a “grip-and-grin” photograph of BGCT President Charles Wade and BGCM President Jim Hill. Hill is at the center of conspiracy allegations by MBC attorneys in the nearly four-year-long legal battle between the MBC and trustees at five breakaway MBC entities with assets worth more than $240 million.
It was under Hill’s tenure as MBC executive director and during his ballyhooed “New Directions” initiative from 2000-2001 that the trustee boards of the five breakaway agencies amended their charters without MBC approval in violation of Missouri law.
The BGCM board unanimously approved the three-year partnership with the BGCT during their meeting at the financially-troubled Windermere Baptist Conference Center, one of the five breakaway entities. Windermere trustees were recently slapped with a temporary restraining order preventing them from accumulating more debt on the embattled center now shackled with millions of dollars of debt. Timber-cutting operations continue and are expected to net the timber company in charge of the operation about $140,000. The judge has not extended the temporary restraining order to the tree cutting yet, but may consider additional evidence after MBC attorneys complete additional depositions of former Windermere President Frank Shock and Board Chairman Arthur Mallory.
After signing the agreement with the BGCT, Hill referred to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee’s decision to not accept money from the BGCM. The SBC made that decision in 2001, citing its close relationship with the MBC and its desire to avoid any confusion for Cooperative Program supporters in Missouri.
The BGCT continues to give to the SBC Cooperative Program, although not near the level it did three decades ago. The BGCT has suffered from explosive growth of the more theologically conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which claims more than 1,700 affiliated churches.
The partnership may raise new suspicions concerning the BGCM laundering money through the BGCT to the SBC. The issue first surfaced on Oct. 2, 2003. That is when Dick Lionberger, the BGCM’s first president, elected in 2002, and a member of the BGCM board of directors, told a First Baptist Church, Richmond audience during a debate with then MBC Associate Executive Director Kenny Qualls (now co-pastor, First Baptist Church, Arnold) that the new Missouri convention launders money through Texas to the SBC.
The ability to send mission money to the SBC is a crucial issue to the BGCM because many of its churches have considerable numbers of more conservative members reluctant to leave long-standing relationships and memberships, but still loyal to the SBC Cooperative Program (CP). With no way to support CP, those more conservative members might leave.
Lionberger’s remark drew a swift denial from David Nabors, BGCT chief financial officer/treasurer. However, Nabors admitted that a plan allowing the BGCM to send money to the SBC via Texas was discussed in early 2003.
“We did work earlier this year trying to identify a way to do what the churches in Missouri wanted to do,” Nabors said in a 2003 interview with The Pathway . “We visited with the SBC Executive Board about this idea, and they determined it wasn’t possible.”
Nabors said the BGCT received one check from the BGCM.
“But when the SBC said we could not do that, we reversed the check. We did not accept the money,” Nabors said. “The money has been returned to us from the SBC and we are working out the details to send the money back to Missouri.”
An SBC leader with knowledge of the matter said the check was written for an approximate amount of $37,000.
When contacted by The Pathway about Nabors’ response, Lionberger denied that he used the term “launder.”
“The term ‘laundering’ is not my term,” Lionberger said in an e-mail to The Pathway at the time. “In one of the earlier three-way discussions with MBC, CBF and BGCM the term was used,” he said, referring to part of the format used for the debate. The first part allowed each of the representatives to speak for 15 minutes without interruption. The second part featured 60 minutes worth of questions from the audience to Lionberger, Qualls and Missouri Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) President Harold Phillips.
“We were talking about the fact that the BGCM was sending CP funds through the BGCT and the term ‘laundering’ was brought up by the pastor of the church,” Lionberger stated in his e-mail.
Dallas Bundy is pastor of First Baptist Richmond and said little throughout the discussions except to introduce those involved.
Others attending the meeting said they distinctly heard Lionberger use the term “laundering”—at least twice, including Qualls, MBC State Evangelism Director Bob Caldwell, and Don Hinkle, editor of The Pathway .
While denying the use of the term “launder,” Lionberger admitted that BGCM money has been flowing through the BGCT.
“BGCM has been sending CP funds through the BGCT. If that has changed, I haven’t heard of it. I don’t know the exact process,” he said.
Several bids have been made to send money to the SBC by circumventing the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Hill resigned as MBC executive director and quickly aligned with organizers of the moderate-led BGCM. Hill wrote a letter to Morris Chapman, SBC president and chief executive officer, asking in 2002 if the SBC would accept money from a new convention.
Chapman responded: “I cannot recommend the Southern Baptist Convention enter into a relationship with your proposed new Baptist state convention in Missouri whereby you would collect Cooperative Program gifts to forward to us.”
Chapman reminded Hill that a state convention is to be in friendly cooperation with the SBC.
“The Missouri Baptist Convention remains our Cooperative Program collection agent for Baptist churches in Missouri,” Chapman said. “It continues to act faithfully in regard to promoting the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention among Baptists in Missouri and forwards Cooperative Program gifts for national and international causes exclusively to the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Qualls said it is vital for BGCM churches to have a tie to the SBC as it fits their “wean to win” philosophy.
“In many cases, they know they cannot pull a church away from the SBC immediately,” Qualls said. “So they are trying to wean churches away so they can eventually take them completely away from the Cooperative Program and the Southern Baptist Convention.
“I also believe there are people in the pews of new convention churches that are unaware that the SBC does not recognize the new convention. They’re not aware that the Southern Baptist Convention will not receive funds from the new convention.”
The SBC is not the only entity to refuse to take BGCM dollars. The Missouri Woman’s Missionary Union (MWMU) Executive Board voted March 15, 2005, to not accept funds from the 2005-2006 BGCM budget and mission offering.
The new agreement between the BGCM and the BGCT simply calls for cooperation and mission outreach. The BGCT board had already approved the pact, which can reportedly be renewed for an additional three years.
News reports say leaders from the two groups will meet annually to create mutual initiatives for the year. Each annual agreement will include financial assistance, materials and personnel provided by both sides. It was not disclosed in press reports as to what type of financial aid will be provided and whether the BGCT will begin peddling its Sunday School material in Missouri. The BGCT has been producing its own Sunday School materials for the past several years as its relationship with the SBC and LifeWay Christian Resources has cooled.
One news report of the BGCM/BGCT’s new agreement noted that the BGCM now claims 125 churches, though no source was cited for that figure. It is not known if the BGCM counts “its churches” in the same manner as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The CBF counts a church if just one member contributes money to the organization, a move that gives the appearance that CBF numbers are larger than they are in reality. The MBC has more than 2,100 affiliated churches and missions with approximately 680,000 members.
Meanwhile, Wade is scheduled to attend the BGCM annual meeting March 31-April 4 at First Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit. He is no stranger to Missouri moderates, having attended the BGCM’s organizational meeting in April 2002. He was joined at that meeting by at least a dozen people with strong connections to the national CBF, Missouri CBF or its now defunct political operation known as Mainstream Missouri Baptists. Many of them have gone on to become leaders in the BGCM.
Wade’s political dossier is well known among Missouri Baptist conservatives:
• In 1990, Wade served on the CBF’s Interim Steering Committee.
• From 1991 to 1994, Wade served on the national CBF Coordinating Council.
• In 1990, Wade served as chairman of Texas Baptists Committed, an anti-SBC political group led by Texan David Currie. Currie has served on the national CBF Coordinating Council since 1996 and on the board of The Interfaith Alliance, a leading religious-left, pro-homosexual activist group, since 1997.
• From 1991 to 1995, Wade served on the Executive Committee of Texas Baptists Committed, the political arm of the CBF in Texas.
• In 1995, Wade was elected president of the BGCT where he served two one-year terms.
• In April of 1998, he traveled throughout Texas “sharing the CBF vision” as part of the CBF’s “Celebrate the Spirit: Learn the Truth” campaign in Texas.
• At the 1999 CBF General Assembly, Wade served as a program leader.
• In September of 1999, he was elected as executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT).
• After his election as executive director of the BGCT, Wade was the featured speaker at the February 2001 meeting of the National Mainstream Baptist Network, a coalition of anti-SBC / pro-CBF state organizations.
• Since his election as BGCT executive director, Wade has led the moderate-controlled Texas state convention to completely de-fund the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; to virtually de-fund the SBC’s six seminaries; and to virtually de-fund the SBC Executive Committee. The BGCT has drastically cut funding to several SBC agencies, but has since restored it. The BGCT’s adopted budged plan now sends 21 percent to worldwide causes as the church chooses. All money sent to the SBC budget is undesignated.