Thursday, February 22, 2007

SBC Executive Committee: "BFM 'Sufficient Guide' for Trustees"

During its meeting earlier this week, the SBC Executive Committee adopted a statement affirming that the Baptist Faith & Message is a "sufficient guide" for Southern Baptist entity trustees in establishing doctrinal policies. The Baptist Press article announcing this development states in part:

The Executive Committee, in response to a BF&M-related motion at last year’s annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., stated that it "acknowledges the Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, or a complete statement of our faith, nor final or infallible, nevertheless we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention." [Emphasis is mine.]
It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this statement will have when the IMB Board of Trustees revisit the policies on private prayer language and baptism at their March or May meeting. They are already on record as declaring, "While the Baptist Faith and Message represents a general confession of Southern Baptist beliefs related to Biblical teachings on primary doctrinal and social issues, the IMB retains the prerogative and responsibility of further defining the parameters of doctrinal beliefs and practices of its missionaries who serve Southern Baptists with accountability to this board."

It is my hope and prayer that the IMB and all of our other entities will heed the Executive Committee's statement and repeal any doctrinal requirements other than the BFM. If they refuse to comply voluntarily, the convention needs to require that they do so. Not being an expert on the SBC Constitution & Bylaws, I do not know if this can be done without revising the bylaws. But even if the bylaws have to be revised, we need to ensure that all of our entities are operating according to the same doctrinal standard. No Southern Baptist who is in agreement with our general doctrinal statement should be rejected by any of our entities because he or she does not share a particular interpretation that has not been officially adopted by the SBC.


Anonymous said...

My understanding is that each of our entities are autonomous: that we couldn't really "make" them do anything.

We could, however, withhold CP monies from any entity that exceeds the BF&M.

Kevin Bussey said...

I think it would be less confusing if we had one document for every SBC entity.

Tim Sweatman said...


I'm not sure how much autonomy the entities have. It seems to me that if they are owned by the convention then the convention should have authority over them. Of course, no one is calling for the convention to micromanage the entities or approve every board decision. But when trustee boards start redefining what we believe, we as a convention MUST have the right to stop them. If this is not the case, then the SBC bylaws definitely need to be revised.

I doubt that the convention as a whole would ever withhold money from our entities, not do I believe that would be a good approach. Too many innocent people would suffer as a result, while the ones responsible for the problem (the trustees) really wouldn't suffer from such an action.



Agreed. Right now we are in a situation where the same person has to meet one set of doctrinal requirements to enroll in one of our seminaries, then when he or she graduates he or she has to meet a different set of doctrinal requirements to serve with one of our mission boards. My question is if each entity is free to establish its own doctrinal standards, which one is the real Southern Baptist position?

Tim Sweatman said...


I just came across the following statement by Morris Chapman that may clarify the point that you made:

"Some think that connectionalism should be construed as bearing on the relationship between the Baptist conventions and their institutions. Those who think this way insist that the relationship between the Southern Baptist Convention and its institutions is modeled after the autonomy of the local church. Obviously, the autonomy of the local church is a scriptural principle that is very dear to Southern Baptists. In fact, not only is the church autonomous, the state convention is autonomous, and the SBC is autonomous. However, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention is not autonomous. The Convention owns its entities. Applying the term connectionalism to the relationship between the SBC and its entities has no basis or precedent in Baptist history or polity. Institutions, entities, and other subsidiary legal corporations of Baptist conventions are not the type of organizations for which the topic of connectionalism is germane. This type of polity issues from a misunderstanding of connectionalism and autonomy in Southern Baptist relationships. If this approach were to prevail, it could cause us to revert to a denominational methodology that emphasizes independence to the detriment of cooperation."

This confirms my suspicion that our entities are not totally autonomous, but I'm not sure how this applies to the situation at hand or how much direct authority the convention can exert over its entities.

Bowden McElroy said...

I didn't mean to post anonymously... I must have hit the ctrl key by mistake.

I talked with Augie Boto last year at length (general counsel for the ExComm). He indicated the legal issues around the independence of each entity is complicated and not easily understood.

Mr. Boto made the point of saying the entities were not subsidiaries of the convention. The good news about this is that is someone slipped on the steps of one seminary and sued, the entire convention's deep pockets would not be at risk.

The convention elects trustees and gives CP funds but other than that, the entities are wholly independent. If they were indeed wholly owned subsidiaries (as Dr. Chapman erroneously implies) then much of the current flap regarding the IMB would not exist.

Tim Sweatman said...


I'm going to look into this further. As I recall, the issue of sole membership was presented as a way of ensuring that our entities are legally owned by the convention. What's the point of owning an entity if you can't exercise any authority over it?

Bowden McElroy said...

Call Augie Boto (General Counsel &
Vice President for Convention Policy). He is a very nice guy and more than willing to talk with people about the SBC.

I may have misunderstood, but I don't think so. Dr. Chapman writes from a theological-philosophical point of view (what should be). What I was referring to was the legalities (what actually is).

The entities are ours in that they cannot appoint their own trustees: only the convention can do that. Once those trustees are elected by the SBC, they are completely independent.

That's why the IMB statement about using the BF&M as a guideline only is in fact legal... they can do that if they want. I happen to believe it is immoral.

Les Puryear said...

Bowden & Tim,

Great discussion.

I have one question. If the entities are autonomous, then it is possible for them to decide to appoint their own trustees?

If not, then I have a hard time understanding their autonomity.

Kindest regards,