Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Promising Future for Baptists

I am very excited about the New North American Baptist Convenant and its forthcoming celebration in January, 2008. I plan to be at this historic meeting. For the first time in a very long time, I have hope that the name "Baptist" might be able to be rehabilited. For the last several decades the Baptist name has been increasingly viewed in a negative light. Now, I have hope that with this Covenant signed by the leaders of 18 other Baptists groups, the name "Baptist" might be able to be viewed positively again. Below is an article about the Covenant and the celebration next January written by one of the premier Baptist historians of our day, Buddy Shurden. The link is found at:

"Living History: The New North American Baptist Covenant and Its Celebration"By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .
that “The New North American Baptist Covenant and its Celebration” that is presently in the planning stage for early 2008 in Atlanta, GA is one of the most exciting things that has happened in my half-century of traipsing around the Baptist yard of America.

By now, most Baptists and many other Christians are aware that “A New North American Baptist Covenant” has been adopted by Baptist leaders representing an estimated twenty million Baptists, and probably more. It all started with the majestic dream of one of the good and prophetic Baptists of our time, evangelical President Jimmy Carter. Without him, the Covenant would not be a possibility. President Carter wisely chose Mercer President William D. Underwood to help him spearhead the movement.

What is “The North American Baptist Covenant Celebration?” Foremost, it is a “covenant,” a good biblical word. It is a covenant that eighteen Baptist leaders adopted on 10 April 2006 in Atlanta, GA at the Carter Center “to speak and work together to create an authentic and genuine prophetic Baptist voice in these complex times. They reaffirmed their commitment to traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality. They specifically committed themselves to their obligations as Christians to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, welcome the strangers among us, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.”

A second strategic planning committee convened at the Carter Center on 13 June 2006. At this meeting several significant developments occurred. One, the Covenant was reaffirmed. Second, those present underscored the necessity of celebrating the Covenant by crossing racial, ethnic, and gender barriers among Baptists. Third, these Baptists wanted to project an image of Baptist unity among those who represent prophetic and traditional moral values, especially themes of religious liberty and equality in the service of Christ. Fourth, two committees were appointed. The first, led by President William Underwood of Mercer University, would seek to find a time and place for a Baptist convocation that would be a massive Celebration of the North American Baptist Covenant. Dr. Jimmy Allen was appointed chair of the Program Committee of the future Celebration.

The last meeting for the Covenant planning celebration, now much publicized, met on 9 January 2007, again at the Carter Center in Atlanta. President Bill Clinton was present to endorse and affirm the Baptist Covenant and its celebration.

Why do I think that the Covenant Celebration is one of the most exciting things that has happened in my half century of traipsing around the Baptist yard of America?

First, it puts Baptists on the road to healing. Tragic wounds have scarred the Baptist landscape over the years. These wounds have divided white Baptists from white Baptists since the mid-nineteenth century issue of slavery. White Baptists, North and South and East and West, are now sitting around the same table talking to each other, listening to each other, embracing each other.

Second, it puts us on the road to healing some sinful wounds in Baptist life. These are the wounds of slavery itself, wounds that divided black Baptists from white Baptists since before the nineteenth century. I cannot put into words the thrill of sitting with black Baptists, names that I have known for some years, but who are now becoming friends. One element of our conversation that I have most enjoyed is the absence of playing to an audience. Deference is out. Honesty is in. People are not afraid to say what they think, and others are not afraid to disagree.

Third, it puts Baptists of North America on the road to integration of smaller ethnic groups into the larger Baptist family. Japanese Baptists, Laotian Baptists, Korean Baptists and Hispanic Baptists were all gathered around the table at the Carter Center on Tuesday, 9 January 2007.

Fourth, it puts us on the road to greater awareness of our Canadian and Mexican Baptist friends.

Fifth, and most important, it puts us on the road to working together on issues that unite rather than issues that divide. Those who signed the Covenant and who will be part of its celebration are not a monolithic group. Like good Baptists, we still differ on a number of issues. But we have decided to work in areas of agreement, and most of these have to do with the hurt and suffering of humankind. The best definition of “church” that I have ever heard is: “All who love Christ in the service of all who suffer.” The North American Baptist Covenant Celebration is not a “Church,” but the Covenant leaders certainly plan to act in a churchly manner.

A word simply must be said about what the “New North American Baptist Covenant Celebration” is NOT.

First, it is NOT an effort to construct a new mammoth Baptist denomination in America. The NABC is an informal Baptist network, not a new Baptist corporation. Baptists don’t need a new Baptist Denominational Corporation in this country. We need cooperation, not Corporation. We need to talk to each other. We need not tread on each other’s turf, and we certainly do not need to tear up turf securely planted. We need energy from each other. We do not need a phony Baptist ecumenism, and we do not plan to have such.

Second, the NABC is NOT an anti-SBC movement. It was not designed to embarrass the SBC. It was not even designed to call attention to the SBC in any possible way. That the Covenant represents some commitments lacking in fundamentalist SBC leadership minds since 1979 has not been a major issue. Most of the Baptists involved in the Covenant group have had very little, if any, historical relationship with the SBC for over a century. Only the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship people, a very small portion of the Covenant group, has had SBC relations within the last 30 years.

Third, the North American Baptist Covenant and its celebration in early 2008 is NOT an anti-Republican movement to get a Democratic candidate elected president of the United States. Indeed, the Covenant Baptists are looking for Republicans and Independents that share the values of the Covenant itself. Unfortunately, a kind of political conspiracy theory quickly developed in some suspicious minds that this was an anti-SBC, anti-Republican movement. However, that talk has never been uttered in any of the meetings that I have been in with the New Covenant planning groups, and I have been present at every one of them, including some of the subcommittee meetings. On the other hand, I have witnessed efforts to include people of all political and theological stripes who can commit to the Covenant.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The New SBC Leadership: Do You Know Where Your Money is Going?

I have been a critic of the leadership of theSBC since they began to move into power in 1979. My experience, talking to people who have been hurt by these demagogues is that they can be very mean and hurtful people and that they have a very high opinion of themselves at times. Furthermore, many of them have an attitude of "entitlement," especially when it comes to financial arrangements. In other words, I have long suspected that they may be doing some really unethical things with money and the budgets at the institutions they control.

Below is an article from Bob Allen at about "Hollywood Bob" Reccord and how he fleeced the coffers of the North American Mission Board while he was president. It is worth reading. And, I think every person who remains loyal to the SBC ought to read it and begin to question what is being done with their money.

The article is located at:

Author Describes Culture of Waste at Baptist Agency

Bob Allen02-12-07

A radio interviewer Sunday dubbed it "Branson's Law:" The extent of misuse of mission dollars is directly proportional to the distance between the giver and the spender.
Mary Kinney Branson, author of Spending God's Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry, uses the following analogy: If a preschooler brought a jar of coins to church and desired to give it to the Lord's work, most everyone would take care to make sure it is spent wisely. As those small gifts are combined through collective giving into multi-million-dollar budgets of denominational entities, however, it becomes easy to forget it's made up of many small sacrifices.

Branson worked 16 years for the Southern Baptist Convention, primarily as editing and marketing director of the Home Mission Board and its successor North American Mission Board, formed in a denominational reorganization in 1997.

Not long after arriving at the HMB, Branson said, she began hearing stories about "old timers" and how rigid they were with approving expenditures. Arthur Rutledge, HMB president from 1964 to 1976, once refused to approve a U-Haul trailer rented to carry supplies to a conference in Florida, saying staffers already driving to the conference could have packed supplies in the trunks and backseats of their personal cars.

After an uninitiated new worker mistakenly listed a massage taken to relax after a hard day's work on a line in an expense form labeled "entertainment," Rutledge took up all the expense forms and issued new ones without an "entertainment" category.

While the environment was somewhat more relaxed when Branson arrived--not long after Larry Lewis became president in 1987--the appearance of extravagance was still strongly discouraged. Traveling staff members were told not to accept free upgrades at rental car counters, because people observing them would assume they paid full price. Lewis once refused to ride in a stretch limo sent to an airport to pick him up.

That culture changed, she said, after formation of NAMB and election of President Robert Reccord, a former mega-church pastor whose extravagant lifestyle soon earned him the nickname "Hollywood Bob."

"Dr. Reccord came from a mega-church, and he brought with him a mega-church mindset," Branson said Sunday on "Religious Talk," a weekly radio program hosted by Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists.

"Dr. Lewis had been a church planter," Branson said. "Some of the things a mega-church pastor feels entitled to do became part of our culture."

One of the first things to go, she said, was full financial disclosure. A half-inch-thick budget that had been presented to HMB trustees was reduced at NAMB to a few pages. As a result, she said, trustees didn't know what questions to ask.

"We are finding that in a lot of mega-churches," Branson told Prescott. "People are standing up and saying, 'We want the information. We want to know what the salaries are.'"

"I've actually received e-mails from some people asking for advice on how to receive that information from their church," she said. Some have set up Web sites, because they feel too intimidated to ask their pastor for the information.

"We are not children," she said. "This is our money. If we are paying for it, we have a right to know how it's being spent."

Branson said her book's focus is not on individuals but on a system that promotes waste and rewards hubris.

"Most of us, if we were in a position of entitlement, and we had no checks and balances, would do the same thing," she said. "It's very difficult to spend that kind of money with humility."

Branson said she left NAMB under positive circumstances and had no intention of writing a book. She probably never would have, she admitted, if--like about 100 people let go during Reccord's administration--she had been offered a couple of thousand dollars of severance in exchange for never saying or writing anything negative about NAMB. Branson said she has long wondered about a Christian organization that would require former employees to sign such a statement.

She said she also wonders about the leadership of 41 prominent SBC leaders who signed a letter unconditionally supporting Reccord after he stepped down, despite knowing about his spending practices. After Reccord left, auditors found that two of those signers, evangelist Jay Strack and Reccord's pastor, Johnny Hunt of Woodstock Baptist Church, were paid a total of $392,000 without written contracts through verbal agreements with Reccord, who at one time had $1 million in discretionary spending cleared by auditors.

At least one of 31 employees laid off as a result as Reccord's lucrative contract with InovaOne, a business owned by a member of Reccord's former church in Norfolk, Va., ended up on food stamps. When he decided to resign, Reccord reportedly took a lawyer with him to negotiate his own settlement. It was supposed to be secret, Branson said, but word leaked out it was in the neighborhood of $500,000 with additional funds for a headhunter to help him find a new job.

Branson said not everything that occurred at NAMB was bad, but much of it was not part of the agency's primary assignment. Directors were repeatedly told to cut budgets and reduce staff, even while money was coming in, to make room for entrepreneurial ideas of leaders without input from church planters on the field.

"I do feel it's important to bring these things to light," she said. "I've heard people say 'you could hurt the cause of Christ.' I believe it could hurt the cause of man, but not the cause of Christ. If you look in the Bible, sin is confronted."

Another change when she moved to NAMB, Branson said, is that on at least two occasions part of her job was to "brand" Bob Reccord. One poster displayed in NAMB's chapel promoted a meeting with Reccord as a featured speaker that identified him only as "author" without any mention of NAMB.

Reccord contracted two outside PR firms, despite having a public relations department on staff at his service, at a cost of $12,000 a month with a goal of "getting him on CNN."

Asked by Prescott if Reccord ever made it onto CNN, Branson quipped: "I don't know, but maybe Spending God's Money will get on CNN."

Bob Allen is managing editor of

Sunday, February 04, 2007

I Am Proud of My Church

I am a member of Memorial Baptist Church in Buies Creek, NC. As I was sitting with my children in church today, there were several thoughts that occurred to me which illustrate why I am so proud of my church. I'd like to share them with you. In a day and time when there are many churches in turmoil, and people frequently complain about their church, I'd like to say a positive word about the community of faith where my family worships.

First, we have a wonderful pastor, Dr. David Whiteman. He has been our pastor for more than 20 years. He is beloved by the membership of our church, indeed the "marriage" between pastor and parish has been very good. It is a healthy relationship and the fact that he is such a good pastor means a lot to my family. He is always there when we need him to bring a "pastoral presence." He leads the staff well as they plan and conduct the worship services and his sermons always have a tremendous amount of depth to them. He makes me think. And any pastor worth his/her salt should do that every Sunday. Furthermore, I consider David to be one of my closest friends. I always feel at ease around him. I never feel like he's judging me for my weaknesses. I always feel accepted by him, which is how I think people probably felt around Jesus, again a trait that any pastor worth his/her salt should possess. Pastors should welcome people to their presence, not repel people away by their arrogance.

Second, our church has a wonderful program for children. My children are happy at Memorial Baptist Church. There are lots of activities for the children. The Sunday School is good. And, children are treasured at our church. Our Childrens' Minister, Rev. Robin Hardison, is the best in the business. Even though she is a busy mother herself, she always finds time for the children in our church. I have always admired how patient she seems around the children and every child is valued and loved the same by her.

Third, we have one of the best atmospheres of fellowship that I have ever experienced in a church. Our church has one of the most diverse congregations that I have ever been a part of, yet we celebrate that diversity and it becomes our strength rather than an impediment. Let me illustrate what I mean. Some churches are like blankets. They are all one color, all one depth, and all one pattern. They might keep the congregation warm, but there is no diversity. In fact, diversity is not encouraged and is even threatening in a church like this. The leadership of churches like this would prefer that the church remain like a blanket because diversity could lead to change or a least might lead to challenging the status quo. But, our church is like a quilt. We have lots of color, lots of different edges, lots of shapes and sizes. But in spite of that diversity, we are all united in purpose. Our church's statement of purpose "Celebrating Christ, Growing Together and Serving Others," unites us as one body with different parts, all important for our mission. Do we always agree? Absolutely not. But, we're Christian about it. We discuss things in committees, in business meetings, and in Sunday School classes, but no one goes away mad. We respect one another. We have different theological perspectives from liberal to conservative. We have different political perspectives from conservative Republican to liberal Democrat and everything in between. Sometimes our discussions are passionate. But, we are always there for each other and our diversity becomes our strength. I like belonging to a "quilt-style" church rather than a "blanket-style" church! Furthermore, quilts are prettier than blankets. They take more work to make and they even keep you warmer on a cold, dark night! Our church is one of the best I have ever seen at celebrating its diversity.

Fourth, our church prays for and cares for those in need. My family has experienced this firsthand over the last several months. My wife has had a long history of chronic back pain. Finally, she had an accident last August which ultimately led to a very extensive back surgery just before Christmas. I can't even begin to express how helpful our church community has been to our family. Several people kept our children overnight during the time that my wife was in the hospital. Others have made meals for us. Still more have prayed for Pam. And, there has been an outpouring of love and concern that we'll never be able to repay. Perhaps the way we repay is simply to return the love and sharing of resources to someone else who is in need.

Fifth, our church understands the essence of the Baptist tradition. We are a church that celebrates freedom. Early Baptists understood the value of freedom. They celebrated the freedom of the individual believer within the community of faith. They valued the freedom of the local congregation to govern itself without any kind of coercion from the outside. They cherished the freedom to interpret Scripture for themselves. And they worked tirelessly to secure religious freedom from the government, both for themselves and for others. They understood the nature of the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." They understood that if they needed freedom to practice their faith as they were led to do so, they in turn had to work for freedom for others with different beliefs as well. If freedom of religion is repressed for one group, ultimately there is no true freedom of religion. Our church is a "Baptist" church and as such we value the freedom to be whatever God's Spirit leads us to be.

Sixth, and this is a little bit more specific, I am very proud that our church celebrates that God can call and use both women and men in ministry. I am so proud that our church has just recently been named to receive the "Church Award" from Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina. This means that we have been selected as the church of the year by this fine organization for our promotion of women in ministry. Today, we celebrated "women in ministry Sunday," an emphasis promoted by the Baptist History and Heritage Society. Our Minister to Youth and College Students, Rev. Jenny Folmar, shared an outstanding message with our congregation today from I Corinthians 15 entitled, "I Am What I Am." It was a very good message that challenged us. As good as the sermon was though, the thing that stood out the most to me was how much attention my ten year-old daughter Hannah paid to it. The fact that a woman was proclaiming the Gospel from the pulpit of our church today and held the attention of my daughter made quite an impression on me. And, it also sent a message to my daughter and to any other young girls in the congregation that if they hear God's voice calling them to ministry someday, our church will celebrate and encourage God's call on their lives, not try and convince them that they are mistaken.

That leads me to one final thought. Our church is in the process of trying to make some decisions about the entities it is going to affiliate with beyond itself. More specifically, we are trying to decide whether we need to continue in fellowship with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina or are we going to alter that relationship in some kind of way. For me, the decision becomes a matter of conscience. How can we continue to associate with a Convention which seems to be moving so rapidly in the direction of becoming a de facto auxilliary of the Southen Baptist Convention? And, anyone who has followed, even from a distance, the direction that the Southern Baptist Convention has travelled, should be concerned. The SBC is now one group of Baptists which are defined on the basis of what they are against rather than what they are for. And that is a terrible p.r. problem! The SBC has made it clear in its Baptist Faith and Message 2000 statement that it has no room for women serving God in ministry positions, most especially the pastorate. In other words, they want to try and limit whom God will call to the ministry. Furthermore, there is a mean spirit prevalent in the SBC which comes across in a militant tone. It turns people away rather than invites people in. So, if this is the direction that the Baptist State Convention seems to be going, does our church really need to be affiliated with it? What can I say to my daughters some day if either or both of them should feel the call of God to preach and our church is formally affiliated with a Convention that not only does not celebrate her call, but would want us to tell her that she is mistaken? Additionally, how can a church that celebrates its diversity (a "quilt-style" church) find commonality with a Convention that seems bent on encouraging more "blanket-style" churches? Or, put another way, can a "quilt-style" church find a place at the table in a Convention full of "blanket-style" churches?

If you live in the Buies Creek area and you are looking for a church, I encourage you to come by Memorial Baptist Church. Our quilt will keep you warm! Check out our website at: