WARWICK, R.I.—As Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE) is concluding the 20th anniversary year, they went through changes approving balanced budget, revising constitution and bylaws for the Baptist Foundation of New England. Also a new president was elected and a decision was made not to support LifeWay Christian Resources’ 2004 Vacation Bible materials.
The convention's 128 registered messengers adopted a balanced budget of $2,736,35. Twenty-one percent of the Cooperative Program gifts from the New England churches will be forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention's Cooperative Program, matching last year's amount.
Revisions were made to the BCNE constitution and bylaws including more detailed description of the duties and power of trustees and administrative officers of the foundation with help from an outside consultant.
Bruce James, pastor of Gallup Hill Baptist Church in Ledyard, Conn., was elected president receiving unanimous vote at the Nov. 7-8 annual meeting in Warwick, R.I., Jerry Smith, pastor of Baptist Fellowship in Randolph, Vermont, first vice president, and Sandy Coelho was re-elected as clerk.
One of the main resolutions approved by the messengers included the convention's decision not to support LifeWay Christian Resources' 2004 VBS material, "Rickshaw Rally." Instead they will come up with an alternative LifeWay resource for VBS during the coming year. .
"We believe that, however unintentional, a mistake was made with this year's theme," stated Jim Wideman, BCNE executive director. "Asian Americans in New England have found this theme focusing on the rickshaw to be insensitive and to be a poor representation of Asian culture. Some have found it highly offensive. We did not feel that we could stay sensitive to our culture and context in New England and promote this material."
Wideman added, "We recognize the solid biblical content of the material and the desire of LifeWay to present a fresh and exciting experience for children in VBS. However, the symbols used in this year's theme will be a tremendous stumbling block in our area, and we felt we had no choice but to make this decision.
"The BCNE is not at odds with LifeWay and is grateful for the partnership and support that LifeWay has provided to New England through the years," Wideman said. "In fact, we are going to offer another LifeWay resource, 'Down the Street and Around the World,' as an alternative for our churches this year. We look forward to being able to enthusiastically promote VBS material from LifeWay in 2005."
Mary Katharine Hunt, VBS division project manager, expressed her disappointment regarding BCNE’s decision:
"We appreciate the gracious way in which the BCNE's messengers affirmed their support of LifeWay, expressed their concerns about our VBS curriculum and pledged to continue working with us in the days ahead. However, we are disappointed with the passing of the resolution and disagree in the strongest possible way with its tenets.
"Churches nationwide, including many Asian churches, are telling us they will use the curriculum because of its strong biblical content, clear message of Jesus and the respectful way in which it lifts up another culture," Hunt said. "For every concern raised by an Asian American, we are receiving dozens of positive responses from Asian Americans that tell us we are fulfilling our intent to lift up another culture and share the message of hope for all people in Jesus Christ."
Rob Phillips, LifeWay's corporate communications director, additionally told Baptist Press that the VBS materials were in development for 15 months, involving "experts in Japanese culture and language, and we traveled to Japan to research and film the curriculum. ... This year's VBS theme, like others before it, invites American kids to experience the richness of another culture. And it's designed to teach children that God loves people everywhere. While a small number of people have questioned the use of symbols like rickshaws, umbrellas and kites, saying they are stereotypical of Asian culture, no one group speaks for all Asians. We've listened carefully, and have chosen to use symbols that give literal-minded children representations of the beauty and color of another part of the world they might otherwise never see."
Among other resolutions affirmed by messengers were support for the biblical definition of marriage; appreciation to President Bush for support of the ban of partial-birth abortion; and recognition of the many leaders and staff who have faithfully served the convention over the last 20 years. At the meeting, Raymond C. Allen, BCNE director of evangelism, was honored during the meeting for his 20 years of service on the BCNE staff. Allen will leave the staff at the end of 2003.
Next year's annual meeting will be Nov. 11-12 at New Hope Community Church in Ayer, Mass.