Concluding a fierce 2-yearlong debate, the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly voted to sever their century-old relationship with the Baptist World Alliance, during their annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 15, 2004.
The simple vote, which was made by a show of hands, finalized the debate that began in the summer of 2002 in Seville, Spain, in which the BWA recommended the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship – a liberal group that branched off from the SBC in the early 90s over theological differences - be considered for membership.
The SBC immediately protested this recommendation in September 2002 by voting to withhold $125,000 from its $400,000 in annual funds to the BWA. Despite the protest, the BWA General Council voted to accept the CBF during its annual meeting in July of 2003.
Soon after, the SBC Study Committee recommended that the SBC withdrawal the remaining money from the BWA and invest it in a different initiative – one led by evangelical Baptists – that would “better represent” the conservative denomination. The Committee also said the BWA had made several “theologically unsound” decisions, and had spent its funds on “questionable” exercises and recommended a complete withdraw of membership as well.
The SBC executive committee ratified this recommendation in April of 2004. Today’s vote at the Annual meeting finalized the issue.
During the Indianapolis meeting, Paige Patterson – one of the executive committee members – reiterated the reason for the drift.
"We have noted, with sorrow in our hearts, a continual leftward drift in the BWA," said Patterson. "We have attempted ... through letters, statements of concern and appeals to the [BWA] body to do something to right the direction of the BWA. We have had no reception on the part of the BWA leadership.”
In that light, Patterson warned the attendants to call attention to the word “Alliance.”
"What you are allied with, you are giving tacit -- at least -- agreement to," said Patterson, who went on to say that Southern Baptists can no longer “afford to give either money or name” to support a “liberal” organization like the BWA.
"We can no longer afford in this particular day, when the press for 'gay marriage' is on, to be in an alliance of any kind with denominations which support 'gay marriage' in any form or fashion,” said Patterson, in reference to several of the member churches in the BWA who accept gay “marriages.”
Patterson continued, "Nor is it possible for us to be any longer in affiliation with some of the denominations of the BWA who do not believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture and regularly call it into question."
Meanwhile, there was only one representative in the gathering who spoke against the Executive Committee’s recommendation to split: Larry Walker, an ambassador at large from First Baptist Church in Dallas.
"To some Baptist bodies around the world, Southern Baptists are considered liberal because our ladies wear makeup and color their hair and our gentlemen do not greet each other with a kiss on the lips; yet these organizations have not pulled away for fear of their reputations being tainted by their association with us liberal Southern Baptists."
Walker said he sees the BWA as a nursery, in which the "big, strong spiritually mature Baptist giants like" Southern Baptists can aid some of the organization's smaller members. "We may not need them, but they desperately need us. We may not agree with everything they do, but is there something we can do to resolve and reconcile this relationship?"
Denton Lotz, the General Secretary of the BWA, agreed with Walker, saying that “liberalism” is “so relative.”
“We do not really understand why in spite of many words,” Lotz said. “The BWA rejects the allegations that it holds aberrant theological views, is anti-American and anti-capitalist and did not follow proper procedures when it admitted the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) into its membership, all reasons used to buttress the SBC’s argument to leave the BWA.”
“God is the judge and one day in His grace, all truth will come to light and He will be the judge of all of us,” Lotz concluded.
Lotz also mentioned that the grief that strikes the BWA is not financial.
“Our concern is schism and division. Christians need to be a united voice,” said Lotz.
Meanwhile, the BWA President Billy Kim addressed the SBC messengers with a reconciliatory message.
“My church prayed for 100 days following the March BWA Executive Committee meeting in Washington,” said Kim. “Our prayer focused on the Southern Baptist Convention proposal to leave the BWA. We love all of the Baptists around the world and will pray for the leadership and members of SBC. We are asking God to perform a miracle. I still have high hopes that an agreement can be reached so that the SBC will continue as an active member of the BWA.”
“This is a sad day in the history of our organization,” said Lotz. “Many letters and voices of Baptists from around the world have asked the question why? Why are the Southern Baptists leaving us. We have worked together for 100 years. Why in this day when nations are fighting with one another, with terrorist attacks from within and without. Why now?”
Lotz added to the message, saying that the BWA members will continually pray for a renewal and revival for a brighter future.
“We are forgetting what is past and now moving ahead into God’s future in Jesus Christ. We are enthusiastic about the new unity that has come to the BWA because of the sad events of the past three years and we are encouraged by the thousands of voices of support and loyalty. We are moving on in the light of God to a wonderful Centenary Congress to be held in Birmingham, England, July 27-31, 2005.”
“We believe with God’s grace and power that Baptists worldwide have a greater future before us than ever,” Lotz said, “We believe that the Holy Spirit is moving us towards unity and a new understanding of mission and evangelism. We believe that the Great Commission has been given to every believer, not only Western missionaries, and the future of the BWA is as bright as the promises of God.”
“We will pray daily for renewal and revival in our churches,” Lotz said, “as we repent daily and commit ourselves to Jesus Christ, God and Savior, Redeemer and Comforter, who shed His blood for us and is coming back again to gather His blessed community.”
In the end, Lotz called on the Southern Baptists to continue its association with the BWA, despite what may have happened in the past.
“We invite Southern Baptist individuals, churches and associations to be a part of the BWA,” he said, “and all SBC friends are welcome to attend the Centenary Celebrations next year in England.”
“You will always be welcome at our Congresses, conferences, and annual meetings,” Lotz said, “We look forward to that day when you shall return to the historic world fellowship called the Baptist World Alliance.”
The Southern Baptist Convention is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and America’s largest Protestant body with 16 million members. The SBC was directly involved with the creation of the BWA 99 years ago. Prior to the break, the SBC had provided a third of the BWA’s annual income base.
The BWA is the world’s largest fellowship of Baptists with 46 million members in 211 denominations