Over at Baptist Press, soon-to-retire SBC Executive Committee President and C.E.O. Dr. Morris Chapman has posted a lengthy almost 9,000 word response to the final report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. I highly encourage people to read it as it provides the perspective of someone who knows the ins-and-outs of SBC convention life and politics, serving in this particular role since 1992. It does seem unfortunate that with the GCR discussion dominating the heading into the convention, the SBC will miss a chance, perhaps, to give thanks and celebrate the outgoing Executive Committee President and the outgoing IMB president. Whether one has agreed 100% with everything these two men (Drs. Chapman and Rankin) have said and done during their service to the Convention, they both brought steady leadership (contra turnover at that other agency) and have given countless time and effort to Southern Baptists. I hope the Convention doesn’t get so dominated by discussion of the GCR that it fails to recognize the service of these two men.
That said, Dr. Chapman wins the “Tell Us How You REALLY Feel” Award for this week. The sheer length alone of Dr. Chapman’s personal response to the GCR should alert folks that he’s not looking for a nice soundbyte for/against, but rather has thought about these issues in great detail and has a lot of opinions about the various components involved in the final GCRTF report. Some of what he has said has been brought out in various other places, refuted, counter-refuted, and perhaps counter-counter-refuted. But there were a couple of places in his response where his own opinions and personal preferences came out louder than the arguments he was making regarding the TF’s recommendations. In doing so, he risks distracting Southern Baptists from the main issues about the report that we should be discussing.
1. Going after the IMB.
The IMB has often been the “darling” of the SBC; it is the grand SBC rallying cry whose pictures and stories even the Executive Committee (in Stewardship Promotion) makes use of when promoting CP. At times in the past, perhaps that has put it “above criticism” in the eyes of many Southern Baptists. I think today with the rise of the Internet, quicker reporting of facts, and the increase of short-term mission trips, more people in the pews have ideas of what missionaries actually do (for better or worse) and this has hopefully led to greater accountability from churches and the trustees appointed to that agency. Knowledge is power, right? Dr. Chapman seems to have noticed this “darling” status in the past and isn’t real happy about it. One needs only to read his questions regarding Component Seven of the Task Force Report to see that his questions target not merely the monetary switch of 1% of the national budget from the EC to the IMB, but go further into making veiled accusations against the Mission Board itself.
He asks, “Did the GCTF review the IMB missions philosophy and practices in foreign countries prior to proposing the expansion of their reach without regard to any geographic limitations and proposing to transfer CP funding in the amount of $2 million from the SBC Operating Budget (SBC Executive Committee)?” In layman’s terms, this means, I think there is something inherently wrong with the IMB’s philosophy and practices that if anyone on the Task Force had understood, they would have not have given the IMB another nickel. It’s not as if he just asked about their philosophy, which would require some shift if they were allowed to help in North America with unreached people groups. He also deliberately mentions practices. He then asks, “Are the reported baptisms the direct result of SBC missionaries at work on a given field of service at the time of the baptisms?“.
Now this question certainly has a place. Many SBC-ers have asked whether the baptism numbers we receive internationally reflect the missionary’s direct work or the numbers of his national partners. But it has nothing to do with the GCRTF report. It is just a way to shed more doubt on the IMB to influence people to reject giving them a bigger slice of the pie. His third question under that same point carries the same amount of weight as the previous one–good question that needs to be asked, but irrelevant to the current discussion, and continuing to shed more doubt on the IMB. Lastly, he asks, “Are our alliances in church planting producing churches that reflect Southern Baptist beliefs or those of other faith traditions?” This doesn’t sound like honest inquiry (as Dr. Chapman has certainly been in position these last 18 years to have his questions answered), but casting more doubt on the IMB. The Task Force wants to give them more money? Well, do you know how seedy and underhanded the IMB really is? Can you really trust them?
Well, if you don’t know for sure now, you should probably leave this money with the EC to keep it safe. It has been well publicized that the IMB and the EC heads don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, but this line of questioning under this section clearly goes beyond the types of questions related to the issue of the GCR Component Seven and rather serves as a way to subtly air Dr. Chapman’s own issues with the IMB. Rather than arguing convincingly of why transferring the 1% would hurt the EC, he merely attempts to arouse suspicions toward the IMB, which would in turn result in money staying with EC.
2. The “Reductio ad Acts 29”
I’ve typically tried to avoid writing much about SBC and Acts 29 issues, simply because I have often found that those on each side of the debate who have researched and studied find themselves quickly overpowered by crazies with pitchforks and torches. But Dr. Chapman plays a sneaky game in his response that needs to be tossed out of consideration. Dr. Chapman goes after the use of the word “missional” under the recommended Component 1. He asks, “Other than being a modern “buzz” word, what does the idea of missional offer to us? Where has the word come from?” Fair question. It’s one that can easily be answered too. A simple search on the Internet might yield its origins, or someone could fill him in on the idea of “missional” vs. “attractional”, or give a quick call to Dr. Stetzer (who regardless if you love him or hate him- I think he’s a swell chap myself) who has studied the issue to levels that could almost nauseate the rest of us for a brief history and meaning. Does Dr. Chapman do that? No, apparently not. He goes a different route to identify its meaning, the “reductio ad Acts 29” as I call it. Rather than researching what the term means or asking TF members what they mean by it, he simply finds another group that has used the word and voila!, guilt by association, the TF is identified now as being Acts 29. And a simple Google search can show us how Baptist Press under Dr. Chapman’s lead view Acts 29.
The problem is that what the Task Force is proposing, especially in this vision component, has nothing to do with the Acts 29 issues. Now in fairness, Dr. Chapman does provide his readership with a link to the actual Acts 29 site where they can read for themselves about that network. That’s much better than the out-of-context smear campaign some have undergone. But I still wonder why he went there. Yes, they have the word “missional” in their core values. But shockingly, they also use the words “Christian” and “Evangelical”. I suppose we have to stop using those terms as well now? No, one might answer, these words have a history and a meaning that we can affirm, even if other groups that we don’t see eye-to-eye with or partner with (like Evangelical Presbyterians, for example) use these terms as well. Well, perhaps rather than seeing an opening to scare folks from considering the Task Force’s report with the Acts 29 boogeyman, a little research into the use of the term “missional” could have been undertaken before this response was posted. In a sense, this does little more than muddy the waters of the actual issues involved. And that goes whether you are Acts 29-friendly or hostile.
I want to re-iterate that though I don’t come to Dr. Chapman’s conclusions on every point, he has provided some valuable insights and asked some good tough questions throughout this response. We know that he would not have written these things if he did not genuinely have the best interests of the SBC in his heart, having given the last 18 years of his life to serving in the role of Executive Committee President and years in convention life before that. My disagreements expressed here relate to a couple of components of his report that sunk below the rest of his insights and provided a distraction from the main concerns he and the Task Force are bringing to our convention. I’m very thankful for his years of service and I sincerely hope that the SBC will honor that accordingly later this month.