Last week Baptist Press reported that “Amid continuing discussion of churches’ escrowing or withholding Cooperative Program funds, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee launched two efforts to study the issue at its Feb. 20-21 meeting in Nashville.”
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX recently announced that they would be escrowing $1 million dollars while they evaluate future support of Southern Baptist Convention causes. The announced concerns were related to “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.” We’ve discussed this quite a bit here at SBC Voices over the last couple weeks. You can find some of these articles here, here, here, and here.
Certainly the situation at Prestonwood is by far the most significant known occurrence of a church escrowing Cooperative Program funds. But apparently there are other churches who have contacted the Executive Committee to let them know that they have done or are considering doing something similar. So the Executive Committee is responding by launching a couple study committees.
I judge this to be an appropriate response. I agree with Executive Committee chairman Stephen Rummage who said, “The issues behind [churches’] escrowing funds have risen to a level of prominence that justifies us taking a special look.” Sticking our head in the sand and ignoring the problem won’t solve anything.
One of the charges often lobbed against our entities is that they do no listen to the churches. Well, the Executive Committee is listening. They want to understand why churches have made the decisions that they have made, and they want to see if there is a way that reconciliation can occur.
I’ve talked about the Executive Committee’s actions some with a friend since the news broke. He argues that the Executive Committee is rewarding bad behavior. He feels that Jack Graham and Prestonwood are making a power play with their money and that the Executive Committee is falling in line by launching this study committee.
I understand his concern. We do not want to send a message that the way to get your way in the Southern Baptist Convention is to withhold funds. Using your money to get what you want should never be the way God’s people do business.
But what happens if the Executive Committee ignores Prestonwood and the other churches that are planning to do the same thing? They will feel like they have not been heard. They will feel like no one cares about their churches and their contributions. There will be no reconciliation, and these churches will take their missions dollars elsewhere.
That’s the conundrum. The Southern Baptist Convention is a cooperative effort. It requires cooperation. And when there are issues, cooperation means that we are willing to listen. That doesn’t mean that we have to agree with all of the concerns that others may raise. It doesn’t even mean that we submit to whatever it is that they want. But it does mean that we are at least willing to listen with the hope that there can be reconciliation.
So I for one am glad that the Executive Committee will be looking into this. I hope they can develop an understanding of what is going on and come up with a way forward that is satisfactory to all involved. So let’s applaud their efforts, and pray they are successful.