It should not surprise any observer of Southern Baptist matters that there has always been a market for fake news among us, mainly through unofficial outlets like blogs, blog comments and the like. While I am probably not informed enough to offer an exhaustive list of fake SBC news items, these below are some of the more current and prominent ones. I welcome any additions to the list
The Cooperative Program is Dead or Dying
The Cooperative Program provided over $478 million for the state conventions and SBC entities in the latest figures available. At almost half a billion the CP is certainly not dead. Our venerable flagship cooperative giving program is slightly declining and has been for years. To say it is “dead” is fake news, flatly inaccurate. To say that it is “dying” is to cast the trend in a negative manner. Let’s say the trend lines are almost flat but slightly declining.
The International Mission Board went bankrupt.
As was widely noted, our largest and most important entity, The International Mission Board, was running steady deficits for years until last year. The overspending totaled the staggering sum of $210 million in the period 2009-2015. If bankrupt, the Board would be out of money and unable to pay its debts and obligations. They were not bankrupt. Obligations were met by use of reserve funds and receipts from overseas property sales. Those who declare the IMB “bankrupt” are purveyors of fake news.
The International Mission Board had to fire hundreds of missionaries.
The IMB reduced its personnel numbers by 1,132 by early last year. Overseas workers made up 983 of this total. IMB leader, David Platt, said “This [personnel reduction] process remained entirely voluntary for all IMB missionaries,” he said. “No IMB missionary has been required to leave the field during this time. IMB missionaries have been encouraged to make a transition off of the field only if they sense the Lord leading them to do so.”
Not a single IMB missionary was involuntarily terminated, fired, released, or sacked. Some official outlets like to do a bit of tendentious reporting and will describe missionaries as being “terminated” and that they received “pink slips.”
It is fake news to say that IMB fired missionaries. There were 30 stateside staff in the media section who were laid off, involuntarily. Not a single missionary though.
The North American Mission Board is planting Presbyterian churches.
Anti-Calvinists in the SBC sometimes offer this bit of fake news. NAMB only plants SBC churches, churches that subscribe to the Baptist Faith and Message Statement and support the Cooperative Program. Church planters must agree to this list of NAMB expectations. In 2012 NAMB adopted guidelines on networking with other groups. I am unaware that any of these have been rescinded. If critics wish to reclassify this bit of fake news the simple solution is to track NAMB plants that affiliated with Presbyterian bodies once NAMB funding expired and the pastor an church were no longer bound by NAMB guidelines. Until then, fake news.
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and IMB conspired to help construct a mosque.
The ERLC and IMB joined a lawsuit against a New Jersey township which denied a building permit to a group who wanted to build a mosque. The friend-of-the-court document included Brief of American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Center for Islam and Religious Freedom, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Muslim Bar Association of New York, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Association of Evangelicals, New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association, Queens Federation of Churches, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sikh Coalition, South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey, South Asian Bar Association of New York, and Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey. The IMB later apologized for the “divisive” brief citing a desire to keep focus on their main mission.
The underlying issue with the mosque was denial of a permit for zoning reasons and was ruled unconstitutional, a denial of free exercise clause of the First Amendment. The federal district ruling said that the township “improperly applied different legal standards to a mosque simply because it is a mosque.” The ERLC and IMB considered it a religious freedom issue. Frank Page is quoted as saying, Cooperative Program funds are used to further Southern Baptists’ singular purpose — to reach as many men, women, boys and girls as possible with the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Page said. “We have never been asked for CP gifts to be used for the construction of any non-Christian house of worship; nor would we agree to such a request. In an age of satirical websites and fake news stories, Southern Baptists can know with confidence that claims to the contrary are spurious reports.”
While some Southern Baptists object to our ERLC or others joining in an effort to support religious liberty, we are taking the right course on this. Regardless of differences of opinion on the ERLC’s religious liberty mission and how it is carried out, to frame this particular matter as the SBC helping build a mosque is fake news.
State Conventions keep less than half of all monies received by the churches
This falls more into the category of spinning the news rather than fake news. A statement sometimes heard from the larger state convention leaders is, “We forward to the SBC more of the receipts we receive from the churches than we keep in our state.” States currently keep an average of about 62% of every Cooperative Program dollar they receive from the churches. The two large mission offerings taken by most SBC churches, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, are typically sent to their state office to be forwarded to the proper entity. These are designated offerings, never intended to be kept by the state an used. The state is the forwarding agent for the money. Add the two together and the state conventions do keep less than half of all monies received from the churches. State convention leaders, sensitive to the complaints that too much CP money is spent in-state, don’t mind finding a way to subtly communicate something different.
The new giving category Great Commission Giving has hurt the Cooperative Program
Those who posit the above do so as an opinion because there is no evidence, data that prove the point. At the SBC level designated giving has exceeded CP giving for several years. As a statistic, aggregate GCG giving for all SBC churches is virtually worthless, since some state conventions do do even ask churches for GCG on their annual church profile.
The opinions of GCG critics are interesting but it is fake news to state that GCG has harmed CP.
I’ll not touch the most obvious, typical, and common bit of fake news heard in SBC churches. That would be the pastor talking about his average worship or Sunday School attendance.