Published March 17, 2010
DULUTH — Don’t mess with the Cooperative Program.
That’s the message Georgia Baptists are sending to the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force in the wake of the unveiling of their interim report on Feb. 22.
On March 16 the state convention went on record formally requesting the Task Force to strengthen its language assuring the Cooperative Program remains the dominant funding channel for Southern Baptist causes. In fact, the state convention, where the denomination was founded in 1845, goes so far as to ask the Task Force to “formally encourage and challenge local churches specifically to increase their support and sacrificial giving through the Cooperative Program.”
The 483-word document, with three sub-sections, was unanimously approved by the state convention’s Executive Committee during regular session. In doing so it becomes the first state convention to address the 32-page report by the Task Force. Read the entire GBC document here and the entire Task Force document here.
The report, which is undergoing intense scrutiny before being released in its final form on May 3, suggests six areas for making the Southern Baptist Convention more responsive and efficient. One of those, Component 5, deals with how Southern Baptists fund their worldwide missions efforts, both at home and abroad.
While Task Force members maintain that the CP will remain the primary funding mechanism, Georgia Baptists fear the new option will give denominational blessing to churches that want to bypass the historic funding channel in favor of a societal approach. And that is what was at the heart of the GBC Executive Committee response.
Executive Committee members fear a watering down of the Cooperative Program if “Cooperative Program Giving” is regarded as only equal to designated giving. The document states its concern that “wide application of the phrase ‘Great Commission Giving’ for monies given through the Cooperative Program as well as to designated causes may cause some Baptists to surmise wrongly that the Cooperative Program is merely a subset of giving instead of the primary means of missions giving for Southern Baptists.”
The governing committee then requests the Task Force to consider more appropriate terminology that “may bring clarity to the GCRTF’s desire to keep the Cooperative Program as the central means of support for Great Commission ministries, while still acknowledging the important role that designated gifts play in mission support.”
It concludes by asking the Task Force to increase its verbal commitment to encourage churches to consider the Cooperative Program as the primary giving channel and not as an option.
Executive Committee members fear churches will shift their funding from the Cooperative Program and begin directly funding SBC causes that make the best argument for their support. But GBC executive director and Task Force Committee member J. Robert White reminded SBC agencies in his comments that agencies that accept CP funds and then make funding requests of churches are in direct violation of the denomination’s Business and Finance Plan.
Agencies can’t have it both ways, he stressed.
In the last week in articles in The Christian Index, Baptist Press, and released by email to 6,436 GCR prayer partners on March 15, White said that it is “absolutely essential that the boards of trustees of our entities exercise strict control over their entities to see that direct solicitation among our churches does not happen. Such solicitation is a direct threat to the very existence of the Cooperative Program.”
White has established himself as a longtime proponent of the Cooperative Program and is considered a senior statesmen on the topic. Executive Committee members indicated that they wanted White to communicate their expressed convictions about Component Five to the GCR Task Force. He promised to represent their sentiments as effectively as possible at the group’s next meeting on April 26 in Nashville.
The Executive Committee is hoping that the Task Force will write the stronger affirmation of the Cooperative Program into their final document which will be unveiled on May 3. That will be the document messengers will vote on at this year’s annual convention meeting in Orlando on June 15-16.
The fear of churches redirecting their historic giving away from the Cooperative Program toward designated giving is made even more clear in the first candidate to be nominated for SBC president in Orlando at the convention’s annual meeting.
Georgia pastor Bryant Wright, a longtime supporter of the primary funding channel, has stated his intentions of shifting more funds to designated giving. In a story posted March 13 at www.christianindex.org, he explained how his congregation, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, has methodically reduced its CP giving from 10 percent to 3.5 percent.
Georgia Baptist pastors and laymen who compose the state convention’s Executive Committee are concerned such examples send the wrong message to churches who will see a loophole in the Task Force document to make similar end-runs around the historic funding channel.
A more detailed accounting of the GBC Executive Committee meeting will appear in the March 25 issue of The Index.
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