Monday, January 23, 2012

Money Monday: The Cooperative Program and the Great Recession

As everyone knows, the economic contraction that began in 2007 has been the worst in generations.  Churches and denominations, like families and businesses, have been hit hard.  Budgets have shrunk, contributions are down, and tough decisions have to be made.

The Georgia Baptist Convention, situated in a state with above average unemployment, has particularly struggled to fund ministry priorities and meet obligations to the SBC.  Oklahoma's employment and housing valuation statistics are not as bad as most of the rest of the nation.  Thus, the BGCO has had a somewhat easier time funding ministries and missions.  Of course, state convention elites are under tremendous pressure from Nashville to fund the SBC at the highest possible level.

Yet whether states are struggling a lot or a little, Baptist leaders have thus far been unwilling to defund the colleges and universities they subsidize and control.  We have already discussed how the BGCO's huge OBU subsidy cuts into what it can spend on evangelism and collegiate ministries at 35 other colleges in Oklahoma.

Baptist state conventions operate 51 colleges, most of which have endowments running into the tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars.  These institutions raise, on average, close to 95% of their revenue on their own.  Yet because the conventions contribute 5 or 6% and control the colleges through the trustee selection process, these schools are descending headlong into fundamentalism.  OBU is not unique in this case.  But fundamentalists will never relinquish control, no matter how small their contribution and no matter how bad the economy gets.  In fact, they will only partner with organizations they can completely dominate and control.  (Note the SBC's withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance, the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, and other interdenominational and ecumenical arrangements since the Fundamentalist Takeover.)

Even though academic freedom, open inquiry, and the liberty of the conscience are now at odds with Baptist elites' agenda, they still pay the price to maintain control of these schools.  Even though the economy is in a once-in-a-lifetime recession, they still happily throw millions and millions of dollars to institutions with eight and nine figure endowments.  Even as ministry professionals at state convention offices are laid off and budgets are drastically cut, fundamentalist leaders are still happy to subsidize Baptist colleges with huge annual institutional welfare checks.

Why?  Because it's a great deal for them.  They get 100% of the power for providing only 6 or 7% of the revenue!  Unfortunately, it's a horrible deal for everyone else, not least for the Baptist clergy and laypeople who care less about waging ideological warfare and more about impacting lostness.  I would argue that Baptist elites' continued insistence on buying institutional power and control on the cheap calls into question their professed concern about lostness.

(These Baptist universities, where 99% of students and 100% of faculty are already Christians, may be [to varying degrees] good training grounds, but they are not impacting lostness and they certainly are not doing so efficiently.  Here in Oklahoma, we already know that the robust Falls Creek program has much more to do with Oklahoma Baptists' contributions to the missionary ranks than OBU.  It's also fascinating to note that most of the pastors who please the BGCO elites are state school grads who went to Southwestern Seminary.  A startling proportion of OBU grads, on the other hand, went to moderate seminaries, are ministering outside Oklahoma, and/or comprise the moderate faction of Oklahoma Baptist life the BGCO leaders love to hate!  It's also interesting to note how few BCM leaders statewide came from OBU.)

In these difficult times, you couldn't blame Baptist leaders for saying to the colleges: "Look, you guys are sitting on huge endowments.  Our receipts are down.  We need to significantly cut back on our subsidies to you."  But instead, they are cutting staff, starving vital ministry areas, and doing whatever is necessary to keep institutional welfare flowing to the colleges.  Just remember, it's not about ministry, friends.  It's about control.  And even in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, the price is so cheap they just can't help themselves.

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