Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 2): Resistance Was Futile

Part 2 – In this post, we continue the story of the fundamentalist take-over of the IMB, specifically the decision to require all missionaries to sign in affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. We will see the consequences, and we will see just how honest Rankin was about the rationale and consequences of this move.
Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 3): Politics Over Purpose
Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 4): Gender, Missions, and OBU

Now of course it’s not a bad idea to have general standards of doctrine for those who are employed by the IMB and sent across the world for the purpose of sharing their beliefs. However, these individuals already go through a litany of other procedures during the process to become missionaries with the IMB: documenting their own life journeys, writing confessions of faith, multiple interviews, training, etc. Not only that, but the requirement to sign any document like the one affirming the 2000 BF&M did not exist until 2002. Former IMB president Keith Parks (1981-1992) explained how Rankin’s policy is different from previous precedent. Parks told the Baptist Standard that, “Previously, SBC missionaries were asked in the interview process if they were in ‘substantial agreement’ with the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message.”

Now missionaries are being asked to sign in affirmation of the document. Furthermore, they are also being asked, Rankin told the Baptist Standard, to conduct their ministry work “‘in accordance with’ the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.”

Tom Daniel, a former IMB missionary who refused to sign the 2000 BF&M wrote this:

In the Spring of 2002, the International Mission Board asked personnel to respond to 2 related issues: belief consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message; and signing an affidavit binding one's future ministry to its contents. The issues differ, as one is related to content of BFM and the other is related to freedom to interpret the leadership of the Holy Spirit (whether according to the whole counsel of God or the SBC-approved statement of faith).

The more I learn about this, I’m not only upset but baffled by this change in policy. These devoted missionaries already go through a litany of application and confirmation procedures, take leaps of faith to devote their lives to ministry, and many of them put their lives at risk. Why in addition ask our missionaries to sign the 2000 BF&M when their selection process is already so careful, intimate, and involved? Many missionaries, especially now in the day of the church-planting movement, are themselves pastors of international churches – so how can they be required to affirm this confession when no pastors stateside are? Rankin could argue all he wanted that this new policy was not a doctrinal litmus test for the IMB’s missionaries in an effort to further the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. However, the effect of the policy is still to actualize the controversial 2000 BF&M with all its political baggage in the ministries of each of these missionaries and at the same time to purify the IMB from missionaries who do not conform to the fundamentalist-crafted creed-like document.

In February of 2002, Rankin had told the press that it was only “pure speculation” that missionaries who refused to sign it would be terminated. But Rankin turned their speculation into reality (which he and the IMB board of trustees probably intended from the outset). The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) recognized the new policy for what it was, even creating a transition fund to help support missionaries who might lose their jobs because they could not sign it.

A year and four months later, the IMB then issued a May 5, 2003 deadline for missionaries to affirm the BF&M, according to a 2003 Christianity Today article from that month.

Tragically, missionaries were indeed terminated for their refusal to sign in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M. Christianity Today reported that by May 2003 thirteen missionaries had been fired and thirty missionaries had resigned or retired early. These numbers would rise.

Rankin’s response was brutal: “These missionaries are supported by Southern Baptist churches and should at least be willing to conduct their work in basic agreement with what Southern Baptists confess they believe.” Really? Is the 2000 BF&M really what all churches who freely affiliate with the SBC and who send funds to support missionaries “confess they believe”? Such a proposition is preposterous. The BF&M in any version has never a rallying point or a unifying creed for SBC churches. And far from being a document solely highlighting Baptist distinctive and beliefs, the 2000 BF&M was a controversial document to begin with which, as noted previously, the Baptist General Convention of Texas had actually rejected altogether.

Many of these terminated or resigned missionaries raised poignant and legitimate questions to Rankin and his of the board of trustees, such as:

§  How can the elite group of people at a convention of who crafted the 2000 BF&M claim to represent all Southern Baptists? Furthermore, how can that one document be the measure of our devotion to missions and common Baptist ideals?
§  Are not our consciences free before God and not subject to human beings?
§  How can they ask us to sign a document written by humans and revised already three times in the lifetime of some of these missionaries?
§  What gives SBC powerfuls the notion that they can use us as pawns in their political games?

Rankin wrote one missionary couple, the Dixons, that they were being terminated. He wrote that it was because of their “unwillingness to be accountable to Southern Baptists who send and support.” The Dixons responded in an open letter:  “Does the Holy Spirit Himself act always ‘in accordance with and not contrary to the current Baptist Faith and Message?’…We need only witness events in China to discover that He does not: women serving as pastors, evangelists, church planters!”  You can read the rest of their open response to Rankin here: You also can find a list of the missionaries who were terminated or resigned early and read more of their stories, including open letters to Rankin and IMB trustees here [1].

Those missionaries who have signed in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M of course should not be judged. They acted as their consciences and faith permitted.

 I also respect the right of fundamentalists to hold their beliefs – but not their militancy. I think I understand their beliefs and where they’re coming from. But fundamentalism, similar to the 2000 BF&M itself, was constructed in terms of very American issues, a century old knee-jerk reaction to liberal theology and the perceived threat of modernism. As a missionary couple who refused to sign it noted, the BF&M is “culturally biased” and “culturally constructed” document! Many missionaries wanted to know how they can be expected to sign, much less conduct their future ministries according to such a document.

 But the militancy of leaders like those in the IMB lust after conformity and drive them to push for doctrinal rigidity especially in what should be non-essentials. This ideological warfare against traditional Baptist freedoms and against moderates (and really against even non-fundamentalist conservatives too) must stop.

What do these tragic bits of recent history have to do with us? I think the connections are drawn easily enough by our readership – those same militant leaders are gaining increasing control over OBU. As we’ve seen in the last couple years at OBU and through the documentation of this blog, this ideological warfare against non-fundamentalists is not merely a distant threat. It’s knocking down the doors on Bison Hill, which is why we’re trying to learn from history and be an advocate for OBU excellence before it’s too late for academic freedom and liberal arts high education.

For additional reading about this event, scroll to the bottom of this page for a list of articles.


  1. I hardly agree with any of the blogs on here, however this one was well put. I lean towards the "fundamentalist", I believe a change was needed in the SBC, however the way it was done was wrong in many aspects.
    I agree with the BFM 2000, however I disagree that a missionary should be fired simply because they won't sign an agreement to it. As long as a Christian believes in the essentials of the historical Christian Faith, that's what matters, all other issues are secondary.
    I grew up in a Church that was BGCT, our pastor was conservative theologically, yet he was branded as a liberal by some within the fundamentalist movement simply because he believed in Church Freedom. With that said, he did not compromise.
    I believe many on the fundamentalist side are legalistic and many on the liberal (some known as moderate) compromise. The only way the SBC will be what it's called to be is if it holds to the historic Christian faith and does what God has called each Christ follower to do, preach the gospel.

  2. What's so odd about the whole project of the SBC in the last twenty years is how many conservative Baptists have been affected by the convention's "Conservative Resurgence." I know the Dixons. David's father and mother were members of the church I grew up in. His son Daniel and I were pen pals briefly when I was in grade school. When they returned to Texas for furlough, we listened to them speak and played with their children. When my brother lost his passport in Madrid in 2006, they were able to contact the U.S. Embassy to keep him from being deported back to Africa (where he was just leaving after a summer of missions work).

    Nothing would make them unfit for the current climate in the SBC except their very Baptist belief that there is no creed but the Bible.

  3. Clayton, good point. It is pretty sad. I have nothing against the BFM 2000. I agree with everything it says, however when a missionary is forced to sign it, that's when I draw the line.
    I will say, I have no problems with professors or Christian educators signing a statement saying they affirm historic Christian Doctrine, however they should not be forced to sign a creed.
    Also, I have met several of the leaders within the conservative resurgence and I have nothing but respect for them. Many are Godly men who loved God and want to see people come to Christ, I just disagree with the way they came into leadership.


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