Thursday, June 28, 2012

Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 3): Politics Over Purpose

In the past two posts, we’ve been reviewing the story of the fundamentalist takeover of the IMB, specifically the decision to require all missionaries to sign in affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. In Part 3 we will explore what came of one former IMB leader who dissented early on to the fundamentalists’ moves. Learning from his example, we will also describe and explore some options OBU graduates are taking and may explore further.
Post-Takeover SBC Missions (Part 4): Gender, Missions, and OBU

It appears from this story that Rankin and other fundamentalist SBC powerfuls believe that the faith of these missionaries (and the rest of us too, I suppose) stands or falls with their ability to sign in affirmation of a document like the 2000 BF&M in good conscience. The bottom line: politics took precedent over missions. That’s how fundamentalists like Rankin seem to roll nowadays. Sound familiar? Politics and doctrinal purity also take precedent over Christian liberal arts higher education, (see  OBU provost Stan Norman’s interview litmus test for professor openings at OBU recently). First they came for the seminaries. Then they came for the missionaries. Are we just around the corner at OBU from administrators requiring all faculty members in Herschel Hobbs School of Theology and Ministry to sign in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M to purify it in their quest for rigid doctrinal conformity? Actually, at the rate the current administration is replacing faculty members they may not even need to.

Keith Parks, IMB president until 1992 may have seen the events of 2002 coming. In October 2001, three months before Rankin sent out his letter “requesting” IMB missionaries to sign a document affirming the 2000 BF&M, John Pierce of Baptists Today covered a presentation by Parks to an organization of “mainstream” Georgia Baptists: “Doctrinal conformity, not missions, was the primary agenda of fundamentalists who captured control of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and '90s…. ‘They weren't thinking missions,’ [Parks said]. ‘They were thinking their political agenda.’”

After serving the IMB for 13 years, and leading the IMB into 40 new countries with nearly 4,000 missionaries, Parks resigned from the IMB presidency in 1991-92 as he faced pressure from increasingly fundamentalist agenda-pushing board of trustees. He moved on, staying true to his passion for missions and to his conscience, becoming a leader in the more mainstream Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. More about CBF’s global missions efforts later.

Parks was not the only IMB leader to experience pressure to conform or get out. An Oklahoman pastor at the time, Wade Burleson, joined the IMB board of trustees several years after the new policy for missionaries to sign the 2000 BF&M was implemented. For his criticism of some of the board’s policies and his public dissent, he was forced out. Christianity Today interviewed Burleson as well as the IMB board chairman in 2008.

It’s likely that many missions-minded OBU graduates are put off by the requirement to sign the 2000 BF&M in order to fulfill their calling toward missions. I know I was. (I had also been sickened and worn out by the all too close-to-home militant fundamentalist politics I had seen encroaching on OBU from 2009 onward…and this before I knew all this history that I just shared). I still found ways to serve, even with NAMB, that did not require me to sacrifice conscience in order to minister! Yes, some of my friends are also pursuing short-term and career opportunities in missions through IMB or NAMB, whose missionaries are still involved to my knowledge in tremendous ministries across the globe, including projects related to development and water security, orphanages and hospitals, promoting displaced women’s work, and of course church-planting, to name a few. But many more are pursuing other options.

For those OBU grads who are not Southern Baptist, who cannot sign in affirmation of the 2000 BF&M, who reject creedalism on principle, or feel they can serve better through other outlets there are many solid options. Other graduates and friends are going on to serve their communities and the globe through a variety of other outlets and organizations, including non-profits, church plants, organizations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators, and many others. One such outlet for ministry and missions is the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Christians and churches with which Parks became a leader after leaving the IMB presidency. I’m impressed by what I’ve learned of CBF and its clear vision for service, and I encourage those interested to read more. You can read more about their eight ministry areas here – I don’t recall learning about this organization in my Intro to Cross-Cultural Ministry course at OBU. 


  1. Caitlin, I would love for you to be able to speak with some dear friends of mine, a couple who served for more than two decades as foreign missionaries. Their children were reared on the foreign mission field, so it was "home" to them. My friends were persons of great integrity and had a deep love for those whom they ministered to. When they did not sign, they basically became "untouchables." With great heartache I have watched the lingering effects on their children and on the two missionaries. They are no longer in career ministry and struggled to survive financially upon their return, having lost all their retirement and support which had built up through their years in service. Their children were not given the opportunity to go through the normal cross-cultural classes with other MKs when they re-enter the US, and educational scholarships typically provided for MKs were no longer provided. What happened to that family, in my opinion, is unconscionable. I am glad that current missions-minded persons have a head's up to what the situation is, and can plan their vocational future accordingly. However, it is too late for my friends, who gave such a huge portion of their lives to service, then had the rug pulled out from under them, and were betrayed by the agency they trusted. Thanks so much for your column.

    1. Danette,

      Thank you very much for sharing with us the story of your friends. Reading what was done to them was heart-braking. Few of us realize the full implications for a missionary family of being abandoned by their agency. I have many MK friends all of whom benefited from the re-entry orientations and scholarships. I cannot imagine what the process must be like for "third culture" kids who have no such resources available to them. And to strip away a family's retirement, on top of completely undermining their home and ministry is indeed unconscionable. I am horrified.
      I hope the best for your friends, and all other missionary families who were adversely affected by these actions, despite the crime done against them.
      Something like this could very well happen to faculty at OBU down the road if current trends persist. If you feel so inclined, please share this series with any friends who would be interested.


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