IMB trustees terminate service of 13 for refusal to affirm BF&M
FRAMINGHAM, Mass. (BP)--After a May 5 deadline came and went, trustees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, meeting May 6-8 in Framingham, Mass., terminated the service of 13 missionaries who refused to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message.
The board also accepted the resignations of 20 workers who cited the faith statement of the Southern Baptist Convention as a factor in their decision to resign. In addition, 10 other missionaries chose to take early retirement with full benefits instead of affirming the BF&M.
"We regret that any of our missionaries have chosen to resign rather than affirm the faith statement, but we feel it is time to move forward and keep our focus on sharing Christ with a lost world," International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin said. "We do not want anything to deter us from moving steadfastly toward completing the unfinished task of fulfilling the Great Commission."
Nearly 99 percent of Southern Baptists' 5,500 overseas missionaries have affirmed the 2000 BF&M.
"We are grateful that these missionary personnel currently serving and sent out in the last two years have readily endorsed the SBC confession of faith," Rankin said. "It is not appropriate to expect Southern Baptists to support those who are not willing to work in accord with what the denomination confesses to believe. To do so would undercut the credibility and confidence in the IMB as a denominational mission entity serving Southern Baptists."
IMB trustees have continued to roundly endorse Rankin's request.
"This is not a one-man decision," Bob Claytor, chairman of the board of trustees, said. "The SBC family has been in strong agreement concerning our statement of faith. Our board reflects that agreement and 99 percent of our missionaries are also in strong agreement."
Missionaries were first asked by Rankin through a letter to reaffirm the BF&M in January 2002. In the letter, Rankin said that affirming the current statement would help the agency "move beyond a continuing and potentially damaging issue that could distract us from our mission task, unnecessarily create suspicion on the part of some and erode the support of you and the IMB."
In April of this year, Rankin asked all overseas missionaries who had not yet affirmed the BF&M to make their decisions by May 5. He appealed to the workers to either promise to work in harmony with the faith statement or tender their resignations by that date.
During 2002, 34* other missionaries resigned citing the BF&M as a factor in their decision. As of this month's meeting, the total number of missionaries refusing to affirm the faith statement stands at 77.
The IMB has 5,500 missionaries serving among 1,497 people groups around the world. Missionary attrition was not significantly higher than usual in 2002, though some observers predicted an exodus of missionaries over the Baptist Faith and Message issue. The attrition rate in 2002 was 5.2 percent, only .1 percent higher than 2001 and squarely in the middle of the range since 2000.
The board is not releasing names of any of the missionaries involved.
Southern Baptists have always expected missionary beliefs to reflect the beliefs of the churches that send and support them, Rankin said. All missionaries on the field made a similar affirmation of earlier versions of the Baptist Faith and Message when they were appointed.
The affirmation process allows a worker to note minor disagreements based on the Bible and continue to serve, as long as the missionary promises to work in accordance with and not contrary to the faith statement.
* revised number, based on final tabulation by overseas operations staff