GCRTF VIEWPOINT (Bob Terry): IMB deserves support, but gutting EC not wise

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)--Have you ever heard of a Southern Baptist capital needs budget? One only has to go back about a decade to recall the days when Southern Baptists regularly adopted an allocation budget and a capital needs budget.

Remembering that practice could be informative for today's discussion about what percentage of Southern Baptist Cooperative Program (CP) funds should be directed to the International Mission Board (IMB) because in those days, the IMB got less than half the total Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) CP receipts.

Southern Baptists have prided themselves on the fact that half of all SBC CP dollars are used for international missions. After all, that is in keeping with the original vision for the CP adopted in 1925. Cooperating churches were expected to forward 50 percent of their undesignated receipts to missions causes outside their local area through the CP. State conventions, which received the gifts from the churches, were asked to forward 50 percent of their receipts to the SBC for its work. The SBC was asked to forward 50 percent of its receipts to the IMB for work outside the United States.

Few churches, if any, were ever able to function on 50 percent of undesignated receipts, so few, if any, ever forwarded 50 percent of undesignated receipts for missions causes through the CP.

Today the average SBC-related church contributes less than 6 percent of its undesignated receipts to missions causes through the CP. Among Alabama Baptist churches, it is slightly more than 8 percent.

LARGEST CP RECIPIENT

Still the Alabama Baptist State Convention forwards 42.5 percent of CP receipts to support SBC missions efforts and the SBC channels 50 percent of its CP receipts to the IMB. That makes the IMB the largest recipient of CP receipts, getting more than $100 million of their $300 million budget from CP. This year, the figure is $102,192,796. By contrast, the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions receives $13.7 million. Southern Baptists' two largest seminaries -- Southwestern in Fort Worth, Texas, and Southern in Louisville, Ky. -- each receive about $9.7 million.

But during the era when Southern Baptists used two budgets, the IMB got a smaller percentage of the total receipts. In 1972, for example, the IMB got 45.3 percent of the combined allocation and capital needs budget goal (1972 SBC Annual). The percentage of the Allocation Budget was 54.26 percent, but the percentage of the combined budget goal was 45.3 percent.

In 1998–99, the IMB received 50 percent of the Allocation Budget but only 25 percent of the capital needs budget, dropping its percentage of total CP receipts below 50 percent (1998 SBC Annual).

The SBC no longer uses a capital needs budget, and 50 percent of all SBC CP receipts go to the IMB. Now the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force is recommending the goal for IMB CP support be increased from 50 percent to 51 percent. IMB President Jerry Rankin said the $2 million the change will produce is not as important as breaking the symbolic 50 percent allocations barrier faced by international missions.

Rankin points out that Southern Baptists have had three opportunities during his presidency to raise the percentage of CP funds going to international missions but have backed away from doing so each time. The first opportunity Rankin mentioned was the Covenant for a New Century, adopted in 1995. That led to the Home Mission Board, the Brotherhood Commission and the Radio and Television Commission being combined into the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Baptists were told the goal was to get more money to missions, but the budget figures question that claim.

In 1994, the year before the convention reorganization, the IMB and the three combined agencies received 74.24 percent of the SBC CP Allocation Budget. Under the reorganization, IMB and NAMB received 72.79 percent, or a drop of 1.49 percent. The big winners in the percentage shifts were the SBC seminaries. Their percentage increased more than 1 percent after the reorganization -- from 20.27 percent in the 1994–95 SBC budget to 21.40 percent in the 1998–99 budget. Despite the rhetoric, a smaller percentage of CP receipts went to the two mission boards than had gone to the combined boards, and Southern Baptists missed an opportunity to direct more CP funds to international missions.

When Southern Baptists withdrew from the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) in 2004, a second opportunity was missed. The nearly $500,000 earmarked for BWA was redirected to the SBC Executive Committee for a new program of international relations rather than being allocated to the IMB. In fairness, it must be acknowledged that the funds channeled to BWA went through the Executive Committee so the funds were already in that budget.

More recently, in 2007, GuideStone Financial Resources announced it would forego its allocation of about $1.5 million annually from the CP budget (0.76 percent). But instead of increasing the percentage given to the IMB, the funds were reallocated to other SBC entities. Again the big winners in the percentage shifts were the seminaries, which received a 0.52 percent increase. That amounted to more than $1 million annually. The remainder was divided between the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (0.16 percent, or $320,962) and the Executive Committee earmarked for stewardship development (0.08 percent, or $160,480). For the third time in 12 years, Southern Baptists adjusted the CP distribution formula but did not increase the percentage of CP dollars going to international missions. That is why Rankin calls the GCR Task Force recommendation of 51 percent a "symbolic victory."

PERCENTAGES CAN CHANGE

What is sometimes forgotten in discussions about budget allocations is that every time Southern Baptists make a budget, percentages can change. None are set in stone. The fact that the 1972–73 Allocation Budget forwarded 54.26 percent to international missions demonstrates the Executive Committee has the ability to recommend percentage changes above the 50 percent mark for consideration by SBC messengers. Of course, drastic changes make leadership of vital work difficult. Whenever changes are made, they must be done carefully with consideration to their impact for good and harm.

Moving from 50 percent to 51 percent does not sound like much of a move to most of us. Rankin called the $2 million difference more symbolic than substantive. But when the recommendation takes away 30 percent of one entity's budget -- in this case, the Executive Committee -- then one must ask about the potential negative consequences.

The 50 percent barrier for international missions can be broken any year a budget is made. The IMB deserves support. But adopting the recommendation to break the barrier by gutting the Executive Committee is not a wise move in this writer's judgment.


This article originally appeared in The Alabama Baptist.