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Counting MoneyI recently went to breakfast with a pastor friend. As we were eating we started talking about SBC politics, and so he told me about a couple who had been visiting his church for several weeks. This couple seemed really interested in joining the church. Yet, they told the pastor, "we really love your church and would like to join, but we just can't in good conscience be involved in a church that isn't missions minded." My friend was puzzled because his church is heavily involved in missions. They send out dozens of teams on short term trips, give lots of money to mission causes, and are involved in church plants and mission projects at the local, state, national, and international levels. How in the world could someone charge this church with not being missions-minded? By "missions-minded," this couple had a very specific idea in mind. They held in their hands a report of the state's churches and the amounts they gave to the Cooperative Program (CP). The report said that this church doesn't give any money to the CP.
      My friend was confused. His church does give money to the CP. His church gives money through the state convention. When he began to try and piece together exactly what was going on, this is what he discovered: because his church designates their CP gifts, they don't get credit for "CP" giving. 
      This church was concerned about a particular state Baptist college that doesn't have inerrantists teaching on the faculty, so when they give to the CP they simply ask that none of their money be given to this state college. Because they designate, even what might be considered the smallest of amounts, they don't get credit for giving through the CP (disclaimer: state conventions are autonomous and each determines how they treat CP and other funds). This church does get credit for giving to "Southern Baptist causes," but they don't get credit for giving to the CP. Therefore, in the mind of at least one couple, they are not missions-minded!

 This story is one illustration of a growing debate in the SBC. How should we count CP giving? The Executive Committee (EC) of the SBC was asked by the convention to define CP giving at the 2006 meeting in Greensboro and came back this year with Recommendation #12 which states:

The Cooperative Program (CP) is Southern Baptists' unified plan of giving through which cooperating Southern Baptist churches give a percentage of their undesignated receipts in support of their respective state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries.

    This recommendation did pass, but there was much debate surrounding it. According to this definition, it is only when a church gives a percentage of their undesignated receipts through their state convention that their money is considered part of the CP. Those churches who do not give through the state convention for whatever reason, be it doctrinal or practical, are not considered  churches that support the CP (interestingly, if they give the amount required to "SBC causes" they can still send messengers).

    The EC insisted that this has always been the definition of the CP. In fact, they stated this on at least 3 occasions during the debate. I will paraphrase Dr. Chapman's comments which clarified the definition:

The CP has always been considered a process, a delivery system through the state to the SBC and that is what it is today with or without this definition. It is the responsibility of the SBC as a body in annual meeting to change that process if it deems necessary. Because you have not instructed us to do otherwise we promote giving through the state convention and some on to the SBC…(emphasis mine). Only what comes through the state to the EC is considered CP. There are churches that insist on giving directly to Southern Baptist missions, the CP, when a church insists it is the authority in Southern Baptist life and we are there to serve. We do receive the funding, but it is recorded at the EC as "SBC Causes." It still goes through the CP but doesn't count as CP per se on the books of the EC.

    I want to briefly analyze Dr. Chapman's statements and make a few observations:
1) This has always been the definition of the CP, but is just now being affirmed. As Dr. Chapman and Michael Lewis made clear, this recommendation simply codifies what has always been the standard practice. The only thing that has changed as a result of this definition is perhaps people understand the process better (I know I do). What is new with this definition is that the Executive Committee and the SBC as a body have endorsed this definition which has traditionally been driven by the state conventions.

2) I am afraid that too many state conventions take literally his words when he says that churches are to give through the state convention and give "some" on to the SBC. That is exactly why this has become a problem because the "some" is being defined as less and less. The average percentage in recent years that all state conventions have passed on to the CP is between 36 and 37%!
3) It sounds like Dr. Chapman is saying "if your church does not want to support the state convention for whatever reason (liberal colleges, keeping too much money in state and not sending enough to our Southern Baptist entities, etc.) we as the EC will take the money, cash the check, use the money in support of the CP but you won't receive any CP credit for it." In other words, your church will be a contributor to "SBC Causes," but not a supporter of the CP!

    It is true that this has always been the definition of CP giving and does not really change anything per se. However, there do seem to be some scary trends and possibilities emerging:
     First, the convention is being led to a standard of giving for convention service. Last year at the 2006 meeting in Greensboro a messenger attempted to amend an EC recommendation that urged faithful support of the CP to make 10% a benchmark necessary for convention service. There was an ad hoc committee made up of state directors and EC leaders who originally had this language in the recommendation, but 10% was not in the recommendation when it actually was brought before the floor. The SBC voted down the amendment and voted for Recommendation #7 in the form brought to the floor. This year the EC has taken a smaller bite, but is working their way toward a standard of giving.
    It seems that one possible reason for such a recommendation is leverage when one wants to use a church's CP giving as a criterion for nominating officers, committee members, and trustees. It appears the leadership of the EC wants to disqualify for service those who belong to churches whose CP giving is below the nominal standard and motivate all churches to come up to that standard. What this means is: if a church chooses not to give through their state convention or opts to designate their gifts for any reason, then they are painted as not supporting the CP and not being traditionally Southern Baptist. The church's members will not get to participate on boards. If a church's member wants to run for president of the convention, he will be criticized in stump speeches that say you can't spell SBC without the C and the P. This means that solidly conservative churches who are giving large amounts to support cooperation among Southern Baptists will not be able to have their members serve in leadership capacities in the SBC, even though their churches may give liberally to the convention. Many churches choose to bypass giving through their state conventions because they want more money in the hands of our missionaries, seminaries, etc. These churches want less money in the hands of state conventions that fund professors who are wolves in sheep's clothing, leading college students away from the faith. They want less money going towards the "fat" that characterizes how many state conventions operate. They want their money going toward missions, not toward supporting state convention bureaucracies and ambiguously Christian colleges. This trend will mean that members of churches with these kinds of convictions will not be able to serve, even though these churches might actually give to the CP and their money be used by the EC.

      Second, it could mean more state conventions being formed. Bart Barber has already pointed this out on his blog. See here. 
      Third, it could mean some SBC churches de-funding the CP! This would happen in some because they want to support SBC causes without supporting their particular state conventions. This is obviously not something that the EC intended with the definition, but it could be a real effect of its definition of the CP. Also, while the EC thought (or hoped) this recommendation would deter the trend toward designated giving, it might backfire with churches seeking other avenues of missionary participation apart from the SBC, rather than going against their conscience.
      Finally, this recommendation is pushing our convention further down the road of defining cooperation in terms of money and not doctrine. The biggest problem with this trend and how we currently define cooperative giving is it threatens greatly the return to orthodoxy in our entities! The conservative resurgence fought for unity around doctrine, not program.
 This is the bottom line: we need to have a discussion about how we fund Southern Baptist causes. We are not connectional. State Baptist conventions are autonomous from the Southern Baptist Convention. We need to be clear that Cooperative Program giving, which by definition includes monetarily supporting a state convention, may rightly be necessary for one to serve in one's state, but it is not a prerequisite to serving in a leadership position in the SBC. All that should matter for one to serve the SBC, at least from a financial standpoint, is that a church give generously to support Southern Baptist causes. And a church can most assuredly do that without giving through the CP. If we do not settle this issue in the near future, it could potentially lead to some disastrous results in the SBC. Obviously a trend towards more designated giving threatens to undo the CP, so there is little doubt the Executive Committee thought it was defining and defending the CP when it proposed Recommendation 12. It would be a shame if the EC, in their zeal to protect the CP, has led us down a path that ultimately undermines the freedom and ability of Southern Baptist churches to financially support the many wonderful ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.

(special thanks to Dr. Greg Wills at SBTS and Nathan Finn at SEBTS for their insight into the workings of the CP)

 Jon Akin

Ethics and the SBC (Part 3)

In my last post, I discussed what I believe to be the basic approach to moral instruction/moral theology/ethics in the typical, conservative SBC church. I described it as the historical theory of deontological ethics, and then I brought out some of the critiques of deontology. In this post, I will discuss where I believe some SBC churches and many mainline denominations are heading in moral theology. These directions, I believe, are directly influenced by the culture in which we live.

The first direction I see is the path of utilitarianism. In my opinion, utilitarianism serves as the guiding principle for how ethics is done in the Western world. Utilitarianism seeks to provide the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people. Initially introduced by Epicurus, utilitarianism found its greatest exponents in Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Bentham describes the principle of utility as follows: "By the Principle of Utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question." (Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, chap. 1, par. 2). Utilitarianism is employed through the use of "moral calculus" which requires the decision-maker to determine which action will bring the greatest amount of utility to the greatest number. Since there is no uniform way to quantify utility, the decision-maker is faced with a subjective choice between two or more options. Utilitarianism, though a system of ethics in itself, is little more than another form of deontology. The difference is that there is only one rule—do the most good for the most people.

Utilitarianism is how our government works. What program will give the most support to the most number? Legislate that one. Now, of course, I am not naïve enough to believe that politicians do not have their own personal agendas and that their end goal is not to look out for ol’ number 1. Yet, utilitarianism is typically our expectation of the government, and now it is infiltrating our churches. Church members expect the pastor to "meet the needs" of the most number of people in his sermons. They expect the music minister to increase the pleasure of the majority by picking songs, hymns, or styles of music that meet the personal preferences of the majority. They expect the programs of the church to reach the needs of the most number of people (i.e., let’s sacrifice the needs of the elderly for the needs of the young adults because there aren’t many elderly left—of course this example could be just as easily reversed; or let’s neglect the minority communities in our area because we are mostly a "white" church). Gone are the concepts of sacrifice and service—slaughtered on the altar of utilitarianism. I am not suggesting that utilitarianism is being taught in the SS classroom or from the pulpit. I am saying that it is the dominant system of ethics by which many act in the church.

Another movement of ethics that has infiltrated our churches is much more subtle, but perhaps much more dangerous. This one is the communitarian ethics movement. This system of ethics is much less defined than deontology, virtue, natural law, or utilitarianism. It is amorphous because it is attached, in part, to postmodernism. Communitarian ethics asserts that the ethical mores of a group are established by the community. What constitutes a community? At this stage it appears any group of two or more people could be deemed a community. This system takes into account that various cultural groups could have different moral standards that they have developed through their own rational (or irrational) worldviews. This accounts for how cannibalism could be an accepted practice in the remote jungles of South America, but the Western world sees it as an atrocity.

From a Christian perspective, communitarian ethics has found it greatest proponents in Stanley Hauerwas and the late Stanley Grenz. It rears its head not so much in the poor ethical standards of those in the church, but instead in the response of the Christian to the culture when morality is out of whack. Take for example the homosexual marriage debate. The communitarian in the church is the one who says, "I would never support homosexual marriage personally, but who am I to tell another group of people what they should and should not do?" In making such a statement, this person is validating the idea that (at least) two separate moralities coexist in his world without opposition or contradiction. The subjectivity of this approach is debilitating to the Christian message, and completely shreds any sense of cultural impact for the church and the gospel.

Where do we go from here? What do we teach our children in the home and in the church? What can our SBC churches do to stem the tide of these movements? Those items will be the content of part 4 in this series.