By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MORRISTOWN – A Tennessee Baptist church that announced in January that it would escrow Cooperative Program funds in response to a decision by two Southern Baptist Convention entities last year to sign an amicus brief in support of a New Jersey mosque has developed a plan to continue financially supporting worldwide missions.
First Baptist Church, Morristown, held a called business meeting Sept. 17 to consider two motions, said Pastor Dean Haun, who resigned in January as a trustee of the SBC’s International Mission Board in protest of its decision to sign the amicus brief along with the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The two FBC motions addressed the questions, “How do we move forward in our world missions giving in light of all that has transpired with the IMB and ERLC?” and “What do we do with the escrowed funds from the past 11 months?”
Both motions were approved by a secret ballot vote Oct. 1 during a regularly called church business meeting.
Haun said the two motions were based on the facts that “there are good people in our congregation with strong convictions on both sides of this issue.”
In the FBC newsletter “First Family News,” Haun wrote, “There are those who believe the act of the IMB and ERLC of the Southern Baptist Convention endorsing the building of a mosque in New Jersey was so egregious in its violation of Scripture that they cannot, in good conscience and conviction, jump back on board the SBC ship until there is genuine repentance on the part of our SBC leadership.
“There are also some great folks in our congregation, while upset with the IMB/ERLC action, who do not feel we should walk away from the SBC and abandon our long-standing heritage as well as our missionaries,” he wrote.
To address both groups within the church, the first motion instituted a dual missions giving plan that will begin Jan. 1, 2018.
The plan will enable members to check either a “Cooperative Program” box or “Alternate” box.
The “Cooperative Program” option will enable the appropriate percentage of a member’s missions dollars (between 10 and 11 percent) to go to the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and the Southern Baptist Convention as it did before funds were escrowed in January, Haun said.
The “Alternate” option will divide the individual’s missions dollars as follows: 50 percent as a restricted gift to the TBMB and 50 percent to be divided equally among Samaritan’s Purse (Franklin Graham organization) and The Timothy Initiative (a worldwide church planting effort begun by a Southern Baptist).
Haun stressed that both plans support the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “We did not want to penalize the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. We have nothing but great support and enthusiasm for what the TBMB is doing,” Haun said.
The Morristown pastor said the motion was approved overwhelmingly with 86 percent of the vote.
Haun added that the plan fulfilled three guiding principles. It is simple (from an accounting process) and is fair to those with convictions on both sides, Haun said. In addition, either option supports world missions, he noted.
He told the Baptist and Reflector that the plan “allows each individual to decide, based on their own convictions, what to do with their missions dollars.”
The second motion, which passed with 92 percent of the vote, allows the church’s Missions Committee “to prayerfully decide the reallocation and redistribution of escrowed Cooperative Program funds with a final report to be given to the church.”
Haun said the new plan will not affect any of FBC’s regular missions ministries that are already receiving funds through the church budget.
In addition, the church will continue to collect funds for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions, and the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, he said. “These offerings are voluntary.”
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, affirmed the autonomy of the local church in January when First Baptist Church announced its decision to escrow funds and continues to do so. “I respect the authority of the pastor and every layman in the pew making very difficult decisions concerning the kingdom investment of every dollar given,” he said.
“I believe wholeheartedly in giving through the Cooperative Program as our primary means of supporting missions, compassion ministries, and Christian education. I appreciate the support given by the people of First Baptist Church, Morristown, and Dr. Haun for the ministry of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“I hope there will be a day in the near future when the church once again will be fully engaged in SBC life through the Cooperative Program, but I respect their decision.”