Observers say the tide could turn this year in one of the few Baptist state conventions to resist conservative domination of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Many consider 1990 the deciding year in the long battle for control of the SBC between moderates and conservatives. After losing their 12th straight presidential election, moderates disengaged from SBC politics and put their energy behind forming an alternative body, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Some believe this year’s Baptist State Convention of North Carolina annual meeting, scheduled Nov. 10-12 in Winston-Salem, may represent a similar turning point.
The 4,000-church state convention is one of a handful of traditionally moderate-led SBC affiliates to accommodate the losing side of the SBC struggle by allowing churches to channel funds to either the SBC or CBF.
That could be coming to an end, however, as conservatives continue to make inroads into state leadership, and moderates report feeling increasingly disconnected from the convention.
“If we make loyalty to the Southern Baptist Convention or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship a litmus test for participating in the BSCNC, we will divide this family,” said David Hughes, a moderate who is running for the state convention’s presidency.
Should conservatives come to power in North Carolina, many believe they would take steps to require churches in good standing with the state convention to also be supportive of the SBC. Some have already called for doing away with a “Plan C” giving option, which allows churches to channel funds to the CBF instead of the SBC through the Cooperative Program unified budget.
“We affirm Plan C is constitutional and appeal to a higher principle of cooperation and freedom for local congregations,” says a March “platform” statement for Mainstream Baptists of North Carolina. “Congregations should be encouraged to give according to their consciences. Any plan of giving that directs funds to the BSC is ‘cooperative.’ Congregational decisions about local worldwide causes should be equally respected by the BSC.”
Ironically, the moderate candidate for president says he has supported the optional giving plans in the past, but now he believes they have contributed to a budget crisis that prompted recent staff layoffs.
“Plainly stated, our current budget formula and our multiple giving plans have contributed to the current budget crisis,” says Hughes, pastor of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
The state convention’s General Board in August approved a number of cost-cutting moves, including the elimination of 24 staff positions at the convention’s offices in Cary, N.C. Messengers at next month’s state convention will vote on a 2004 budget that is $2.4 million smaller than the current year’s.
Hughes says if elected he will work to amend Plan A, the default plan, to increase the percentage remaining in the state by 2 percent. That would mean decreasing the portion going to the Southern Baptist Convention to 30 percent—a move opposed by conservatives.
Hughes said the shift would save the state convention more than $500,000. “We need to do something and do something quickly,” he told the Biblical Recorder.
He also says he would work to “devise a more unified giving plan that will simultaneously offer freedom and flexibility to all North Carolina Baptist churches, maintain financial strength for BSCNC ministry, and still contribute generously to denominational missions outside our state.”
Conservatives accuse the moderates of wanting to hurt the SBC. They say moderates already have led the state convention to reduce funding to the SBC, from a 65 percent/35 percent division in the 1980s to the 68 percent/32 percent formula today.
“It is more important for conservatives to attend this year’s Baptist State Convention than ever before,” said The Conservative Record,” a newspaper produced by Conservative Carolina Baptists.
About half of North Carolina Baptist churches use Plan A, which sends 68 percent of mission dollars to the Baptist state convention and 32 percent to the SBC.
Giving is behind last year in three of the North Carolina convention’s four giving plans. Only Plan D is ahead of last year, but it puts 18 cents on the dollar less than the other three into the state budget (50 percent compared to 68 percent).
Plans A, B and C all retain 68 percent of Cooperative Program funds for work in North Carolina. Plan C, the one favored by many moderates, forwards funds to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship instead of the SBC.
Two of the four plans, B and C, provide funding for “special missions,” which include national entities such as the Baptist Center for Ethics.
A past conservative president of the state convention told a Baptist newspaper he expects someone to challenge Plan C from the floor of the convention.
“I don’t know that, but I’ve got a gut feeling,” Mike Cummings, director of missions for Burnt Swamp Baptist Association, told the Biblical Recorder.
The General Board has already discussed doing away with the four giving tracks and replacing them with a single plan. Convention leaders will continue to study the proposal in 2004.
Despite being endorsed by the moderate group Mainstream Baptists of North Carolina, Hughes says if elected he would call for a dismantling of all “political” groups in the state and would seek balance between conservatives and moderates in appointments.
“We no longer have the luxury of fighting one another and jockeying for power,” he said. “We must decide if we want to be a unified family or part ways.”
Hughes is heading a slate of officers endorsed by the moderate Mainstream Baptists of North Carolina. Beaufort layman Raymond Earp is running for first vice president and Ken Massey, pastor of First Baptist Church in Greensboro, is seeking election as second vice president.
On the conservative side, David Horton, pastor of Gate City Baptist Church in Greensboro, is being backed for president by Conservative Carolina Baptists. Filling out the conservative ticket are Phyllis Foy, a member of Peninsula Baptist Church in Mooresville, who is running for first vice president, and Brian Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church in East Flat Rock, who is running for second vice president.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Editor’s note: David Hughes, mentioned in this article, is a member of the Baptist Center for Ethics board of directors and a sermon contributor on EthicsDaily.com.