The Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force was expected to look at research showing Southern Baptists spend per capita 33 times more for missions in relatively gospel-saturated North America than they do for the comparatively unreached rest of the world, according to the Florida Baptist Witness.
Daniel Palmer, a development office of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary who did the analysis as a personal project, said the primary reason for this “alarming” distortion in missions funding priorities is Baptist state conventions that “skim” approximately two-thirds of all Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Cooperative Program dollars for their own causes, according to the Witness report.
The missions funding analysis caught the attention of SBC President Johnny Hunt and was to be among the data considered by the SBC’s GCR Task Force when it met for the first time Aug. 11-12 in Atlanta, according to the report, which was published before the meeting.
But the paper reported that one state convention executive director said the analysis is “fatuous” and “meaningless” because “it’s not connected to reality.”
David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and former vice president for Cooperative Program of the SBC Executive Committee, did not think much of Palmer’s data.
Palmer does not “give evidence that he understands” the “history and ecclesiology of Southern Baptists,” Hankins said, which makes an honest conversation difficult.
“I think, also, he could have a more fraternal spirit and positive response to enter into the conversation if he didn’t use what is at best, unprofessional and intemperate language, and at worst, unchristian language about his fellow Southern Baptists,” Hankins said, pointing as an example to Palmer’s use of “skim” regarding the state conventions’ retention of CP funds.
“It’s not true in fact and the word ‘skimming’ means embezzlement, which is an illegal action,” Hankins said.
“I think a better approach is to talk about what’s within the realm of possibility for us to do, to have a strategy for what we want to do overseas, tell our people what the real dollar costs are likely to be and challenge them to reach it,” Hankins said.
Palmer’s analysis said, “The SBC is built more like a government bureaucracy than a conduit for the gospel.”
Created in 1925 in the midst of a financial crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ unified funding effort for state, national and international missionary enterprises.
Churches forward CP gifts to Baptist state conventions, which retain a portion of the funds for state missions work, as approved by the churches of that state, and forward an approved portion for national and international work.
Palmer wrote in his analysis that Southern Baptists spend 33 times more on North American missions than on international missions.
Using 2008 and 2009 data from various sources, per capita missions spending in the United States and Canada was calculated by adding CP receipts retained by state conventions, SBC CP funds for the North American Mission Board and NAMB Annie Armstrong Offering funds ($447.24 million) divided by the total population of the U.S. and Canada (340 million).
The result: Southern Baptists spend $1.31 per person for missions in North America.
Internationally, Palmer added the IMB portion of the SBC CP budget with receipts from the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (total: $243.86 million) divided by the world’s population (6.4 billion, excepting the U.S. and Canada).
The result: Southern Baptists spend $0.04 per person for missions to reach the world. Hunt expressed alarm at the data. He had a warning for states that ignore the desire for greater international missions funding.
“If states are not willing to release greater percentages and greater dollars to the nations, they are going to find people like Johnny Hunt designating their dollars where they want it themselves instead of sending it to them when they’re not listening to us,” Hunt said.
Hankins expressed concern that state conventions may have “their feet cut out from under them by a continuing disrespect for the cooperative methodology, which tends to continue the lowering of the income.”
While Hankins “strongly believes” more money needs to get to the international field, he said it should not be accomplished by the suggestion “we ought to undo valuable, stateside ministries.”
Citing the creation of children’s homes, colleges, hospitals, benevolence, disaster relief, as well as church planting and other ministries, Hankins said state conventions have created ministries at the request of the churches.
Palmer said he does not “wish to malign the men and women currently serving in state conventions or to impugn their motives.”
Rather, he said, “This study is a call for us to assess the status quo and make changes in response to what the study reveals.”