HOUSTON – Messengers had opportunities to ask questions of the presidents of Southern Baptist entities during those entities’ annual reports to the convention in Houston.
Following are accounts of questions posed by messengers on the convention floor and responses by entity presidents. Not all entity presidents were asked questions.
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
John Killian of Maytown Baptist Church in Alabama expressed concern that the National Immigration Forum, which provides financial support for the Evangelical Immigration Table, is reportedly funded in part by liberal activist George Soros. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is part of a national ad campaign featuring the Evangelical Immigration Table.
“Will Cooperative Program funds be used to support legislation legalizing illegal immigrants and will the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission participate in any political project funded directly or indirectly by George Soros?” Killian asked.
In response, Richard Land said the ERLC under his leadership and he expected under Russell D. Moore’s leadership will heed the resolution on immigration reform adopted overwhelmingly by messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix in 2011.
“Resolutions are instructive,” Land said, noting the resolution expresses support for immigration policies that provide a restrictive pathway to citizenship for those in the U.S. with undocumented status.
“It is not amnesty,” Land said, suggesting amnesty is what President Jimmy Carter provided for those who fled to Canada to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam War.
Lee Bright of Roebuck Baptist Church, asked Moore if the ERLC will “actively support” the immigration bill being considered in the U.S. Senate.
“We are going to support principles; we are not going to support specific pieces of legislation,” Moore said.
“We support a just and compassionate approach to dealing with the millions of people in American society right now who are invisible, seeking a better future for their families. We also want to maintain the rule of law and the security of our borders,” Moore said.
GuideStone Financial Resources
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins received two questions following his report to messengers.
A North Carolina messenger complimented GuideStone on its property and casualty program and alliance with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, saying their church received more coverage at a lower premium.
He also asked about medical insurance premiums for 2014, and Hawkins said insurance premiums would be made available in coming weeks.
“There are so many unknowns about health care reform right now,” Hawkins said. “That’s the real tragedy here.”
Churches should talk to their property and casualty provider to determine whether they have adequate coverage, Hawkins said. Many churches coming out of recent natural disasters have learned their coverage is not adequate to rebuild.
Another messenger asked Hawkins about GuideStone’s social screening policy on its investment products.
The question referred to recent comments from the CEO of Starbucks Coffee in support of same-sex marriage as well as to a WORLD magazine article that called on people to divest in Starbucks stock.
“If we begin to go down this road, that is, divesting of a company and boycotting it because of statements or preferences made by their leaders, there would hardly be a company in the Fortune 500 group with which to invest,” Hawkins said. “If the questioner was consistent, he would also stop using Microsoft in his computer and cease use of his cell phone for those companies’ leaders have made similar statements.”
GuideStone is in sympathy with those who have concerns related to investing in certain companies, Hawkins said.
GuideStone’s longstanding investment policy states, “Investments are prohibited in any company that is publicly recognized, as determined by GuideStone Financial Resources, as being in the liquor, tobacco, gambling, pornography or abortion industries, or any company whose products, services or activities are publicly recognized as being incompatible with the moral and ethical posture of GuideStone Financial Resources,” Hawkins said.
In administering the policy, GuideStone has placed more than 400 companies on a restricted list in which the entity does not invest. “We are continually monitoring and evaluating companies in regular monthly meetings,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins emphasized that the funds invested by GuideStone include no Cooperative Program dollars but represent the individual accounts of more than 200,000 participants.
“We are stewards of their money,” Hawkins said. “Periodic surveys and continued participation indicate the overwhelming majority of our participants – 98 percent – are in agreement with our investment policies.”
Expanding on the sources of those private accounts, Hawkins said most funds are administered in retirement accounts, like 403(b) or 401(k) accounts.
“Generally speaking, private, individual investors invest their monies in whatever way they determine necessary and appropriate,” Hawkins said. “However, GuideStone functions in a different environment with respect to retirement fund assets. GuideStone is held to a different standard as to how it invests participants’ dollars. As fiduciaries, we are subject to legal standards applied to fiduciaries, including ‘the prudent man rule.’
“The fiduciary is legally required to act prudently in the economic interest of those it serves,” Hawkins said. “We seek to maintain moral integrity in what we do, including not investing in more than 400 companies on our restricted list, while at the same time we are very conscientious to carry out our legal duties.”
Hawkins told messengers it is virtually impossible for anyone to function in contemporary society without carrying on relationships with businesses that profit from endeavors one might find objectionable. In these relationships, Hawkins stressed, investors inevitably provide financial support to companies or persons whose products, services or conduct might be morally repugnant to most Southern Baptists.
“For example, one should ask if it is ownership of a company or the purchasing of its product that causes it to prosper and grow,” Hawkins said. “Consider that many hotels provide access to alcoholic beverages in the lobby and in mini-bars in each room. Many provide options for adult television programming which most Southern Baptists would not choose. Yet, we as Southern Baptists patronize and spend our money at these hotels on virtually every trip we take, including the Southern Baptist Convention, state convention meetings and family vacations.
“Additionally, Southern Baptists continue to fly on airlines that serve and profit from alcohol even though alcohol use is against their personal moral convictions. We shop in grocery stores where beer, wine and tobacco are sold. We buy gasoline at convenience stores where beer is sold, and in some cases lottery tickets are available. We pay taxes and many own treasury bills with a government that is the largest contributor to Planned Parenthood.”
Hawkins said, “Someone might say, ‘I will not invest in any company on the stock exchange and instead just put my money in a savings account at the local bank.’ But the bank could loan money to a liquor store or some other objectionable business going in down the street.”
“If those who have zero tolerance with investments are consistent and follow this philosophy to the ‘nth’ degree, none of them would be flying on airlines, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants or buying groceries,” Hawkins said. “It is the patronage of the companies, more than stock ownership, that enables an enterprise to prosper.”
Hawkins emphasized that GuideStone is committed to its origin and identity as an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention. “When and if the SBC publicly boycotts a company, as it did with Disney in the early 1990s, we will consistently follow their lead,” Hawkins said.
“At the same time, we must function in a manner that is legally sound and sensitive to fiduciary and legal duties to maximize the economic return to participants while maintaining moral standards.”
“It is GuideStone’s position that by following our investment guidelines, it can make investments consistent with Christian principles and still adhere to our fiduciary obligations,” Hawkins said, citing GuideStone Funds being recognized by Lipper in as the Best Overall Small Fund Group in the U.S., ranking No. 1 out of 182 eligible companies with up to $40 billion in assets under management as of November 30, 2011. This marked the first time in Lipper’s history the award was given to a Christian-based, socially screened fund organization.
International Mission Board
After International Mission Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff presented IMB’s report, one messenger had a statement and request concerning the disposition of property overseas.
Doug Wendling, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Las Cruces, N.M., expressed concern about the disposition of IMB properties in East Asia. Wendling and his wife recently returned from a trip to Taiwan, he said, where they worked with a ministry that distributes Bibles to Chinese tourists from the mainland. While there, he heard of decisions that were being made about IMB-owned properties.
“While we are called to be good stewards, I don’t believe this decision should be made that will negatively impact this ministry over there,” Wendling said. “What I’m asking is that IMB will continue to seek God’s will and human wisdom in making decisions on the use of this property.”
Elliff expressed appreciation for Wendling’s sentiment and explained that over the years there has been a “deliberate shift” in IMB’s strategy. Historically, he said, IMB missionaries were seen as “settlers,” moving to a location and acquiring property to settle there.
Today’s missionaries are encouraged to be more like “pioneers,” Elliff said, so that they don’t get so comfortable in one spot that they’re unwilling to move to help “turn on the lights” somewhere else.
“I don’t think the legacy we want to leave behind in other countries is property,” Elliff said. “It’s people knowing Jesus.”
LifeWay Christian Resources
A messenger asked Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, to assure the convention that LifeWay Christian Stores would not sell resources “promoting dual covenant theology, prosperity preaching and tolerance of the sin of sodomy,” but did not identify specific materials.
“I certainly would not condone anything in our stores that affirms sodomy or those things you mentioned,” Rainer said. He asked the messenger to send him a list of the products of concern so that Rainer and his team could review the materials.
North American Mission Board
Messenger Robin Foster, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Russellville, Ark., asked North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell, “to clarify and define NAMB’s partnership, formal or informal, with the Acts 29 church planting network.”
“We plant Southern Baptist churches,” Ezell said. “Our church planters affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 and give to the Cooperative Program. We do not ask them what conferences they attend or what networks they connect with. We don’t ask them which books and magazines they read. But we partner with Southern Baptist churches to plant Southern Baptist churches. Would some of these be in the Acts 29 network? Yes. But our formal relationship is with the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson answered a question from the floor regarding the six SBC seminaries’ decision to decline reallocation of Cooperative Program funds from the seminaries to the International Mission Board. Brad Atkins of Powdersville First Baptist Church in Easley, S.C, asked the question.
Atkins, who made a motion for the reallocation at the 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans that was referred to the SBC Executive Committee and all six seminaries, asked Patterson for an explanation of their decision.
The 2012 motion asked the seminaries to consider allowing their portion of the CP Allocation Budget to be reduced from 21.92 percent to 21 percent and requested that the EC allocate the remaining .92 percent to the IMB.
“Dr. Patterson, we have missionaries that are trained and ready to go, but unfortunately there are not enough Cooperative Program dollars for them to be sent,” Atkins said.
Atkins then referenced his motion from the previous year and the seminaries’ joint decision to decline the reallocation before asking, “In light of Dr. Frank Page’s visionary leadership again this year in reducing the Executive Committee’s percentage of the Cooperative Program, which now goes to the IMB, would you care to share your thoughts as one of the men who was asked to research and pray over this action as to why this request was declined?”
Patterson thanked Atkins for his question and said he was happy to respond to it.
“There are several reasons why we did not choose to follow that request,” Patterson said. “The first one is that some years ago, our six seminaries were given a capital needs budget in the Southern Baptist Convention budget.
“This amounted over a long period of time to untold millions of dollars that came to our six seminaries for capital needs,” Patterson said. “We decided that we could get along without that, and so before this initiative ever became an issue, we voted to give away that money and to give it to the International Mission Board and others who were working in the area of missions.
“So, we already gave at the office and gave very generously and deeply more so than anyone else,” Patterson said.
Also, Southern Baptist seminaries are committed to the world missions endeavor. Patterson told of IMB President Tom Elliff’s request for Southwestern to adopt an unreached people group as part of the IMB Embrace challenge.
Patterson told Elliff that the seminary is not funded to do that but the seminary would accept the challenge and make financial sacrifices to do so. The seminary adopted the Antandroy people of Southern Madagascar and began sending teams over last year. In May, a Southwestern Seminary mission team witnessed more than 400 professions of faith among the Antandroy.
“I submit to you that the seminaries are hurting right now,” Patterson said. “We are victimized by the same financial liabilities that everybody has. We are doing the best that we can. We are the ones that rear up the next generation of missionaries. We train them. Every investment we make in one of these missions students is an investment in the International Mission Board and in world missions.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Based on reports by Dwayne Hastings of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Roy Hayhurst of GuideStone Financial Resources, Laura Fielding of the International Mission Board, Marty King of LifeWay Christian Resources, Joe Conway of the North American Mission Board and Keith Collier of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. See SBC 2013 for more about the annual meeting.)