A Dallas-area megachurch has decided to escrow Cooperative Program (CP) funds temporarily in order to evaluate future support of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) causes.
Prestonwood Baptist Church
At issue are what the congregation calls “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to a statement the church released to Louisiana’s Baptist Message newsjournal.
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, will escrow what would amount to $1 million annually, the Message reported Feb. 16.
In a text to Baptist Press (BP), Message Editor Will Hall noted he had queried Prestonwood about its giving to SBC causes after pastor Jack Graham was interviewed in December by The Wall Street Journal. Graham told The Journal the church was “considering making major changes in our support of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
At issue, Graham said in the interview, was alleged “disrespectfulness” by Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore toward evangelical supporters of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Moore, who publicly opposed Trump during the primary and general election cycles, said in a December blog post he never intended to criticize all evangelicals who supported Trump.
Graham is a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board.
Some Southern Baptists also have criticized the ERLC for joining a friend of the court brief last May in support of a New Jersey Islamic society’s right to build a mosque. The International Mission Board (IMB) joined the brief as well, and IMB President David Platt apologized Feb. 15 for the divisive nature of the action. See related story.
Graham, a former SBC president, told BP via text message Prestonwood is engaging in “an internal evaluation” of its giving, “and our desire is not to seek publicity so we can make the right decision for our church and Southern Baptists.”
Asked whether Prestonwood also will escrow funds for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) – the state convention with which it cooperates – Graham responded, “We’re evaluating everything.”
Graham told the Message he is “not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people, and I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone.” He wants Prestonwood to remain “a cooperating partner [with the SBC] as we have been for many years” but cited “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”
SBTC executive director Jim Richards told BP in a statement, “In our fellowship of churches, Prestonwood Baptist Church has been a faithful ministry partner for many years. We love Jack Graham and his people. It is our hope that these concerns can be resolved in a way that strengthens the kingdom work of Southern Baptists and honors the autonomy of the local church. We stand ready to assist as we have opportunity.”
ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press in a statement, “I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ.”
Bart Barber, a Texas pastor who serves on the ERLC’s Leadership Council tweeted following Prestonwood’s announcement, “I love and appreciate” Jack Graham “but am an ardent advocate for #ReligiousLiberty and for” CP. “I’m just heartbroken & conflicted.”
In related news, First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., announced last month it would escrow funds traditionally given through CP over concerns related to ERLC and IMB participation in the New Jersey mosque brief. First Baptist pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November over the brief. See related story.
The Biblical Recorder asked Haun why the church chose to withhold funds rather than voice opposition through more traditional methods, such as messenger-proposed resolutions or motions at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
“Our people were absolutely bewildered and outraged by the action of the IMB. We believe that what constitutes us a Southern Baptist church is our decision to cooperate in joint missions efforts through our giving. This act was so egregious in the eyes of myself and our members that they no longer wanted money to go to support the administration of the IMB or the ERLC,” said Haun. “We did go ahead and take up our annual [Lottie Moon Christmas Offering] however, due to the fact that our missionaries were not involved with this action.
“We believed that resolutions ‘talk’ but it is our giving that ‘walks’ so to speak.”
Morristown decided to hold the money on the recommendation of a church committee appointed to study the matter.
“They recommended that we escrow the funds so that we could make a non-emotional and prayerful decision and see what would happen in the future,” Haun said. “This would allow us to still have the funds available and not spend them on other items. They presented this plan to the church at a called business meeting on the Sunday night of Nov. 5 and it was passed unanimously.”
When asked similar questions about the nature and process of their decision, Prestonwood did not comment by the time of publication.
Louisiana Baptist Convention executive director David Hankins and former SBC Executive Committee chairman Bill Harrell both told The Wall Street Journal they know of churches considering a diversion of funds away from the ERLC.
Threats to escrow CP funds have occurred periodically in SBC history. In the mid-1980s, some Southern Baptist conservatives threatened to escrow CP funds if moderates regained control of the convention presidency, BP reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BR Editor K. Allan Blume contributed to this report.)