Facing a budget crisis in his first couple of weeks as executive director was probably not what Randel Everett wanted to do at the beginning of his term as Executive Director of the BGCT, but the move to cut spending levels to 90% of the current budget was a prudent one. Both the investment income and the Cooperative Program giving has decreased, requiring the spending to be decreased as well.
There were cuts in the budget presented in Amarillo last October. Most notably, cuts in the mission budget were pointed out in the discussion, and the lack of cuts in the executive budget were passed over. Like most votes on routine business at a Baptist convention, in spite of signs that people might not have been totally happy with either the job cuts or the budget, as always, it passed. Frankly, I do not understand why more people did not come to the break-out discussion conducted by David Nabors. I did. And afterward, when the vote was taken, I voted against the budget. A decline in interest income was cited as one of the main reason for the convention having to lay people off during the year, and by the time the convention met, though it seemed the leadership made every effort to avoid mentioning it, there had been a significant downturn in Cooperative Program giving from the churches by that time as well. Clearly, though, those involved in the budget planning process did not anticipate a 5.8% drop in CP gifts by the end of the first quarter of this year.
We don’t have control over the investment income. At some point, that will increase again. But we do have control over the Cooperative Program giving. So what do we do about that?
The political climate in the SBC has had a major effect on the BGCT. A combination of actions taken by convention leadership during the past decade has led to the departure of a third of the churches, most of them in the period immediately following the selection of the last executive director, but since then in a fairly steady trickle that appears to have increased in the past couple of years. The decreasing numbers of messengers at the annual meeting, and their increasing age, says that we probably haven’t done a very good job of educating our churches, particularly their younger members, in Cooperative Program stewardship. But it is also an indication of problems in the stewardship of those gifts by the convention’s leadership. Valleygate may have been the catalyst for some, along with the reduction in the amount the BGCT forwards to the SBC, a casualty of the ongoing battle with the SBC over the BFM 2000 and the influence of the conservative resurgence a.k.a. the fundamentalist takeover.
Is recovery possible, or are we doomed to see a continuous stream of churches leave the BGCT for the alternative state convention, or simply redirect their Cooperative Program gifts away from use by the BGCT? Is it time to evaluate not only the effect of denominational politics on the BGCT, but also the effectiveness and relevance of the way we do things as a convention in other ways?
I believe we can see recovery, and renewed support from the churches. That requires realistic thinking about why things are in their current condition. Denying that denominational politics has had anything to do with it, and trying to blame the economy, or anything but the ongoing struggle between SBC conservatives and BGCT moderates won’t cut it. Getting past all of that is absolutely a necessity. The day we can elect officers without knowing their “alignment” or “affiliation,” we will see improvement. The day that the BGCT’s partnership with the SBC is not affected by politics, we will see improvement.
That is not all that we need to do, however. For years, we have neglected missions education objectives. We’re replaced mission organizations with AWANA, which isn’t a bad organization by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t specifically dedicated to teaching children and youth about cooperative missions supported by Southern Baptists. We focus on the fact that younger people seem to be turned off by denominational politics and thus, are not involved in the convention. That’s true enough. But I don’t run into a whole lot of younger people who know much about the way we operate, or why we have a Cooperative Program, or in some cases, even that we have a Cooperative Program.
The fighting, politics, personal kingdom building, and the old Baptist heirarchy of pedigree is long overdue for an end.