November 18, 2002
Missionaries terminated by IMB; reasons disputed
___VIRGINIA BEACH (ABP)--A Southern Baptist missionary who has taught in a Brazilian Baptist seminary says he was fired by the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board for teaching contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 on the issue of biblical inerrancy.
___The missionary and his wife, who was terminated by IMB policy along with her husband, contend the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 does not address the term "biblical inerrancy."
___They believe their termination resulted from trumped-up charges brought against them because they refused to sign an affirmation of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as requested by IMB President Jerry Rankin.
___Chris and Karen Harbin made their plight public Nov. 9 at a breakfast meeting of Virginia Baptists Committed during the annual session of the Baptist General Associatio
n of Virginia.
|MISSIONARIES Chris, Karen, Jonathan andJoshua Harbin in traditional Brazilian Ga'cho dress.
___The Harbins had served in Porto Alegre in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul the last six years.
___The IMB has not made public any specific charges against the Harbins. Their termination reportedly was affirmed by IMB trustees during their Nov. 1 meeting in Dallas, but it was not discussed in the plenary session open to reporters.
___While the Harbins contend their dismissal is related to their unwillingness to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, IMB officials insist no missionaries have been terminated for that reason.
___IMB regional administrator Robin Hadaway, in a Sept. 29 e-mail to the Harbins, accused them of sending out a mass e-mailing with a report that they were being terminated for not signing the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.
___"This is not true," Hadaway wrote. "No IMB missionary has been terminated for this. You are being terminated for 'the persistent advocating of doctrinal positions inconsistent with the Baptist Faith & Message.'"
___The Harbins contend they did not send the mass e-mail and were unaware of its distribution.
___Last April, the Harbins were asked in a telephone call from an IMB administrator if they planned to sign the affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message as requested by Rankin. When they said no, they were asked to meet with Hadaway, regional leader for eastern South America.
___Upon arrival at that meeting, they were told the discussion would concern questions that had been raised by 12 Brazilian Baptists about Harbin's class notes related to biblical authority. Those accusers never have been identified, and administrators at the Brazilian seminary say they have received no complaints.
___Harbin was asked to translate his notes into English for further review, and then a subsequent meeting was scheduled with Hadaway Sept. 12.
___At the second meeting, Hadaway presented the Harbins with a prepared letter of termination "for the persistent advocating of doctrinal opinions inconsistent with the Baptist Faith & Message."
___The letter stated: "You are required to leave the field two weeks from today. ... You may not teach any more seminary classes. You may visit the seminary class once to say goodbye if Field Leader Larry Braswell goes with you. You are not permitted to have meetings or fellowship meetings with Brazilians or missionaries without the presence of Larry Braswell."
___When the local pastors' council drafted a letter of commendation for the Harbins' service and included a request that they return to Brazil under appointment by some other mission agency, Hadaway chastised the Harbins in an e-mail.
___"You must follow Larry Braswell's instructions precisely concerning operating on the field in your relationship with nationals and missionaries, or I will strictly follow the (policy manual) concerning your departure," Hadaway wrote. "If you do not follow Larry's orientation, you will have 600 cu. ft. of freight, your salary will end on 1 November and you will be departing Porto Alegre at the end of this week and not next week."
___In another e-mail, Hadaway chastised the Harbins for the tone of a letter they had written asking clarification on the charges against them: "The tone and content of (your) letter is the kind of letter which I said during our meeting you needed to avoid. A repeat of this kind of letter, statements to nationals, or other publicity (or not following Larry Braswell's instructions) will make it necessary for me to revert to the original plan of ending your association with the IMB on 1 November 2002 ... (including salary and insurance)."
___Mrs. Harbin contends Braswell has threatened to launch public charges of heresy against her husband among Brazilian Baptists if the couple attempts to return to the seminary.
___In an e-mail dated Sept. 20, she confronted Braswell on this topic, accusing him of contemplating "acts completely disconnected from a Christian moral ethic. Such an attitude does not proceed from Jesus Christ. It is shocking for its falseness and the desire for rigid theological control expressed."
___She also wrote: "It would seem hard to maintain that students and administrators who during six years of teaching in Rio Grande do Sul had in their hands Christopher's written theological material (which follows in accord with the Broadman Bible Commentary), would not be able to recognize theological error and would still ask in writing for our return to Brazil if alleged doctrinal deviation were more than imaginary."
___In an e-mail reply from Hadaway, the Harbins were told that,
although the seminary is "an autonomous institution" and "may employ who they wish," that nonetheless the IMB "reserves the right to advise our Baptist partners concerning the advisability of accepting as professors former IMB missionaries who have been terminated for doctrinal reasons."
___Hadaway and Braswell were contacted for comment on the story Nov. 13, but they did not reply by the Baptist Standard's publishing deadline the evening of Nov. 14.
___However, IMB spokesman Mark Kelly told ABP the issue had entirely to do with the IMB's view that Harbin's teachings were unorthodox.
___"IMB leaders have read Chris Harbin's writings, and numerous positions on the nature of the Bible are clearly outside the parameters acceptable to Southern Baptists," Kelly said. "It is unfortunate that he did not balance positions he said were designed to 'challenge the thinking of his students' with a strong presentation of advocacy for the inerrant word of God."
___The Harbins followed IMB procedure in appealing the termination and ultimately appealed to Avery Willis, the IMB's senior vice president for overseas operations. Willis told Harbin in a letter that "the termination is based on your own translation of your written syllabus. It is clearly over the line regarding the nature and inerrancy of Scripture."
___However, the Harbins note, the Baptist Faith & Message says nothing about the Bible's "inerrancy."
___Willis told the Harbins that, in order to appeal their termination one last time, Harbin would have to submit a "written rejection of those parts of the syllabus that are contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message."
___Willis explained: "Since your syllabus is clearly beyond the policies of the board to 'not teach contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message,' we cannot just make this a resignation unless you can give us the clear written response asked for above."
___Mrs. Harbin believes Willis' letter "linked our appeal to the need to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message." She said her husband responded by affirming the 1963 version of the Southern Baptist confessional document rather than the 2000 revision, and telling Willis that the class syllabus excerpts on which the charges of heresy were based "did not reflect his beliefs, being either taken out of context, badly worded, or stating positions that he was refuting."
___The portions of Harbin's syllabus questioned by IMB officials have not been released and were not available for review by Associated Baptist Press or the Baptist Standard.
___Reported by ABP Washington Bureau Chief Rob Marus and Baptist Standard Managing Editor Mark Wingfield
___The student government at Baptist Theological Seminary of Rio Grande do Sul presented a letter of support for Chris Harbin, noting: "We can ratify all the effort he has exerted in making of the classroom an instrument utilized with higher aims than a mere transmission of knowledge. We have learned to extract and practice the truths of the revealed word of God. ... We consider him a model of teaching, demonstrating both application in the search for wisdom as reverent piety before the holy name of Jesus Christ. For all these characteristics, and, certainly, for many others, we are certain of the irreparable loss to the qualification of the STBRS and in the formation of seminarians that the leaving of Pastor Christopher will bring about. We should note, yet, the great contribution that this missionary has made for the evangelization of the Traditionalist Ga'chos and the people of Rio Grande do Sul. With humility and dedication, he has identified himself with this culture and shared the day-to-day of a typical Ga'cho, stimulating even seminarians and churches to value the positive aspects of Ga'cho culture and to create evangelistic bridges to reach them for Jesus."
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