May 5, 2003
IMB trustees terminate missionaries
___Editor's note: Complete data for this story was not available at press time. Updates will be posted as they become available.
___FRAMINGHAM, Mass. (ABP)--Firings and forced resignations, long a part of the conservative takeover at Southern Baptist seminaries and news organizations, made their way to the foreign mission field May 7.
___Trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, meeting in Framingham, Mass., terminated an undisclosed number of missionaries who refused to affirm the SBC's new, more conservative faith statement, the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.
___The terminations reportedly were carried out without public opposition within the trustee board, according to an IMB spokesman.
___Going into the meeting, 31 missionaries faced possible termination. Twenty-five had been given a May 5 "sign or resign" ultimatum. Six were given no option but to resign or be fired.
___Exact numbers and names of those terminated and those who resigned of their own accord were not available by the Standard's press time late May 8. IMB spokesman Mark Kelly said he was still confirming the data before it could be released May 9.
___"Yes, there were several who the trustees voted to terminate their service," Kelly said. "Other resignations were accepted, and there were several whose retirements with full benefits were approved."
___However, at least six missionaries--Ron Hankins and Lydia Barrow-Hankins (Japan), Rick and Nancy Dill (Germany) and Leon and Kathy Johnson (Mozambique)--told reporters prior to the meeting that they would not resign, even though they had been told they definitely would be terminated otherwise. IMB President Jerry Rankin had accused them of "unwillingness to be accountable to Southern Baptists who send and support you."
___Each of these couples has more than 20 years service with the IMB. All six had publicly opposed Rankin's requirement to sign the new faith statement.
___The IMB employs about 5,500 missionaries, including career and short-term appointees. According to the IMB, 97 percent of the mission force agreed to the new faith statement.
___The revised SBC doctrinal statement was the sole public issue surrounding the firings. No criticism of the ministries of the dismissed missionaries and no suggestions of immoral or unethical behavior were offered by the IMB.
___Critics of the revised faith statement question its prohibition against woman pastors, consider it to weaken the traditional Baptist doctrines of the autonomy of the local church and priesthood of the believer and contend it places the Bible in higher esteem than Jesus as a guide to biblical interpretation. But the primary conflict cited by missionaries is a feeling that signing any faith statement amounts to affirming a creed--something historically anathema to Baptists.
___Rankin and other SBC leaders, however, have insisted the signing is necessary to assure Southern Baptists their missionaries are teaching within boundaries set by the convention.
___By one estimate, 45 missionaries had resigned over the issue prior to the May trustee meeting, and additional resignations were to be processed at the meeting.
___Based on reporting by Craig Bird through Associated Baptist Press and Managing Editor Mark Wingfield
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