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Readers respond to report of Alabama missionaries who must ‘sign or resign’comment (0)

January 2, 2003

By Jennifer Davis Rash

The news about Southern Baptist missionaries Rick and Nancy Dill facing termination if they do not affirm the 2000 version of the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) generated much response from Alabama Baptists.

In fact, a record number of readers reacted to the news — some praised the Dills while others con­­demned them. Some readers also disagreed with The Alabama ­Baptist reporting the story.

“I strongly disagree that The ­Alabama Baptist [gave] them a platform to air their grievance and speak against men like Dr. Jerry Rankin and Dr. Avery Willis ... and thousands of other missionaries ... who signed the BF&M,” said Leon Champion, International Mission Board (IMB) missionary to Venezuela. Champion said he and his wife, Jean, “are in agreement with the very points ... in which the Dills are in opposition.

“For example, I stand behind the removal of ... ‘The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ,’” Champion said. “Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and I honor Him as such. ... However, there is a group out there who ... has perverted the earlier intentions of the expression in the 1963 version,” he explained. “This group is now saying, ‘Only the things that Jesus taught are the things that should govern our Christian faith.’”

‘Disservice to Baptists’

Doris Bonds of Albertville disagrees with Champion. She believes the changes about Jesus Christ being the criterion for interpreting Scripture “did a disservice to Southern Baptists. And the change from ‘priesthood of the believer’ to ‘priesthood of believers’ seems an attempt to take personal accountability and replace it with collective authority,” she said.

“The changes regarding the role of women ... seem an attempt to reverse the high esteem Jesus afforded women,” she added.

Bonds also noted that Willis’ statement about missionaries being honest with Southern Baptists and promising to honor the churches’ convictions “completely ignores the fact that the 2000 BF&M ... does not reflect the conviction of all Southern Baptists.”

Missionaries should not have to justify their compliance with convictions “when those convictions are wrong,” said Jan Freeman of Trussville. “This isn’t conviction, it is policy, not Scripture, and not supported in Scripture,” she said. “Thank God for the ... missionaries who have resigned ... because those convictions are wrong.

“You are correct, Mr. Dill, when you state that it is a perversion of the marriage relationship to reduce it to a question of power and control,” she said. “I would suggest that it is equally a perversion of the local church body and of the mission board to reduce it to a question of power and control.”

Will Hall, executive editor of Baptist Press, said Dill’s statement regarding the BF&M’s representation of the marriage relationship is inaccurate. Article 18 of the BF&M does reference Ephesians 5:21–33 and “a husband is to love his wife,” contrary to what the Dills stated, Hall said, noting the Dills also offered other mischaracterizations about the BF&M.

Wilma Cleveland of Cedar Bluff asked if IMB leaders remembered the commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3) when making the request for missionaries to affirm the BF&M. “Isn’t this putting something man-made before God?” she asked. “The calling to the missions field is from God, and He should be the One to say when the work is finished.”

William R. Hawkins of Birmingham tried unsuccessfully to get a resolution passed during the 2002 Alabama Baptist State Convention stating that Alabama Baptists disagree with the way the Southern Baptist Convention and IMB are handling the 2000 BF&M.

Noting the news is “sad and heartbreaking,” Hawkins believes missionaries who signed an earlier version of the BF&M should be exempt from signing the new one.

Jack M. Redfearn Jr., pastor of West Hartselle Baptist Church, said missionaries have had ample time to deal with the BF&M issue. The original request for them to sign was sent out in late January of 2002 and more than 99 percent of the missionaries have signed to date.


“If some missionaries are signing the message at the last moment out of fear of not being able to continue their ministries overseas (according to Rick Dill), that tells me ... the missionaries in question are sinning against their own conscience by signing a document they do not believe,” Redfearn said. “Isn’t this considered giving a false testimony to us their brethren in Christ? Do they even deserve to be supported by Southern Baptists on the missions field if they cannot operate within the boundaries of their own conscience?”

Jenny Hawthorne Jones of Buhl said she is finished with Southern Baptists. A member of a Southern Baptist church for 36 years, Jones said she cannot be part of a denomination in which she has lost faith.

“If 20 years of faithful service and sacrifice as ... missionaries takes second place to signing a document, then the BF&M isn’t worth the paper it is printed on,” she said. “Do Baptists [know] how white the fields are to harvest, and how many workers are needed? Obviously not if we have missionaries who ... are being fired because of a piece of paper that is not the Bible.”

These responses represent letters to the editor received by The Alabama Baptist on the issue of Rick and Nancy Dill. The paper will not publish any more responses on this subject.

For the full text of the Oct. 24, 2002, article on the Dills, visit www.thealabamabaptist.org and ­ go to the archives section.

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