Firing spree
By Michelle Brummitt  / Lynchburg News and Advance
May 17, 2003

 

PAMPLIN — If you live in Appomattox County, you might see Chris Harbin walking around in his bombachas — baggy trousers with a large belt.  His full red beard and Brazilian garb cause him to stand out from other Central Virginians.
Though he’s happy to be the new pastor of Pamplin’s River Rocks Baptist Church, just months ago he and his wife, Karen, were sharing the gospel with Brazilian traditionalist Gauchos, a culture that shuns organized religion but encourages morals and values.
The Harbins are among former Southern Baptist Convention missionaries who disagree with the denomination’s “Baptist Faith & Message 2000.”
The trustees of the International Mission Board of the 16 million-member denomination fired 13 missionaries last week because they refused to endorse the faith statement.
According to the group, 77 of 5,500 missionaries overseas refused to sign the document. Those 77 have either been fired, resigned or retired.

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In September 2002, the Harbins were fired after seven years of service in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
They take issue with several parts of the 2000 version of the Baptist Faith and Message.
It is an update of a document of the same name, written in 1963. All missionaries appointed since 1970 have been required to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message, though they were allowed to write their minor disagreements with it, as long as they agreed to work “in accordance with and not contrary to” it.
“Most anyone who called themselves Baptist could agree,” Harbin said. “It was embracing.”
When the Baptist Faith & Message was updated in 2000, it was expanded and changed in several ways. The revised document calls for a wife to “submit herself graciously” to her husband, and added statements against homosexuality and abortion.
But that’s not Harbin’s beef with the document.
“The original statement said it was a guide for interpreting the Bible,” Harbin said. “The new language adds that it is a document for doctrinal accountability.  When you add the two together … you hold people accountable to the document and not to the Bible. That gives it priority over the biblical text itself.”
“I could sign the Bible but I won’t sign a creed.”
The 2000 statement also adds this sentence: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture.”
Harbin disagrees. He cited the story where Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, and he calls her sister, Martha, to do the same.
“If women were not to be in the position of ministers and leaders he would not have invited them to be at his feet,” Harbin said. “He is placing them on an equal level with disciples in terms of access to learning and responsibility for knowledge.”
He thinks few Baptists have read the statement and understood its ramifications.
“Most haven’t read it with a fine-toothed comb,” Harbin said. “If you look at it with a surface glance it says one thing, but if you look at it in detail it says another.”
Robert O’Brien, a former International Mission Board employee who edits the Mainstream Baptist Journal, agrees.
“It goes against Baptist history and Baptist beliefs to take a man-made document and take what these few people said and superimpose it on the whole,” said O’Brien, who lives in Richmond. “ … It’s not a matter of whether you think the Bible is the word of God.

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Though the Harbins had decided not to sign the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, that was not the reason they were given for being fired.
When they announced that they were not signing the document, they were called to a meeting.
But instead of talking about their reasons for disagreement with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, they were called to question about notes from a seminary class Chris Harbin taught.
According to Harbin, his regional supervisor said there had been complaints from students related to his teaching on biblical authority. Harbin says those students have never been named.
Eventually, 13 passages were taken from Harbin’s 200 pages of reading material and identified as contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message.
Harbin wrote an appeal to his termination stating that the passages did not reflect his beliefs because they were either taken out of context, poorly worded or stating positions he was refuting.
There has been no change in their situation. 
Karen Harbin winces when she thinks about telling their Brazilian friends that they had to leave.
“What do you tell not only your Christian friends, but your non-Christian friends?” she asked. “If you try to explain what’s going on, you’d leave a bad witness.”
Chris Harbin has spent most of his 35 years in Brazil. He grew up there, living with his parents, who served as Southern Baptist missionaries for 28 years.
It’s also where the couple’s children — Jonathan, 5 and Joshua, 3  — were born.
The kids both spoke Portuguese, but now they are losing their grasp of the language.
Their home is in rural Pamplin, where trees are thick. Chris Harbin began working as River Rock’s pastor in January.
 “It’s a slower pace of life. We’re still getting acclimated to it,” said Karen Harbin, reminiscing about living in the city of 3.5 million, where grocery stores and restaurants were within walking distance.
“Our heart is to go back to Brazil, but I don’t know when or how,” she said.  “But this is where we need to be right now.”


ä Contact Michelle Brummitt at
mbrummitt@newsadvance.com or (434) 385-5489.

 

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