May 30, 2003

 

Family and friends in the U.S. and colleagues in Japan,

 

     The last few years have been uncertain ones for us as we have watched the Southern Baptist Convention change into something we no longer recognize.  We have not kept in touch with you nearly enough as we waited in limbo to see what would happen in our convention and therefore to us.  We have been immersed in Southern Baptist life since before we can remember, and we have served with the International Mission Board most of our adult lives.  With sadness, and yet a deep sense of conviction, we now face termination by the International Mission Board, SBC, as missionaries in Japan, effective July 31, 2003.

 

     Many of you will have followed, blow-by-painful-blow, the events within SBC life over the last 24 years.  For those who have not, let us summarize by saying that the missions-minded, inclusive organization of our childhood and youth has long ago been replaced by power-hungry fundamentalists on the national level who have used questionable tactics to gain control of the SBC and all its agencies and seminaries.  The list of faithful Baptist servants who have become casualties goes on and on, until we as international missionaries are added. In the current climate of suspicion, we surely are not the last.   Those who hold the power now would say that they have returned Southern Baptists to their conservative theological roots and reversed the trend of secularism.  In reality, they have implemented a theologically coercive policy mandating conformity and substituted civil religion for the prophetic role of a Baptist church in society. 

 

       All of these changes came to a head with the revision of The Baptist Faith and Message, a heretofore non-binding statement of faith in Southern Baptist life   The 2000 revision of the 1963 statement 1) elevates scripture over the lordship of Christ and therefore the leadership of the Holy Spirit, 2) removes the historical Baptist belief in the “priesthood of the believer,“ and establishes the senior pastor as the only reliable interpreter of scripture, 3) inserts the word “substitutionary” as the only way for Baptists to interpret the work of Christ on the cross, 4) restricts women from serving as pastors and 5) directs wives to “graciously submit” to their husbands.  The revised statement rewrites the role of the laity as well as the role of every missionary woman on the field.  The restrictions on marriage and ministry spell a set-back of generations for the liberating power of Christ in the lives of women.

  

      We were required to sign this new statement of faith, or be fired.  On May 7, 2003, the International Mission Board fired 13 missionary couples for our refusal to sign The Baptist Faith and Message 2000.  Together we have a combined total of over 150 years experience on the mission field. Not a single one of us has ever been questioned about theology or biblical interpretation.  Another 30 veteran missionaries resigned or took early retirement because of the BF&M issue.  These 60 of us join 34 missionary colleagues who resigned last year in protest to the signing. [CORRECTION FROM THE HANKINS: The number of missionaries fired is 13 individuals, not couples (six couples and one single), at the May IMB trustee meeting on May 7.  The total is 15 fired, counting a couple fired earlier over the BF&M issue.]

 

We cannot sign a document that would deny Lydia’s call as a minister/preacher of the gospel.  Neither of us could sign a document that requires that we not encourage young women to follow God’s call in their lives, including the call to the pastorate.

 

       The question of signing The Baptist Faith and Message has been touted as an issue of accountability to the churches and of theological orthodoxy.  On the contrary, the Southern Baptists that raised us and educated us still expect us to have the wisdom to voice what does not ring true and the integrity to take an unpopular, minority stand if necessary.  The reality is, BFM 2000 raises some serious theological concerns which Baptists of the past would never have allowed.  If the BFM 2000 is taken as a modern statement of Baptist doctrine, it neither reflects the best biblical scholarship and interpretation, nor does it reflect the teachings and practice of Jesus in its statements on marriage and women.

 

       In the last few years, the IMB has more and more insisted that it is our “employer,” rather than the sending agency the IMB used to be.  They have claimed as our employer to have the right to restructure at will, to dictate evangelism strategy, to demand obedience, and now to require acquiescence to a single theological statement.

 

   Some would say, “Just get on board, and sign.”   We have always been “on board.”   Southern Baptists have moved away from us.  There are those who do not understand how intolerable a creed is for Baptists; those who do not know the history of Baptists willing to die for conscience; those who do not understand that in any democracy and therefore congregational church polity, there is always room for a minority opinion side-by-side with the majority.  These may not understand that Southern Baptists are no longer “Baptist” in faith and practice. 

 

     We realize there are those who do not allow for a woman preaching and being senior pastor.  The view from the mission field is:  Which is it?  Do Southern Baptists want the gospel preached and people to be saved and baptized?   Or do Southern Baptists want to create a controversy that will eliminate effective, experienced missionaries and tie the hands of all the rest left on the field?  We have made our choice.  Many of our colleagues have signed in a desperate attempt just to stay on the field, hoping to fulfill their call.  We have all been put in an untenable situation.  For us, to sign this statement when we did not agree, we might as well go back to the U.S. for all the effectiveness we would have in Japan.  We would have compromised both the gospel message and personal integrity. 

 

      We are grateful for the generous support of Southern Baptists over these years.  Through both prayer and financial support, we have been strengthened and sustained by faithful partners in the U.S.  Although not under Board appointment, we still represent those Baptists here.

 

       We are thankful to God and to Japanese Baptists for opening new avenues that will allow us to continue ministry in Fukuoka.  Lydia will continue to serve as chaplain of all the Seinan Gakuin (Baptist) school system and Ron will continue to teach in the theological and social work departments and do individual and family therapy, as well as serve as the resident pastor of a new wedding chapel.  God is good to us, and we thank God for the privilege of continuing to work alongside dedicated Japanese colleagues and friends here. 

 

      Luke (16) and Micah (14) are happy, healthy young men.  They like their life and their school here, in the country where they were born. We are thankful to stay in Fukuoka, where God first called us and brought us together as partners in life and ministry.  Returning to the U.S. in July and August to see family and friends, we will also attend the international conference of Christians for Biblical Equality where Lydia will lead a workshop. We are truly honored to receive the Priscilla and Aquila Award from CBE.

 

      Perhaps the most regrettable of all in this controversy is that this year, during the Easter season, and in the middle of a war, the passion and energy of God’s people could have been better directed toward preaching hope and peace through Christ for our time.

 

In friendship and Christian love, grace and peace to you in your journey with Christ,

 

 

Rev. Ron Hankins

 

 

Rev. Lydia Barrow-Hankins

 

1-15-15 D Momochi, Sawara-ku            

Fukuoka, Japan 814-0006                   

To Japan from the U.S. 81-92-844-1812       

hankins@try-net.or.jp

lydiabh@yahoo.com

US Contact 478-934-7705 after 7/11 only

 

 

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