Ron & Lydia Barrow-Hankins Response to Letter of Termination
Dr. Rankin and presumably the IMB trustees have made it quite clear what they plan to do. We are making no further response to Dr. Rankin after his last letter、except to request some flexibility in the schedule for departure that we were given. July 1 puts us right in the middle of the first semester of school in Japan. We have not heard back from Rankin. We have already made our position clear. I have done nothing wrong that I should voluntarily resign. They will do what they will. I offer the following comments to fellow Southern Baptists who really would like to know how it all looks from the mission field.
I am sorry if we seem incommunicable. We are so pushed with ministry responsibilities here. With Easter and a new school year, there are so many opportunities. Sometimes it seems that being fired, being made the bad-guy, and being accused of being unaccountable are all a bad dream!
We cannot sign the BFM 2000 because of the blatant sexual discrimination. The IMB appointed and sent both of us with a “General Evangelist” designation to Japan 22 years ago. In the last few years, the IMB has more and more claimed to be 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 change policy, to demand obedience, and now to require acquiescence to a single theological statement. That statement rewrites the role of every missionary woman on the field. Its marriage and ministry restrictions spell a set-back of generations for the liberating power of Christ in the lives of women.
Lydia and I cannot sign a document that would deny her 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.
As an employer, the IMB should be held to basic standards of moral decency and responsibility toward employees. A company cannot hire a woman to do a job, and then 20 years later, after she has done that job as well or better than most, fire her because she is a woman. Foreign companies in the U.S. are required to follow U.S. labor laws that prohibit sexual discrimination. Japanese companies have been sued in the U.S. for “Japanese cultural” treatment of women employees. The only reason the IMB cannot be held equally accountable in labor practices is the exclusion allowed under law for spiritual activities. This is not a case of biblical truth. If it were Truth, it would have been true 22 years ago when we were “hired.” This is a recent change that reeks of prejudice and malice.
Rankin’s latest letter is rife with distortions and half-truths. It is a sad day in the life of God’s people when it comes to this. We will not sign. We will not resign.
More From Lydia:
We missionaries have indeed been blessed in these years—almost 25 now—as Southern Baptists have gone through an identity crisis. In our work for the Lord overseas, we only have to deal with language, culture, and food differences. Until fairly recently, missionaries under appointment with the International Mission Board did not have to worry about accusations related to our lack of “accountability” or have our biblical orthodoxy called into question. We have felt the power of God working through us, and, yes, often in spite of us, in our 22 years with Southern Baptists. We know it is by the grace of God that we can preach and minister in Japanese, and we know that it is the power of the Spirit that has given us the fellowship and trust—and more recently, encouragement and support--that Japanese Christians show us. We have been faithful to God who called us and to Southern Baptists who sent us to preach Jesus Christ.
Some would say, “Just get on board, and sign.” I have always been “on board.” Southern Baptists have moved away from me. There are those who do not understand how serious 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.
Of the 13 couples and 5 singles worldwide who have not signed BFM 2000, 3 couples and 3 singles have the privilege of serving with colleagues of the Japan Baptist Convention. Japanese Baptists, who remain strong on all that Baptists have always stood for, are showing their support for us missionaries who have not been swept along by the winds of modern culture and theological fads in the U.S.
The question of signing the Baptist Faith and Message has been touted as an issue of accountability. That’s the spin. Accountability is not the issue. On the contrary, the Southern Baptists that raised me in the church and educated me would disown me if I did sign! Those Southern Baptists still expect me 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.
As to forgetting trivialities and getting on with the task of preaching Jesus Christ, I can only say that I serve as chaplain at Baptists schools in Japan. The deadline for termination has come at the Easter season. Dr. Rankin’s letter asking for our resignation arrived during Holy Week while I was preparing for Easters services. I led a service on Easter Sunday. I will speak in three high school chapels this week, with a total of 1,800 students. I have planned an innovative Easter chapel in the week after Easter for the university, average attendance of 500, multiplied by 3 chapels a week. Last week I preached at seminary chapel, and next Sunday I will deliver the post-Easter sermon at one of the largest Baptist churches in Japan. Then, there are the “ministry” opportunities.
Yes, I would like to get on with the missions task at hand, but I am being fired. For what, I am not quite sure. For doing what Southern Baptists sent me to do more than 20 years ago?
I 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 you want the gospel preached and people to be saved and baptized? Or do you want to create a controversy that will eliminate effective, experienced missionaries and tie the hands of all the rest left on the field? You choose. I have made my choice. God and Japan can do without me. But the Mission of God will suffer if we compromise on either the gospel message or personal integrity.
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