“News Stories from the Integrity Battlefront”

by Keith Herron

            How a thing is done makes a difference. It makes as much a difference as the thing itself. Issues of integrity seem to be a subtext for our culture these days. It’s also an issue that eats away at the core of religious belief in our time.

William Bennett’s little gambling secret was uncovered earlier this month. Maybe it wasn’t a secret as tightly held as the mysterious hideout of Saddam Hussein, but it’s safe to assume Bennett wishes it were still unknown. In early April, the poster boy for the moral high road and the crusader against the erosion of moral absolutes in our country lost more than a half million dollars at the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas. Many estimate that his losses totaled $8 million over the years. He lamely guesses his winnings covered his losses. Besides, he claims, he didn’t bet “the milk money.”

            Richard Scrushy, founder of the HealthSouth Corporation, was accused recently of overseeing a massive accounting fraud. Scrushy was widely known in his Baptist church as a generous giver and a listener to sermons preached on Christian ethics and greed. His pastor reported, “Richard has heard messages on the rich young ruler, the good Samaritan, the prodigal son. He always responds positively.” Surely his pastor should qualify that assessment after the accusations by federal investigators were released.

He’s accused of insider trading and inflating the corporation’s profits by $1.4 billion so the value of his company’s stock would artificially rise. Other ethical scandals have rocked Enron, Tyco and WorldCom. Baptists have been named in several of these scandals as being accused as violators of the ethical boundaries.

            This past week the International Mission Board reneged on its promise to not fire career missionaries over signing The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Baptists have never before described their faith statement in such creedal terms but the Nouveau-Baptists who run the show for Southern Baptists have made the creed a deal-breaker. “Sign it or be terminated” is the new credo for the International Mission Board and they are deadly serious when they say it.

            Their unchecked arrogance is an insult to Baptists everywhere who have given sacrificially in our lifetime in carrying the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. Thirty-four missionaries resigned or retired last year knowing the showdown was approaching. Thirty more missionaries dodged the issue recently by taking early retirement or simply resigning. Thirteen missionaries stood their ground and were terminated by action of the Board of Trustees this month. Most of them have served Baptists for years faithfully conducting themselves with dignity. The missionaries I’ve ever been privileged to meet just don’t have the stomach for hardball politics as practiced by the current leaders of the SBC.

            You might think this is irrelevant news for us at Holmeswood since we voluntarily disaffiliated from both the Missouri Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention in November 2001. You might even think we don’t need to worry ourselves about those old concerns.

            But if I know a few missionaries and you know a few, then we all still have friends whose ministries have been insulted and attacked by a leadership that’s sick. The old denomination from which we have withdrawn is symptomatic of a sick religion still funded by many good and faithful Baptists. It’s mind-boggling that anyone in their right mind would want to fund this kind of control-oriented religion, but many of our brothers and sisters are trapped in their deep affection for what Baptists were in another era but that no longer exists under the current leadership.

            The Missouri Baptist Convention continues to press forward with its purification regime bent on ridding itself of churches and persons who refuse to pledge undying loyalty. Ask the WMU. Ask the churches involved in the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. Ask the members at Second Baptist Church of Liberty. The Project 1000 leadership has a vendetta against any who do not knuckle under and offer absolute allegiance.

            We did ourselves a favor in getting out and it’s a decision that looks smarter and smarter every day. We can move forward knowing that our partnership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is healthy and Christ-centered. But in moving forward we still painfully remember our missionaries who are persecuted by their own leaders. Say a prayer for them today as they seek new places of ministry and try to move their lives forward.

            When religious belief and practice are not in step with one another in intent and in action, then that religion is sick at its core. Skim through your gospels and note how often the theme of sick religion is the center of Jesus’ conversations and conflicts with the Pharisees. Hard to believe how many good-hearted Baptist believers put up with this stuff and keep sending them money.

            It makes a difference, brothers and sisters. Ethical expectations that are good for business are good for the church and we should expect nothing less. What we do and how we do it makes all the difference in the world.


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