*Please note that the following statement includes my opinion of the deeds and character of Ergun Caner and Georgia Baptist Leadership based upon the information to which I have been exposed. Please note that I wrote this very late. Let’s be forgiving Christians…forgive my typos.
“Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.” Bill Harrell
In my last post, I laid out the proper Georgia Baptist reaction to the hiring of the charlatan Dr. Ergun Caner at Brewton Parker and a solution to the problem it presents. In that post, I concluded as follows: “My advice to all who agree with me is to deny funding to any organization, even your own church, which funds the work of Brewton-Parker College.” After reading that post, a pastor whom I respect stated the following to me:
“What is your understanding of how the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) can intervene at this moment to rectify the Brewton-Parker College problem?…You haven’t shown the connection between your proposed solutions and the problem you so eloquently identify.”
In this follow-up post, I will (1) express my understanding of how the GBC can intervene at this moment to rectify the Brewton-Parker College problem with respect to its hiring of Dr. Caner, (2) show the connection between the proposed solution and the identified problem, (3) lay out a proposed course of action for those who choose to implement the proposed solution (which I’ll call the Abilene Exclusion), and (4) express responses to potential objections to the proposed solution.
Commendations and Information
Before commenting further, I would like to express appreciation and commendation to the pastor I mention above. He took the time to keep a fellow brother in Christ accountable for his words and actions. He did so in a humble manner, in truth and love. As the terror of the Caner situation fell upon Georgia Baptists, he was one of the first men whose counsel I sought on the proper course of action to take. I think I was wise to do so. I would further like to commend this pastor for recognizing that there is a problem to rectify. This is not an issue about which we can keep our heads in the sand. Caner’s hiring is simply unacceptable. That’s what my previous post was all about…accountability. Georgia Baptists must keep ourselves, our churches, and our convention accountable. Thank God the Lord sent the brother above to keep me accountable. If you think I am in the wrong, please let me know.
Cooperative Program 101
Before addressing the four goals that I have stated above, I think it would be prudent to provide some information about how the Southern Baptist cooperative program works. This is because defunding the GBC potentially affects the cooperative program. Although I am a life-long attendee of Southern Baptist Churches, I did not know how the program operated until I took a denominational orientation course in seminary. Perhaps many of those reading this are in the same boat. All Baptist Churches are independent by nature and not subject to any organizational authority. What makes a Baptist church Southern Baptist is its voluntary participation in the cooperative program of the Southern Baptist Convention. Participating churches give a portion of their revenues (a minimum of $250 as of 2000) to state conventions which then pass a portion of that funding to the national convention. This allows small churches to combine efforts to build God’s kingdom (missions, education, charity, etc…) The Georgia Baptist Convention hopes to take in $41,800,000 in cooperative program revenue in 2013; 40.18% of that amount is earmarked to fund Georgia Baptist causes. One of those causes is Brewton-Parker College. That is why the defunding of the Georgia Baptist Convention (and Brewton-Parker College) starts on the local church level.
A Word about Tithing, Giving, and the Cooperative Program
It’s important to note that the cooperative program is a-biblical (not in the bible). Notice it’s not unbiblical (against the Bible). In other words, the cooperative program is neither proscribed nor prescribed in scripture. There is no biblical mandate to give to the cooperative program. It’s just a method by which small churches can create economies of scale while doing Kingdom work. When you tithe to your local Georgia Baptist church, a portion of that money goes to fund the Georgia Baptist Convention. I am calling on all Georgia Baptists to defund the Georgia Baptist Convention, but I am not calling on anyone to stop tithing. I believe that tithing is a biblically sound practice. This is what I’ve always been taught by my pastors and what I would teach if I was a pastor. That doesn’t make it right. What makes something right is it being biblical. Theologians I respect would disagree with me that tithing is biblically mandated for New Testament Christians. The scope of this post does not include a biblical treatment in support of tithing; I am working with the assumption that tithing is biblical. Even if you disagree with me on tithing, I assume that you still give to your church in some capacity. Whether we call what we when we give “tithing” or not, the fact remains that the church electric bill is not going to pay itself. If you’re not giving to your church, the charlatan Ergun Caner’s hire is not your biggest problem. You’re stealing from the Lord and your greed is a bigger one…but I digress. The issue here is not what percentage a Christian should give to the church or what he calls his gift, but the giving itself. (Names aren’t important…unless you are changing your name from “Butch” to “Mehmet” in order to cash in on 9/11 hysteria.) The issue is here is giving. As I noted in my previous post, we are stewards of the money God allows us to give. As Georgia Baptists, we give money to our churches and our churches give money to GBC through the cooperative program.
Issue 1: Can the GBC Intervene to Rectify the Caner Situation?
The most obvious answer is not necessarily the right one. It’s tempting to just say, “Fire the charlatan Ergun Caner,”…but the charlatan Ergun Caner didn’t hire himself. The vote to hire Caner was unanimous trustees, who clearly can’t be trusted to hire a biblically qualified administrator; they have erred mightily. But is removing the trustees a feasible course of action? That would leave a void of experienced management at Brewton-Parker. Of course, the college is in shambles so maybe that isn’t such a bad idea. Removing the trustees might be the final nail in Brewton-Parker’s coffin or it might be rolling away a stone. Whatever the case, make no mistake; the GBC does have the power to remove the trustees. However, according to a source within GBC leadership, “The convention cannot have undue influence over the trustees without violating the standards of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).” SACS is the educational body that accredits the institution. Brewton-Parker is already on the verge of losing its accreditation. So what can the Georgia Baptist convention do to rectify this situation? Firing Caner, removing the trustees, or ceasing to support the school altogether are viable options to do the right thing. Doing any of the preceding might damage the school beyond recovery (if it is not already so damaged). Remember, I’m not in search of a solution to save Brewton-Parker. The college may not even be salvageable. As one Brewton-Parker alum recently told me, “I’m not sure how much longer BPC can struggle to survive…back in the 90’s a huge financial aid scandal…crippled the school, and they have been trying to crawl out of the hole ever since. Instead of making God-honoring decisions, I believe that they have and continue to make desperation moves to try to survive. One would think they could learn from their mistakes.” It does not appear that they have learned. So what of the fate of Brewton Parker? Who knows? This is a matter of personal stewardship. Whatever may become of Brewton-Parker, the individual Christian cannot be derelict in his duty to be a good and faithful steward of God’s resources. Funding Brewton-Parker is a dereliction.
Issue 2: Connecting the Problem and the Solution
Cooperative Program Funding is the major source of GBC income. Individuals, like you and me, fund the local church. To make the connection, just follow the money trail:
Individual Christian àLocal ChurchàGeorgia Baptist ConventionàBrewton ParkeràThe Charlatan Ergun Caner
This is not only a money trail, but a trail of accountability. It is up to the individual Christian to make the leadership of his local church aware of this stewardship issue. If the local church recognizes the problem and agrees to cease its gifts to the GBC and/or Brewton-Parker (as we will discuss below), then great. If the local church does not agree to cease its gifts to the GBC and/or Brewton-Parker, then the individual Christian has an action to take: Practice good stewardship by ceasing to give to that church.
Issue 3, Part 1: A Solution – The Abilene Exclusion
In 2011, Abilene Baptist Church took issue with three causes funded by Cooperative Program funds: Southern Seminary, Southeastern Seminary, and the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. Under the leadership of its Pastor, Bill Harrell, (himself a former Vice President of the GBC and Chairman of the SBC Executive Committee) Abilene Baptist Church voted to exclude those causes from its gifts to the Georgia and Southern Baptist conventions. This was unprecedented, it epitomized free-market creative destruction, and it was simple. Whether one agrees with his stances on the three causes above or not, Bill Harrell and his church stood up for what they thought was right. They tried to be faithful stewards. I think Pastor Harrell opined correctly when he stated, “Most of our Southern Baptist people are just tending to the business of the Kingdom in their part of the world unaware of the forces that are in play and what those forces are trying to achieve and indeed are achieving with much success.” Most Georgia Baptists do not even know who the charlatan Ergun Caner is. They are just living their lives, coming to church on Sunday, and faithfully placing their tithes in the offering plate. If you are reading this blog or you read my last one, you know who the charlatan Egrun Caner is. You have a responsibility to keep others and yourself accountable by defunding the errant institution that put him in a position of Georgia Baptist leadership. This may seem difficult, but it is the right thing to do. Harrell stated on the occasion church’s decision to exclude some of its funding from certain causes, “I know that what I have said will be decried as harsh, but we are dealing with harsh realities in the SBC.” Even in church life, we live in a fallen world. However, so rarely does such a solution to the fallen world present itself to us. All your church needs to do is tell the GBC to exclude its gifts from going to Brewton-Parker. This can be done without leaving the cooperative program, without defunding the entire GBC, and without giving up influence for moral change in the GBC. My solution is simple, implement the Abilene Exclusion. Also, be aware that it is possible to give to the Southern Baptist Convention directly and bypass the GBC altogether.
Issue 3, Part 2: A Solution – The Abilene Exclusion
May I suggest the following course of action when education your church about the need to responsibly steward its funds by defunding the charlatan Ergun Caner.
- Contact your church’s senior pastor, executive pastor, or financial decision makers.
- Ask them to agree with the following: “If a person or entity is biblically unqualified, then its ministry should not be funded by the local church.” Give an example of something easy to agree with like a women’s health clinic that performs abortions or a college that hires liberal homosexual professors. If leadership does not agree with this conditional statement, I suggest you leave the church. Entities like these should never be funded.
- Ask them to agree with the following: “If Dr. Ergun Caner intentionally lied and then denied doing so; he is unqualified for service in Christian leadership no matter what the outcome of committee investigations have been.” Again, I suggest you leave the church if leadership cannot agree with the statement.
- Present to them the case against the charlatan Ergun Caner. He clearly lied intentionally to benefit himself. Anyone who can’t see this is too sold on his own ideology that he is not fit for leadership.
- Ask them to defund the GBC or implement the Abilene Exclusion. It’s an easy solution.
Issue 4: Addressing Potential Exceptions
I can see many potential objections to my proposed solution, the Abilene Exception. I will attempt to address a few here.
- Pastor Harrell detests Calvinism, he would never support firing Ergun Caner
This is a fallacious argument. Pastor Harrell’s opinion on Caner or Calvinism here is irrelevant. The ethic of the Abilene Exclusion stands alone from the reasons Harrell implemented it.
- The Cooperative Program and the GBC does a lot of good. Only a little bit of our funding goes to Brewton-Parker. If we defund it, a lot of good work won’t get done.
Such an argument relies on a utilitarian ethic which defines morality in terms of the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount people. This ethic is not consistent with a Christian worldview.
- But we’ve always given to the Cooperative Program!
I know what you’re thinking. You won’t come across any Baptists who resist change. First, this argument isn’t true if your church existed before 1925 when the cooperative program started. Second, the Baptists in 1845 had always owned slaves. This is clearly a bad argument. Cooperative Program participation is not a biblical mandate.
Obviously, I can’t anticipate and address every objection. I do want you to know that I am here to help you. If you’re a Moses is need of an Aaron, I am only an email to firstname.lastname@example.org away. I will help you speak to your leaders as my schedule permits if you so desire. I just want to do right by the Lord and other Christians. Today, my daily Bible reading presented me with the following from Micah Chapter 6:
“With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?”
The Lord doesn’t need my money or yours. He requires our righteousness. Being a Samuel in the midst of a people led by an Eli is tough-sledding…but it’s always the right move. Today, I heard my favorite preacher preach a sermon on the heroes of the faith. He stated: “Faith is not popular in a sinful society…because…faith sees sin as its greatest enemy and that alone takes on the mores of society…it often takes more courage to stand up against our friends…it takes a lot more courage to preach against the sins of those that we all have to deal with…social pressure can be more frightening that military power…Why is it people even think the leadership is going to be perfect…it’s not gonna be…We’re imperfect people…We trust God and his word and we stand on it and when we do that we live in the victory God says it ours.” There’s no college president, no executive director, no pastor, no good-ole-boy crowd, and no trustee who is bigger than God’s word, who is not obligated to do God’s word, or (in my opinion) who is obligated to the management of your tithe by virtue of his position. I’ll stand with the faithful on this issue. One can’t fund the wicked work of the charlatan Ergun Caner and be a good steward…but don’t you deny that man grace! This isn’t about getting him fired or hoping he fails. We shouldn’t be bitter about Ergun Caner. We must hope that he and those men who installed him repent of their misdeeds. When the Spirit rules your heart and not the flesh, it feels good to be cut to the quick. I pray God cuts Ergun Caner and the Georgia Baptist Leadership to the quick. Until then, we can’t fund them. It’s not right.
I understand the difference between the ideal and the reality. I’m a seminary student who studies the word and pays my bills with a secular job. I can afford my ideals. I’m not in the position of a pastor. I don’t face the same fiscal pressure. I don’t face the good-ole-boy network when I make a faithful but unpopular decision. Let me tell you now, I want to be a pastor. If I don’t stand up for doing the right thing now when my income doesn’t depend on it, how can stand up when it does? I know I’m asking the pastors reading this to make a hard call that might take the bread off their table…but does man live by bread alone?
Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is
I am not asking anyone to do anything I haven’t done. I addressed the financial and executive leadership at my church on this matter and am trying to work through this matter with them. I will accept only a biblically sound and morally correct outcome. Here is what I told the charlatan Ergun Caner when confronting him about this matter on 12/9/13:
I am a Georgia Baptist (non-Calvinist) and apologetics student at NOBTS.
I have heard your brother’s testimony (at FBC Kennesaw), examined the controversy surrounding you, and watched a video of James White speaking about you in Texas.
Regardless of the actual facts of your story, given the controversy that surrounds you, you cannot reasonably be considered as a man who is “above reproach” and fit for Christian leadership.
Since hearing of your appointment to Brewton Parker, I am considering moving my church membership (to a church that does not give to the Georgia Baptist Convention) so that your ministry will not be funded by the money God has entrusted me to tithe.
I think it would be best for the unity of Georgia Baptists if you did not accept the President’s job at Brewton-Parker College. Please step down.
Respectfully and in the name of our Lord, Seth Dunn”
Dr. Caner respectfully responded shortly thereafter:
“Well you do as you feel led by the Holy Spirit , as shall we. If you cannot support us, I’d encourage you give to soul winning in your local church , specifically to those events that produce numbers of invitations given and souls choosing Him in baptism.
What is best for unity would be to resurrect BPC as a soul winning station”
I am going to take Dr. Caner’s advice and do as the Spirit leads. I do know of a non-GBC supporting Baptist church to support and give my tithe money to. It’s a good church with a good pastor. There are still good stewards out there. I pray your church stands up for what is right when they are made aware of this situation.