BALTIMORE (BP) -- The Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee voted during its June 9 meeting in Baltimore to recommend a proposal to update the SBC constitution regarding qualifications for churches to send messengers to the annual meeting.

The proposed revision to Article III was approved during the June 9 meeting to go before messengers today (June 10) during the SBC annual meeting. See full text of the proposed revision to the Article III following this story.

The Executive Committee placed the item on its June 9 agenda during its Feb. 17-18 meeting in Nashville to give Southern Baptists time to discuss and offer suggestions related to the proposal. The revision to Article III, EC chairman Ernest Easley said, is a response to a motion from last year's annual meeting in Houston that proposed updating the article. It was the 16th motion in the past 35 years to call for a reevaluation of the minimum qualifications for seating additional church messengers at the SBC.

Easley said the Executive Committee has been working over the last few months to "build consensus" over the recommendation, "which really proved to be beneficial in our current recommendation today." Baptist Press carried a question-and-answer session with Easley in March to address some of the concerns with the proposal. Click here to read his response to those concerns and questions.

Article III currently states that churches in friendly cooperation with the convention can send one additional messenger for every 250 members or for each $250 per year "paid to the work of the Convention." The $250 amount dates back to 1888.

Under the new proposal to be considered, each cooperating church that contributed to convention causes during the preceding fiscal year would automatically qualify for two messengers.

"In the years where records have been kept, most churches send two messengers," Easley said in the Q&A session. "The second largest category of representation is of churches that send only one messenger.

"Second, pastors are often accompanied by their wives," he added. "We thought it reasonable to encourage them to come as a couple, no matter the size of the church or the amount of the church's gifts to the convention."

According to a Feb. 19 report in Baptist Press, a cooperating church would be able to send additional messengers by one of two options, whichever allows them to send the greater number of messengers:

-- One additional messenger for each full percent of the church's undesignated receipts through any combination of gifts through the Cooperative Program, designated gifts through the Executive Committee for convention causes or to any SBC entity, the report said.

-- One additional messenger for each $6,000 the church contributes in the preceding year through the same combination of the Cooperative Program, designated gifts through the Executive Committee for convention causes or to any SBC entity.

The $6,000 figure was selected by adjusting for inflation and other factors since 1888, the report said. The amount is meant to be comparable to the $250 figure adopted 126 years ago.

Among the concerns voiced in recent months by Baptists regarding the proposed changes to Article III was the perception that the proposal negatively impacted smaller churches. In the June 9 meeting, Easley described the current recommendation as "small church friendly," recognizing that many of these churches "give proportionately to the Cooperative Program." He noted that the proposed revision now includes a reference to the Cooperative Program.

The proposal also addressed concerns that the initial changes to Article III could have been interpreted to "impose a confession of faith upon a church, which was never our intent," Easley said. Because of that concern, he said, the language in a portion of the document was adjusted and no longer contains the line, "Has not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention's most recently adopted statement of faith." It now reads, "Has a faith in practice which closely identifies with the churches' adopted statement of faith." Easley said the words "closely identifies" were taken directly from the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

In other action, committee members elected Colorado pastor Mike Routt of Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs as chairman. There were no other nominees.

Routt is "a man of integrity" who has led his church to increase its Cooperative Program giving by 1 percentage point in its budget on two separate occasions, Tim Ohls, pastor of Believers Southern Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan., said in nominating Routt. Ohls added that Routt "has tremendous experience in leadership within our denomination," filling leadership roles in the Kentucky and Colorado state conventions as well as serving two terms as Executive Committee vice chairman.

John Yeats, the convention's recording secretary and executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, was elected vice chairman and Carol Yarber, a member of First Baptist Church in Malakoff, Texas, was re-elected secretary. Both also were the lone nominees.

The Executive Committee elected Shane Hall of Oklahoma as chairman of the administrative committee; Stephen Rummage of Florida as chairman of the business and finance committee; and Benjamin Kelley of Alabama as chairman of the Cooperative Program committee.

Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press. David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service, contributed to this report. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.

Following is the text of the proposed Article III that was slated for consideration by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention during their June 10 opening session in Baltimore:

Article III. Composition: The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of Baptist churches in cooperation with the Convention. The following subparagraphs describe the Convention’s current standards and method of determining the maximum number of messengers the Convention will recognize from each cooperating church to attend the Convention’s annual meeting.

1. The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a “cooperating” church as that descriptive term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which:

(1) Has a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention's adopted statement of faith. (By way of example, churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.)

(2) Has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention. (By way of example, the regular filing of the annual report requested by the Convention would be one indication of such cooperation.)

(3) Has made undesignated, financial contribution(s) through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity during the fiscal year preceding.

2. Under the terms above, the Convention will recognize to participate in its annual meeting two (2) messengers from each cooperating church, and such additional messengers as are permitted below.

3. The Convention will recognize additional messengers from a cooperating church under one of the options described below. Whichever method allows the church the greater number of messengers shall apply:

(1) One additional messenger for each full percent of the church's undesignated receipts which the church contributed during the fiscal year preceding through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention's Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity; or

(2) One additional messenger for each $6,000 which the church contributed during the fiscal year preceding through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention's Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity.

4. The messengers shall be appointed and certified by their church to the Convention, but the Convention will not recognize more than twelve (12) from any cooperating church.

5. Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he or she is appointed.

6. If a church experiences a natural disaster or calamitous event and, as a result, the church is not qualified to appoint as many messengers as the church could appoint for the Convention’s annual meeting immediately before the event, the church’s pastor or an authorized church representative may, for no more than the three (3) annual meetings after the event, certify the facts to the registration secretary and obtain the same number of messengers it could have certified for the Convention’s annual meeting immediately before the event.

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