Messengers approve Cooperation Group recommendations regarding ‘friendly cooperation’

INDIANAPOLIS (BP) – During the Tuesday, June 11, evening session of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting at the Indiana Convention Center, messengers approved four recommendations from the Cooperation Group, which was tasked in 2023 to study the issue of how Article 3 of the SBC constitution references the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M.)

The recommendations included:

  • To ensure that edits or amendments to The Baptist Faith & Message follow the same process as amendments to the Constitution (two-thirds vote, two consecutive years), we recommend the Executive Committee propose changes to our governing documents for the Convention’s consideration at the 2025 annual meeting.
  • To ensure that the sole authority for seating messengers is vested in the messenger body, we recommend the Executive Committee propose changes to our governing documents for the Convention’s consideration at the 2025 annual meeting. We also recommend celebrating churches seating messengers for the first time.
  • To ensure the fidelity of our trustees to our doctrinal confession, we recommend the Executive Committee propose changes to our governing documents for the Convention’s consideration at the 2025 annual meeting to require the Committee on Nominations to nominate as entity trustees and standing committee members only those candidates who affirm the Convention’s adopted statement of faith.
  • To clarify our cooperative unity, we recommend the Executive Committee evaluate the usefulness and accuracy of a public list of churches and report their updates at the 2025 annual meeting.

Remarking on the process, Jared Wellman, Cooperation Group chairman, said the group of 20 diverse individuals, in the end, had unanimity in their recommendations.

“We believe that the Constitution’s language, which says a church will only be deemed to be in friendly cooperation which has a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith is sufficient, together with any additional standards messengers have or may set forth in Article 3 and setting the doctrinal parameters for the seating of messengers, as they so choose in accordance with the governing documents,” said Wellman, pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

The phrase “closely identifies with,” recognizes the freedom of the messenger body to interpret its statement of faith and to apply doctrinal standards to the seating of messengers as they so choose in accordance with the governing documents.”

He noted the group was sensitive to the concern that the changes of Article 3 could be understood to impose a confession of faith upon a church, “which was never our intent,” he said.

“This Cooperation Group is asserting that this language remains adequate to describe our nature as the Convention. Our report adds another layer of endorsement to a phrase that holds this precedence within our convention,” Wellman said, noting in a later press conference that historically, there had been 16 motions for this portion of the constitution to be studied.

In addition to the recommendations, Wellman shared that a final statement in the report is a point of clarification about Southern Baptist equality and cooperation.

“We encourage Southern Baptists to refrain from the language of ‘disfellowshipping’ for churches that messengers determine no longer to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention. Instead, we suggest the constitutional language, ‘not in friendly cooperation.’”

Two messengers, John LaRue of the Bridge Church in Miami, Ohio, and Paul Taylor of First Baptist Church, Mauriceville, Texas, made motions to adjust some of the recommendations, but they were considered unfriendly amendments by the group, and neither passed.

Timothy Faber, Cornerstone Baptist Church in Camdenton, Missouri, made a motion to divide the questions to vote on each recommendation separately and not en banc, but that also did not pass.

Members of the Cooperation Group included Victor Chayasirisobhon, Jerome Coleman, Tara Dew, Donna Gaines, Matt Henslee, Travis Kerns, Richard Land, Jonathan Leeman, Jason Paredes, Greg Perkins, Jim Richards, Juan Sanchez, Andrew Walker, Trevin Wax and Tony Wolfe. SBC officers serving in ex officio roles were Bart Barber, president; Kason Branch, second vice president; Don Currence, registration secretary; and Nathan Finn, recording secretary.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.)

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