Tennessee Megachurch Withholds Funds From Southern Baptist Convention Over Support of Mosque Construction


A 2,800-member Baptist church in Tennessee is withholding funds to the Southern Baptist Convention in protest of decisions made by SBC entities last year to join an amicus brief supporting the right for a Muslim community to build a mosque.

As previously reported, SBC’s International Mission Board and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission joined a coalition of various religious groups that signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief last spring supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge in its federal lawsuit against a New Jersey township that rejected its request to build a mosque.

Although U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Shipp sided with the mosque and the religious freedom arguments put forth in the brief in his court ruling in late December, IMB’s participation in the brief drew the ire of ex-IMB trustee Dean Haun, pastor at First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tennessee, and former president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

Haun told The Christian Post on Thursday that he resigned from his role as a member of the IMB board of trustees in November after reaching an impasse when he voiced his disapproval with IMB leadership over its involvement in the mosque lawsuit.

After news of IMB’s involvement in the brief spread, Haun had received calls and emails from about 60 different pastors from Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas and Kentucky, who also did not approve of the IMB supporting the mosque.

“As a trustee for the International Mission Board, I was getting call after call from pastors asking me why we did this as the International Mission Board. I had no idea because we were not informed of any of this in our trustee meetings,” Haun said. “If you put our International Mission Board mission and purpose statements on one side and put this action on the other side, it just doesn’t fit.”

Haun told CP that he wished IMB leadership brought their intentions to get involved in the court case before the trustees to discuss before they went ahead and signed on to the brief. Helping to secure a right for Muslims to build a mosque, he said, is counterproductive to the IMB mission.

“Our goal is to reach the entire world for Christ and this is a religious liberty issue that really has nothing to do with the IMB,” he explained. “That was my biggest complaint. First of all, I told leadership that as a trustee, one of my obligations was to try to protect the organization because I had so many pastors calling me upset about it. My second thing was that I felt like this was not a part of our mission and was going to detract from our mission and that we didn’t have any reason to do this.”

In addition to stepping down as an IMB trustee, Haun said that congregants at First Baptist Church, Morristown voted unanimously to escrow the church’s Cooperative Program funds, which are a percentage of the church’s undesignated receipts given in support of SBC missions and ministries.

Overall, First Baptist Church, Morristown gives about 11 percent to the Cooperative Program and began escrowing the Cooperative Program funds in October. Haun said that the “substantial” funds would be withheld until a compromise can be made regarding IMB’s inclusion in the brief.

Ideally, Haun and other members of the church want IMB to rescind its name from the brief. He added that First Baptist Church, Morristown was ranked fifth in the state of Tennessee when it comes the amount of money given to the Cooperative Program.

“What we are doing is we are hoping we can work everything out. What we are doing is we are escrowing our funds. In other words, we still have them in our bank ready to send on if we can come to some kind of agreement or work this out,” the pastor said. “When [the congregation] heard about this, they came unglued. They just said, ‘What in the world are we doing?’ We have got some pretty influential leaders among the Tennessee Baptist Convention in our church.”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Samuel Smith