Students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Push Back at Jack Graham’s Escrowing of SBC Cooperative Program Funds

Dr. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX

Former Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham was greeted by students wearing “I Love CP” t-shirts and an open letter voicing concern about his Texas megachurch’s decision to temporarily withhold funding for the denomination when he spoke in chapel March 7 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Scheduled months ago, Graham’s visit to the campus came two weeks after headlines in the Wall Street Journal and a Baptist newspaper in Louisiana reported that Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, was holding $1 million in funding for the Cooperative Program in escrow because of “various significant positions” taken by the leadership of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Last week the SBC Executive Committee launched a study into “the current reality in Southern Baptist life” of churches withholding or discontinuing support of the unified budget plan that has driven funding for state and national denominational bodies since its creation in 1925.

The student letter, published online after Graham received a copy, said registering protest by withholding funds sends a message that “money talks” and diminishes the voice of smaller churches unable to pony up amounts comparable to a 40,000-member multi-site church like Prestonwood.

“These actions set a precedent that puts the Cooperative Program at risk,” the students said. “If such a method of escrowing money proves popular, a dangerous precedent will have been set for our denomination.”

“Megachurches may withdraw their funds from the CP when they become disgruntled with the convention, spurring smaller churches to follow suit,” the letter continued. “Amidst such a climate, more missionaries may have to return home, church plants could close their doors, and young pastors may have to seek their theological training elsewhere, or even withdraw from classes.”

Graham, SBC president from 2002 to 2004, didn’t mention the controversy during his chapel sermonbut afterward met 20 minutes with interested students in an off-the-record question-and-answer session before leaving for the airport. Graham reportedly offered to cancel his campus visit to avoid a confrontation, but seminary President Chuck Kelley encouraged him to come.

Kelley introduced Graham in chapel as “champion for Southern Baptists during the Conservative Resurgence, when we were really battling over the soul of our convention.”

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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Bob Allen