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European Leader Charges Southern Baptist Board Seeks Domination

January 22, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ A European Baptist leader has charged that fundamentalist Southern Baptist Convention leaders are seeking to regulate the thinking of European Baptists.

The complaint, over a decision by the convention’s Foreign Missions Board to drop funding for a seminary in Switzerland, was the latest episode resulting from moves by fundamentalist leaders who control the Southern Baptist Convention to stamp out so-called liberal views.

Some say that process has already spread through national institutions and agencies of America’s largest Protestant denomination.

In a Jan. 14 letter to about 5,000 Baptist leaders in the United States and Europe, German Baptist scholar Wiard Popkes said attempts to extend controls in Europe endanger future Southern Baptist work there.

He said the Foreign Missions Board ″singles out and determines which voices in Europe are ‘true’ and which are not.″

Popkes is a professor and trustee chairman of the international Baptist Theological Seminary in Ruschlikon, Switzerland.

His letter, made public Tuesday by a spokesman of the board at its headquarters in Richmond, Va., was a response to an open letter by the Rev. Bill Hancock, chairman of the board’s trustees, defending their eliminating aid to the Ruschlikon seminary.

That sudden defunding, Popkes wrote, ″cannot be interpreted ... other than as an expression by the (board) that it does not really want to continue trustful partnership with the (European federation) and its institutions.″

″Such a strategy may turn out to be a tragedy, because it endangers future missionary efforts by Southern Baptists in Europe,″ he wrote.

Southern Baptists, numbering 15 million in this country, have planned a major emphasis on missionary work in Europe because of the new opportunities opened by the collapse of communism.

However, most European Baptist leaders have protested the defunding of the seminary, saying it eroded trust between them and Southern Baptists.

Hancock said trustees questioned the international seminary’s commitment to conservative theology and sensed a tolerance of liberal thought. Popkes replied that Ruschlikon considered itself committed to the mainstream Baptist movement and didn’t regard itself as liberal.

″We regret that among Southern Baptists too often and too easily certain kinds of disqualifying labels are being used,″ he said.

Under fundamentalist sway, Southern Baptist leadership has laid down new requirements for belief that go beyond classic Christian creeds, such as insisting that the Bible is without error scientifically and historically.

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