From the Associated Baptist Press:
IMB missionaries refuse to resign,
face forced termination in May
By Hannah Elliott
Published April 17, 2006
RICHMOND, Va. (ABP) -- After receiving an April 15 ultimatum to resign or face termination, Wyman and Michelle Dobbs have refused to resign as International Mission Board missionaries in Guinea, West Africa.
The couple was targeted for starting a church in Guinea that isn't "Baptist" enough. When the deadline passed, the Dobbses received a letter April 17 from an IMB regional director that said the missionaries will be terminated May 31.
The Dobbses, who have served an unreached people group in the mostly Muslim country for eight years, started the church with the help of a missionary couple from the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical denomination with doctrinal standards and church governance very similar to those of Southern Baptists. The Dobbses have filed an appeal, which will be reviewed by a regional committee in May.
“I personally think this is an outrage,” said Jason Helmbacher, the Dobbses’ stateside pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Sallisaw, Okla. “I don’t believe it’s fair that they’ve been given an ultimatum based on misapplied policy. I just think it’s wrong.”
IBM chairman Tom Hatley disagrees. Hatley said he must stand by IMB policy, which he said the Dobbses have violated. IMB policy states that missionaries may plant churches in cooperation with non-Baptist missionaries who endorse the “Baptist Faith and Message” doctrinal statement -- the CMA couple has -- but those churches must have Baptist doctrine at their core.
It is unclear what doctrinal deviation is alleged in the Dobbses' case. ABP reported April 13 that the Dobbses and the Christian and Missionary Alliance couple started a “baptistic” church -- one Baptist in doctrine and polity but not in name.
The new church established in Guinea is one of only a handful of Christian outposts in the predominantly Muslim country -- and the first congregation affiliated with IMB missionaries.
Helmbacher, who said his church has sent three different groups of people to work with the Dobbses in less than two years, said the action against the couple has created confusion for church members who have just begun to get excited about missions.
“Our church is struggling to understand this,” Helmbacher told Associated Baptist Press. “They don’t understand the politics. They’ve been confused and upset.”
Helmbacher said church members have written letters and made phone calls to IMB trustees, trying to gain support for the Dobbses. Helmbacher said he fears the appeal might not make it through the May committee meeting -- or a subsequent trustee vote.
Trustee chairman Hatley did not speculate on the appeal’s outcome. He said it is a “staff decision” about violated policies. “It’s a work in progress,” Hatley said. “It could or it couldn’t go through.”
If the Dobbses' firing is not reversed on appeal, the full trustee board will vote on the termination in a later plenary session.
The IMB staff does not discuss pending personnel issues.
The conservative trustees who run the International Mission Board have insisted on increasingly strict policies about acceptable theology and practice among missionaries -- such as requiring that only Baptist churches be established overseas. Supporters say IMB missionaries must reflect the beliefs of the denomination that sends them. Critics say the stricter IMB policies go too far.
The news of the potential firing comes on the heels of another controversy over new IMB policies designed to prevent missionaries from using private charismatic practices and to narrow the parameters of acceptable modes of baptism for missionary appointees.