The following article was posted on Associated Baptist Press:
North Carolina WMU decides to leave convention’s control
Published: August 22, 2007
CARY, N.C. (ABP) -- The Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina has voted to remove itself from the North Carolina Baptist Building -- and the state convention executive director’s attempt to assert authority over its staff.
The dramatic move culminates 16 months of tension between WMU and the rightward-shifting Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Conflict between the missions-promotion group and BSCNC has simmered since April 2006, when the WMU leadership voted to change the term that described its relationship with the convention from “auxiliary” to “cooperative partner.”
At that time it also assumed final authority in its own personnel matters, although it committed to stay aligned with Baptist State Convention personnel policies. At issue was who could make the final call on potential new hires, a responsibility claimed by the BSCNC executive director-treasurer because each state WMU staff member is a BSCNC employee.
However, the WMU staff positions are mainly funded through a state missions offering that WMU members promote.
Several meetings took place between WMU-NC and BSCNC leadership to resolve the issues, but they reached an impasse when neither side would budge from their position on ultimate authority in hiring WMU-NC staff.
WMU-NC board members approved the move via conference call Aug. 16 and communicated results to BSCNC executive leadership Aug. 21. WMU-NC reported that 25 of the WMU-NC executive board’s 30 members were on the call and 23 voted in favor of the move, with one voting to oppose it and one abstention. The board’s executive committee had earlier recommended the change.
The decision to relocate offices “should not be interpreted as a departure from the organization’s commitment to supporting and promoting missions through the BSCNC, nor as a lack of appreciation for the mutual partnership the organizations have enjoyed in the past,” Ruby Fulbright, WMU-NC executive director, said in a written statement.
After meeting with BSCNC Executive Director Milton Hollifield to inform him of WMU-NC’s decision, she said, “For the integrity of the organization and our history and for what God wants us to do, this is what we had to do.”
Hollifield, who was elected in April 2006, said in a prepared statement that he was “grieved that the longstanding relationship between the BSCNC [and] WMU of NC has moved to this level of consequential uncertainty.”
“We have participated in more than 16 months of dialogue, and it was my hope that this process had helped move us forward together,” Hollifield said. “However, BSCNC leadership was not given the opportunity to discuss this surprise vote by WMU-NC. Anytime we are faced with the desire of an entity to separate from BSCNC it is a terribly unsettling circumstance. I am saddened to see that our long standing relationship of trust and accountability has eroded.”
Fulbright noted that Hollifield has taken a more active role in hiring matters. She said that in previous BSCNC administrations, WMU-NC was wholly responsible for hiring and managing its staff and that the BSCNC executive director merely signed paperwork to enter new WMU-NC employees into the payroll system.
Hollifield was elected to his position in 2006. Conservatives supportive of recent decades’ rightward shift in the national Southern Baptist Convention solidified their control of the North Carolina convention -- long a moderate bastion -- in the years just prior to Hollifield’s appointment.
SBC conservatives at the national level as well as in other state conventions have similarly tried to rein in WMU leadership, with little success. The organization was founded in the late 1800s as an auxiliary to the SBC, and has governed itself since. National WMU receives no funds from the SBC, but promotes the denomination’s missionary work and offerings.
Fulbright said churches that rely on WMU-NC for assistance should see no change. “We intend to continue working with the churches. We intend to keep praying for, promoting, and supporting the offerings, as well as providing missions education resources and training.”
WMU-NC wants to resource other Baptist entities in mission education and involvement, Fulbright said. That includes assistance to churches that affiliate with other denominations and with bodies such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. The SBC’s conservative leaders have been highly critical of both groups.
Hollifield said such an intention was “a clear departure from the historic focus of the mission and ministry of WMU-NC of NC.”
WMU-NC has asked the BSCNC for a nine-month financial transition to deal with insurance and payroll issues, although it might move out of the Baptist Building sooner. Fulbright said the WMU-NC staff will all resign employment from BSCNC and remain with WMU-NC.
WMU-NC has nine employees at the BSCNC central office in Cary, N.C., near Raleigh and Durham. WMU-NC also employs two part-time workers and the facilities manager at Camp Mundo Vista, near Asheboro, N.C.
WMU-NC also wants to continue receiving funds through the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO), an annual state-wide offering that provides funds for WMU-NC, North Carolina Baptist Men, church planting, and a variety of other projects.
Hollifield said the 2007 NCMO distribution must follow the allocation percentages already approved by messengers to the last convention annual meeting. But he also said he would not speculate about either the BSCNC Executive Committee’s willingness to continue transition funding or about future NCMO allocations.
“I am hopeful that some level of continued cooperation might be salvaged, but rest assured there will be missions education ministries and women’s ministries provided through BSCNC with or without WMU of NC’s cooperation,” Hollifield said.
The 2007 NCMO goal is $2.53 million. If fully funded, WMU-NC would receive $867,437, or 33.6 percent, of the total. That represents their program budget, including salaries. Benefits, insurance, automobiles, office space and technology are provided through the state convention’s general budget. According to BSCNC officials, the annual value of the benefits provided directly by the convention exceeds $400,000.
Fulbright said WMU-NC has received a preliminary offer of alternative office space in the Raleigh area at a reasonable cost.
-- Robert Marus contributed to this story.