Hardage acknowledges ‘missteps’ regarding GC2

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Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Director David Hardage acknowledged “missteps” in the development of the GC2 statement of faith, and he suggested Texas Baptists press the “pause” button before taking further action.

As a movement focusing Texas Baptists on Christ’s Great Commission and Great Commandment, GC2 has gained broad support. But Hardage frankly admitted BGCT leaders made “missteps along the way” as they attempted to provide organizational structural for an organic movement.

“Texas Baptists do a good job of letting you know what they are comfortable and uncomfortable with. So, I’ve heard that,” Hardage said in a wide-ranging interview with the Baptist Standard.

In particular, leaders failed to think “deeply enough” about a background document presented to the BGCT Executive Board that said the GC2 statement of faith “may also be used to vet the beliefs for BGCT elected/appointed committees, boards or scholarships,” he said.

“That was poorly worded, or maybe should have never been added,” Hardage said. “That’s not who we are. We have never and will never do a vetting like that. We don’t do that. It’s not how we operate.”

When asked further about how the statement became part of the background document, Hardage said, “Somebody did think it was a good idea, and the rest of us just missed it.”

Putting ‘structure around an idea’

Texas Baptist leaders made “missteps” as they tried to “put structure around an idea” that developed organically, he insisted.

Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Director David Hardage told Texas Baptists’ virtual annual meeting, “We want to be known as a movement of God’s people—a GC2 movement—focused on fulfilling the Great Commission and carrying out the Great Commandment.” (Screen Capture)

Early on in his time as BGCT executive director, Hardage said, he concluded Texas Baptists want to see two things happen: “They want to see lost people saved. And they want to see hurting people helped.”

So, Hardage began to emphasize Texas Baptists as a people united by their desire to obey the Great Commission and the Great Commandment—to share the gospel of Christ and show love to others.

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“It seems biblical to be those people,” he said.

About the same time, Texas Baptists responded to a couple of “divine appointments,” he said. The BGCT launched its Missionary Adoption Program at the invitation of Baptists in Brazil, connecting Texas Baptist churches to indigenous missionaries. Texas Baptists also responded to an invitation to help church planters start congregations outside of Texas.

While out-of-state churches and their pastors might be reluctant to identify themselves as Texas Baptists, they might find it easier to identify themselves as part of the “GC2 movement,” Hardage noted.

In his report to the virtual 2020 BGCT annual meeting, Hardage said, “We want to be known as a movement of God’s people—a GC2 movement—focused on fulfilling the Great Commission and carrying out the Great Commandment.”

Reserving the name, preparing for the future

Five months earlier, BGCT Treasurer/CEO Ward Hayes filed a certificate of formation with the Texas Secretary of State, registering GC2 as a nonprofit corporation. The certificate of formation listed three directors of the corporation—Hardage, Hayes and Craig Christina, BGCT associate executive director.

Hardage said convention leaders wanted to protect the “GC2” name and legally “set the stage for something down the road, but it’s way too early to say what that may be.” The nonprofit has no elected board or any governing documents at this point, he said.

Derek Dodson, a member of Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, questioned the propriety of the BGCT executive leadership establishing another parallel organization while simultaneously serving the convention.

“It appears to be a conflict of interest,” said Dodson, director of undergraduate studies and senior lecturer in the religion department at Baylor University. Dodson emphasized he was speaking for himself, not the university or its religion department.

Hardage said he does not see a conflict of interest, but he admitted having a second fledgling organization on a track parallel to the BGCT “does create confusion.”

So far, more than 50 churches outside of Texas have affiliated with GC2, but Hardage acknowledged their relationship to the BGCT is “complicated and messy.”

Adopting a GC2 statement of faith

In September 2021, the BGCT Executive Board approved a statement of faith for GC2, which it identified as “a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love.” Hardage told the board Texas Baptists needed a succinct explanation of their theological identity when approached by entities asking if they could relate to the GC2.

The rationale for the statement of faith presented to the board said it was not intended to replace the Baptist Faith & Message but to “function as a guide for collaboration with like-minded conventions, denominations, churches, ministries, foundations, institutions or Christians.”

The statement of faith was approved by the Executive Board but not presented to messengers at the 2021 BGCT annual meeting. However, messengers to that meeting did approve an amendment to the statement of faith, adding a reference to the ascension of Christ.

“We never should have voted on that. But we did,” Hardage said. “Nobody is opposed to the ascension. But it was not necessary. It should have just been received as a suggestion. But we made a mistake there.”

At its May 2022 meeting, the Executive Board again was asked to approve a GC2 statement of faith, but this time the board recommended it be presented for consideration by messengers to the 2022 BGCT annual meeting in Waco, Nov. 13-15.

Hardage said he now views having the Executive Board vote on what he considered “an information piece” was a mistake—giving the document greater weight than it was intended to have.

What it includes, what it omits

The statement of faith includes basic orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Triune God; Jesus Christ as the head of the church; Jesus’ virgin birth, atoning death, resurrection, ascension and return; the urgency of evangelism; and the Bible as “God’s word and truth without mixture of error.” It declares salvation is “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”

It also includes some distinctive Baptist beliefs, such as the Lord’s Supper and baptism as the two ordinances of the church; “the priesthood of every believer and all believers;” and “the autonomy of the local church in governance and ordination.”

However, it does not include other Baptist distinctives such as religious liberty, separation of church and state, and soul competency.

It also includes some hot-button social issues, affirming “the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death,” defining biblical marriage as “one man and one woman in a covenant relationship with the Lord and one another;” and affirming gender as “a gift from God at birth.”

Uniting or dividing?

“Culture war issues tend to divide instead of unite. They didn’t have to be included,” Dodson said. “It seems like a tool of division. It doesn’t look Baptist.”

Dodson questioned whether the intention is to “morph the BGCT” into GC2 or to provide an alternative to the BGCT to “mend fences with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.”

Chris McLain, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bandera, voiced enthusiastic support for an emphasis on the Great Commission and Great Commandment. McLain added he could understand why out-of-state churches that want to identify with Texas Baptists’ mission might identify more readily with GC2 than with the “Texas Baptists” label.

However, he questioned why an “organic movement” needs its own distinctive statement of faith.

McLain asked why important Baptist distinctives such as religious liberty and the separation of church and state were not included in the GC2 statement of faith.

He also expressed concern about giving social and cultural issues equal weight to central Christian doctrines in the statement of faith.

“We should be wise about wading into those waters, allowing the shifting winds of culture to determine the terms of the conversation,” he said.

Hardage acknowledged the questions that have been raised along those lines and said, “It’s probably time to pause and think through all of that.”

Used as a vetting tool?

Unlike the earlier version of the GC2 faith statement the Executive Board approved last year, the background section of the document presented to the board in May said the statement of faith “may also be used to vet the beliefs for BGCT elected/appointed committees, boards or scholarships.” McLain particularly expressed concern about that provision.

“It triggers memories of how the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 was written, and how it moved closer to creedal use than how Baptists historically have understood confessions of faith,” he said.

McLain voiced support for BGCT leadership and said he saw no evidence of “nefarious” intent behind the GC2 statement of faith. But as a former recipient of BGCT ministerial scholarships, he specifically questioned why students would be pressured to affirm a theological statement of faith before beginning their theological studies.

“Many of these students are not yet fully formed theologically,” he said. “It appears we would be asking them to sign onto a statement they may not fully understand. … They are still in the process of figuring out what they believe.”

Dodson questioned how the GC2 statement might be used during a transition time in the life of the BGCT. Hardage announced in June his plans to retire as BGCT executive director. Last month, the officers of the BGCT and its Executive Board announced the membership of a search committee that will recommend the next executive director.

“Will the next executive director be vetted according to the GC2 statement of faith?” Dodson asked.

When asked that question, David Mahfouz, pastor of First Baptist Church of Warren and chair of the search committee, responded by email, “The GC2 statement would not have an impact or relate to the work of [the executive director] search committee at this time in our search process.”

‘We will correct that’

Hardage acknowledged including a sentence about possibly using the GC2 statement as a tool for vetting was a “misstep.”

“We just didn’t think it through deeply enough,” he said. “I wish we hadn’t done that. We will correct that.”

When asked what messengers to the BGCT annual meeting will vote on regarding the GC2 statement of faith, Hardage said, “Probably nothing this time.”

Hardage indicated he will address the matter in his remarks to the BGCT Executive Board at its September meeting.

“I will express my preference in putting that on ‘pause’ while we think through and pray through where that does and does not need to go,” he said.

Particularly in light of his plans to retire within a few months, Hardage said: “I don’t want to put anything onto somebody else that may not be their dream or their vision. So, I think we’ll just put it on ‘pause’ for a little while.”

“If the Lord is in this, let’s let him guide it in his time and in his way, and we’ll try not to run ahead,” he said.

‘Do the right thing the right way’

Moving forward, he voiced support for the idea of having more “sounding boards” in place to consider any statement of faith or organizational structure for GC2. Rather than a small group developing a document, he suggested the convention “get some pastors together in a room two or three times” to discuss it and then “give it some time.”

“We want to do the right thing the right way,” he said.

Rather than “rush” into taking action, the BGCT should “think through it all, read through it all and hear more from our constituents,” he said.

“There’s some messiness we need to try to clean up and more things we need to think through,” he said. “Bottom line: I still love the [GC2] idea. I still love the focus. I hope Texas Baptists always find a way to keep the Great Commission and the Great Commandment at the forefront.

“In the midst of all the messiness we have—and that we sometimes create—Texas Baptists still want to see two things happen: They want to see the lost people saved and hurting people helped.”

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