The misappropriation of missions money given by the Baptist General Convention of Texas for church starting efforts in the Rio Grande Valley, known as “Valley Gate,” is still generating news. This week, one of the individuals on the convention level who apparently helped by covering for the lack of accountability has pulled out the “race card” and is saying that the central figure in the probe, Otto Arrango, was singled out because of his race. You can read the lengthy article for yourself in the Baptist Standard online edition. Just go to http://www.baptiststandard.com, then click the line about halfway down the page for articles about the Valley Gate probe.
The editorial by Marv Knox this week focuses on a motion made at the BGCT annual meeting back in November. A messenger made a motion to direct the executive board to turn the findings of the investigation over to government officials, particularly the FBI. The motion was overruled by the chair on the basis that “the executive board’s previous actions on the matter had pre-empted any action by the convention on the matter.” At the time, there was virtually no opposition to the chair’s ruling from the floor of the convention, and little support for this motion, which would have likely failed by a wide margin.
At the time, I supported the ruling of the chair. Actually, I just sat there in a daze, contemplating what I might or might not do, and later regretting not doing what I should have. By doing nothing, I supported the ruling of the chair. There was clearly no support for the motion among the messengers who were gathered. The messenger who made the motion, and subsequently spoke for it, had ventured into naming names and resorted to personal attacks, and had spoken far longer than the time limit allowed when the chair cut him off. However, since that time, having read and thought about this particular ruling since it was made, I tend to agree with Marv Knox.
We are Baptists. The final authority in convention business must be the convention floor, not the officers or the executive board. Actually, the final authority must be Christ, as he speaks to messengers via the Holy Spirit. Texas Baptists, particularly the large majority of them that have remained uniquely affiliated with the BGCT, have long been critics of the short-circuiting of business in the SBC by the executive board and trustee boards. Perhaps that’s why it took a long pause after this particular ruling to realize that our convention floor had also been short-circuited.
The matter would have been appropriately settled if it had been allowed to come to a vote. The messengers could have said, “We are satisfied to let the executive board handle this one.” That would have been that. There could have been agreement or disagreement on that point, but the authority would have rested with the convention body, not with the chair or parliamentarian. As it is, we are on the brink of having a dangerous precedent set in convention business that hands authority over to the executive board and walks away. And while we might trust the executive board with that kind of authority, we should always have the ability to take it back.
I don’t have a problem with the way the executive board has handled things so far. I trust their leadership. I think they will resolve this issue to the satisfaction of Texas Baptists, and will likely even recover a portion of the funds that were mishandled. But we must never forget that, as Baptists, in order to preserve and protect our local church autonomy, we must not hand our authority over to an oligarchy.