After a 17 year hiatus, I finally got to attend the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. My schedule being what it was, I exited the hall this morning right in the middle of Dr. Mohler’s “report” on Southern Seminary, but I did sit through all three Tuesday sessions, and it was, to say the least, an interesting experience.
Dr. Page’s analogy comparing Southern Baptist strategy in spiritual warfare to the Maginot Line of World War II captured my attention. He was right on target with that, and with his call for a genuine Holy Ghost revival as the only way to raise our sagging baptism levels.
“Yet we as Baptists, particularly Baptist preachers, seemed to have developed the unique ability to strut while they are still sitting down. This convention does not belong to you, and it sure does not belong to me….We have no business at this table except by [God’s] mercy and forgiveness.”
Ouch. And amen.
Most surprising, at least to me, was Dr. Chapman’s address. It appeared to be a yawner at first, with the now almost obligatory bashing of the Baptist World Alliance and the regularly scheduled appeal to state conventions to subordinate their budgets and ministries to those of the SBC by sending more money. I was about to get up and head to the bathroom when he began to speak to the issue of trustee boards of the various Baptists entities going beyond the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. His two suggestions, which basically stated that anything having the “force of doctrine” should be in accord with the BFM, and anything that goes beyond that should require the approval of the convention, earned my applause.
Dr. Chapman insisted that the resurgence leadership kept repeating that the issue was the authority of God’s Word and not the interpretation of God’s Word. Perhaps that was the ideal, but it has certainly not been the practice. He insisted that we are “wasting time” in debates about “disputable doctrines” and actually used the terms secondary and tertiary, though he did not define what those were. And I thought it was particularly interesting that while the debate about private prayer language and tongues has led to an insistence by some that this is a slippery slope leading to Pentecostalism, Dr. Chapman said twice that we need to ask God to send his “Pentecostal power” and the “fire of Pentecost” upon us.
The title of his message was “Leading by Example.” No specific action was outlined, so are these just words designed to placate a group of individuals that are perceived as a threat to the power of the resurgence leadership, or are we going to see the SBC Executive Committee, under Chapman’s leadership, take some real action, particularly in regard to dealing with some of the controversial issues at hand?
I’d suggest that they start by considering immediate action on the motion I made Tuesday afternoon to set up a task force to develop a policy for convention approval which deals with an issue that is presently causing controversy. The motion was referred to them, and it would be a great way to put action behind Dr. Chapman’s well stated message.
Elections and Votes
Dr. Page’s unopposed re-election as president was a well deserved honor for him. Dr. Page is a great leader. He’s well rounded, articulate, has a great sense of humor, a tremendous presence behind the podium and in addition to making a concerted effort to be fair, did not show any of his own personal biases or preferences in the tone of his voice, facial expressions or body language.
The politics that developed behind the pre-convention announcements of candidates for First VP were very much present in the hall during that election. The clapping and cheering of nomination speeches that were, in and of themselves, political campaigns, made me think I was at a political convention instead of a Baptist one. I remembered the reports from conventions prior to 1990 about messengers showing up just for the presidential votes when a group of senior adults came in and sat next to me, and the lady who sat in the chair next to mine smiled, introduced herself, noticed the “Texas” on my name tag and announced that they’d driven in that afternoon to “vote for Brother Jim.” And while this particular election was billed as a showdown of sorts between the “Baptist Bloggers” and the resurgence leadership, I saw it as a contest between a Baptist missionary and a Baptist bureaucrat, and the bureaucrat won. What does that say about who we are, especially when the office isn’t much more than the title and a few pictures in the Baptist press?
The theme of numbers flowing all through the convention, with every number telling a story, was quite appropriate. They do tell an awful lot. The fact that only 8,500 messengers showed up, from something like 2,000 churches, even with simmering controversy, certainly says something. Combine that with the fact that the increases in Cooperative Program receipts and the budget is more the result of appeals to state conventions to increase their giving, while churches are reducing theirs, tells me there is a disconnect in the system somewhere. Considering that, perhaps as many as 85% of the messengers in the hall are people who appear to be past 60 years of age, you have some numbers that say there is a serious disconnect taking place in the way we do business. It’s time to look at some other options, such as electronic and satellite telecasts to messengers gathered in regions or even states. Add to that a $200 a night hotel room, $28 for breakfast for two, $25 for lunch, and a $35 dinner tab for two each day, plus transportation costs, and you may very well have an excellent reason for holding those regional satellite gatherings.
I was disappointed that the resolution on accuracy in reporting numbers, which had to pass the muster of a two-thirds vote in order to be dragged out of the resolutions committee, didn’t make it back out to the floor. It seems that everyone in Southern Baptist leadership, including the Baptist-based media, knows that there is a tremendous gap between the total membership we report, and the weekly worship attendance, which is a very clear indication that we aren’t doing a good job of keeping records, nor are we doing a good job of retaining membership. Knowing that, we still throw around terms like “the nation’s largest Protestant denomination” when, in fact, we are outnumbered by several others in terms of attendance. At least there was a brief discussion on the floor. Perhaps, after another year of thinking about it, a different resolutions committee will give a similar resolution the consideration it deserves.
I wish the schedule would accomodate a few 15 minute breaks here and there, so that messengers wouldn’t use the worship and prayer times to go to the bathroom. Starting at 8:00 a.m. is great, as far as I’m concerned, but there’s not enough time for lunch on Tuesday, considering that every eating establishment near the convention center, including the food court in the mall, was jammed.
San Antonio is one of the best convention cities in the country, though staying near the convention center can be expensive. Virtually everything, hotels, restaurants, a mall, the Riverwalk, the Alamo, and other attractions, is within an easy walk of the convention center. Downtown San Antonio is safe and clean. I hope it’s not another 19 years before the SBC returns.