Now that some time has passed since the SBC meeting in San Antonio, and there’s been ample opportunity to let the events sink in as well as read what others have written, I decided to write my own analysis of the meeting before moving on to other things. I hope that I am not so arrogant as to think that what I have to say is of the utmost importance. It’s just that, well, this is my blog, and it was my first SBC meeting in seventeen years and, well, I might as well put my thoughts out there with everyone else’s, huh?
With 8,600 messengers from 3,200 churches, the SBC convention body was representative of less than 10% of the churches in the denomination, and less than 2% of the total potential messenger body. This group was also made up of a much higher percentage of senior adults than either the 1990 Atlanta convention or the last San Antonio meeting.
Things are changing, and while the controversies that marked the conservative resurgence no longer draw record crowds like the 45,000 who showed up in Dallas in 1985, or even the 32,000 who came to San Antonio last time it met there, I think the drop off in participation in the convention’s annual meeting speaks to a lot of other things that are happening, some of which may be beyond the control of the convention, some which may be things the current leadership doesn’t want to do, for whatever reason. I wonder if there’s any correlation with the fact that three fourths of the churches in the SBC have either not increased their giving to the Cooperative Program, or have reduced it, during the last decade or so. I’ll bet that if a study was done, those churches would also fall among the three fourths that haven’t sent messengers to the convention. There might also be a correlation behind the increasing numbers of Southern Baptists going outside the convention’s entities to do mission service or attend seminary. I think a little “out of the convention box thinking” is probably in order.
The Vote on the Baptist Faith and Message Motion
Dr. Morris Chapman very clearly stated his view that trustee boards of the SBC should come back to the convention for approval of any doctrinal standards they want to employ that are not covered in the BFM 2000. It was after hearing Dr. Chapman’s speech, in fact, that I decided, in the afternoon session, to bring my motion to establish a task force to study the issue of private prayer language, about which the IMB, NAMB and Southwestern Seminary trustees have already developed doctrinal statements and policies. My motion, if acted on by the executive committee to which it was referred, would bring the development of a doctrinal statement on PPL and the gift of tongues, back to the convention level, in accordance with the proposals Dr. Chapman made in his speech.
Perhaps that’s why I didn’t have any trouble understanding what was meant by Rick Garner’s motion. From both the discussion on the floor, and around me in the hall, I don’t think very many other people misunderstood it, either. If you contrast Danny Akin’s report on Southeastern Seminary with Al Mohler’s “report” on Southern Seminary, I think you get the very clear picture that the heads of various SBC entities, and perhaps not a few of their trustees, were quite clear on the meaning of the motion.
The Election of the First Vice President
Even though I’ve not been to an SBC meeting for a while, I can’t really recall the election of the First VP being made into quite as much as this one was, and for an office that is generally one with few duties. During the resurgence, both sides nominated candidates for it, and there was that one dramatic moment in Dallas when the moderate candidate for president, Winfred Moore, was renominated for First VP, and won because moderates got the word out to their messengers not to leave the convention hall until that vote had been taken, and pulled off a surprise.
So, what does the election of Jim Richards really mean? I don’t know much about him, other than that he is the head of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and that he’s “one of us,” according to Mac Brunson, whoever “we” are. If it was a confirmation of the SBTC’s role in conservative resurgence politics, it’s interesting that some of the more visible SBTC pastors, including Ben Cole and Dwight McKissic, supported Rogers. If it’s a continualist vs. cessationist vote, then Mac Brunson wouldn’t have mentioned that the SBTC numbers “Charismatic” churches among its membership.
I think it was just a matter of the convention being held in Texas, and a Texas Baptist being nominated for one of the offices. Richard’s presence in the podium on Tuesday morning wasn’t particularly dynamic, since he was still recovering from surgery. But the SBTC knows how to play Baptist politics. I was informed, by an elderly lady seated next to me, in a group of 8 or 9 senior adults who came in about half an hour before the vote that she and her group were there to “vote for Brother Jim,” so I gathered that word had gone out after the announcement that he was running to the nearby SBTC congregations to get messengers there in support. Such are the ways of Baptist politics. And frankly, I think David Roger’s supporters, at least those who organized the effort to nominate him, were focused on other things and didn’t make a concerted effort to get their supporters to stay in the hall until it was over. Timing is everything at a Baptist meeting. Then, too, there is an aversion among Southern Baptists to what I have always called “heritage popularity.” Independent Baptists have the heritage churches, where son’s follow their father’s footsteps. Southern Baptists don’t go for that as much.
Having David Dykes do the nomination may not have been the best choice. I personally like him, but I don’t think a lot of people realize that his church ranks #1 in CP giving, and he’s pretty well identified as a BGCT pastor.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas has been conspicuously absent from public venues at the SBC since the formation of the SBTC. In spite of the fact that it is significantly larger, and contributes, as a body, much more money, previous presidents have tended to shut out members of its churches from trustee boards and committees. Since these positions are assigned by state, and not by state convention, the unofficial policy of recent SBC presidents has been to appoint only members from SBTC affiliated churches. The only way someone would represent the BGCT would be if they belonged to a dually affiliated church.
That changed with Frank Page’s committee appointments. Page split the Texas appointments between the two conventions, and while that still creates a situation in which the BGCT is under-represented, it’s a start. Frankly, the bickering and rhetoric on both sides of this is petty, and it needs to be resolved, and the only reason it isn’t is because of stubborn pride and ego on behalf of leaders on both sides. Get over it and move on.
The “Exodus Mandate,” calling for Southern Baptists to take their children out of the public school system, did not emerge from the resolutions committee. I actually ran into T.C. Pinckney in line at the Dairy Queen in the mall, and had a discussion with him about it. Personally, I’d like to see our denomination get involved in the ministry of Christian day school education which makes Christian schools accessible and affordable to virtually any family that wants to send their kids to one. That would be something new in that field, and you’d think the “Nation’s Largest Protestant Denomination” would be able to do that.
A motion was made to distance the SBC from the emergent church movement which was ruled out of order. Southern Baptists are going to have to deal with both seeker-sensitive and emergent church methodology at some point down the road, especially since both of those approaches seem to be far more successful in reaching deep into communities of the lost than Southern Baptists.
A Paradigm Shift
You’d have thought, by now, Southern Baptists would realize that appealing to the convention to develop plans to cure the ills of the denomination collectively is a largely unsuccessful enterprise that wastes time and resources. Denominational intitiatives and programs, in a denomination that is structured with churches as the highest level of autonomy, are generally ineffective. The work of the convention, as it always has been, is cooperation in missions and ministry. It operates entities which the churches have agreed to support for greater efficiency in the use of resources by avoiding unecessary duplication. Beyond that, support systems exist on the state and local level for organizing and supporting the churches in these cooperative ministries. When it comes to doctrine, practice of faith, and local ministry, the churches are independent and autonomous. Let’s keep it that way.