These are just some brief observations and impressions from the TBC meeting I attended in Dallas yesterday. I’ll write more later after I’ve had some time to reflect.
Clearly, there is nothing like going and seeing things for yourself. You can read about something and form opinions based on what you read, but those are really just sound bites. You get a different picture when you are there in person.
I’ve stated before that I am not comfortable with the idea of a group of people making decisions and organizing a block of votes at a Baptist convention in order to achieve a particular outcome. I believe there are a few people in TBC who probably feel the same way, though with the understanding that things in the BGCT would be quite different if TBC hadn’t organized when it did, and I agree with that.
Organizing to prevent a fundamentalist takeover of the BGCT along the lines of the similar event which took place in the SBC is not equal with being theologically “liberal.” Of course, now we know that the term “liberal,” as applied by the fundamentalists, was not used in the true sense of the word, but mainly as a buzz word to stir up feelings and claim support. The TBC is not theologically liberal. It is far from it. During yesterday’s meeting, I ran into two former pastors, five former seminary professors, several individuals with whom I have attended conferences, and half a dozen people with whom I have been a fellow member of the same church. I know these folks pretty well, and none of them are theological liberals. Not even close. And they wouldn’t attend a gathering that was advancing the cause of theological liberalism.
What I heard yesterday, theologically, was mainstream conervative. In fact, it was mainstream Baptist conservative, holding to, and advancing, principles that Baptists have cherished for over 400 years of their history. The authority of the Bible as the written Word of God, the lordship of Jesus as the Christ, priesthood of the believer, the independence and autonomy of the local church, and a denominational structure where that local church is at the top of the organizational chart, with conventions and associations and institutions created and existing for the purpose of serving the churches in their ministry. This is, after all, a group that has affirmed the statement that the Bible is truth, “without any mixture of error.” That, combined with the reputations of the people I know who have been part of this group for years, settles that issue for me.
There’s been talk that TBC is a “shadow convention,” an oligarchy that has controlled the officer positions of the BGCT and dictated their occupants for years. In fact, that is exactly how I perceived it, though most of the time I thought of it as an unpleasant necessity. But I am no longer sure that either of those perceptions is an accurate one. The fact of the matter is that anyone in the BGCT could have walked through the door yesterday, regardless of their theological position, attended the meeting, had input, and even had a free lunch. In fact, a number of people did just that. And on the other side of that coin, while it is true that TBC has mobilized enough church leaders to get messengers to the convention meetings to vote for the slate of officers they have nominated, there is nothing that is preventing any other congregation in the BGCT from doing the same thing. It’s sort of like complaining about the president. If you didn’t vote in the election, why are you complaining? If your church didn’t send messengers to the convention…well, you get that point, I’m sure.
It was also pointed out that while there are people from churches that cooperate with CBF serving on BGCT trustee boads and committees, in abundance due to the fact that these are among the most active churches in terms of showing up and voting at the convention in spite of their smaller numbers in the constituency, there are also a wide variety of other Texas Baptists serving on those same boards and committees, including the executive board. That’s fairly convincing evidence that, in spite of the fact that TBC does bear some similarities to organized fundamentalist takeover efforts, they are far more considerate and broad in their consideration of individuals, including many who come from churches whose sole worldwide mission support goes to the SBC. In fact, the majority of people serving on BGCT agency boards and committees come from churches that are also uniquely aligned with the SBC.
It’s a mistake to equate TBC with CBF. There is some overlap in that many TBC supporters do come from churches that also support CBF, either uniquely or dually aligned with the SBC. But there were a number of people in the room yesterday who come from churches that have chosen to continue to support the SBC exclusively. That’s a perception problem that TBC needs to work on correcting. I saw no evidence at all yesterday that TBC is working to advance the influence of CBF in the BGCT ahead of those of the SBC. The statement was made that a church’s other outside affiliations do not matter in determining their position in, or ability to cooperate with, the BGCT. I completely agree with that statement.
As far as the election of a new BGCT president goes, well, I sat at a table all day yesterday with Joy Fenner. She is extremely gracious, personable, likeable, pleasant, and very well equipped to handle the job as BGCT president, expecially with her background in missionary service and WMU leadership. She and her husband are people I can now count as personal friends. The fact that her nomination will be, at least in part, about the fact that she is a woman, is part of the equation, and that can’t be helped. But she’s not asking to be ordained, she’s not being called to the pastorate of a church, and so those things shouldn’t be issues. Her opponent, David Lowrie, is equally likeable, equally equipped to handle the job, and in my opinion equally committed to the values that are represented by the BGCT as it exists today. Frankly, I think it is a win-win situation for the BGCT, it would be a shame for either one not to be in service to the convention, and I will advocate nominating whichever one doesn’t win the presidency to serve as First Vice President so they can work together. What a team that would be!
The nine institutions of higher learning that are supported by the BGCT is the main reason I want to be involved in convention life. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and value the work of the other institutions and agencies, but these educational institutions are where my heart is. There is nothing in my life that has been as useful or valuable to me, in the ministry service that has been my vocation, and in the faith that is in my heart, as the education I received from the Baptist college I attended because it was both a quality academic instruction and a full ministry of discipleship. In the day and age in which we are living, these institutions are essential to the ministry of our churches. I deeply appreciated hearing the presidents indicate their desire to keep the schools tightly lashed to the BGCT, and actively involved not only in recruiting students and receiving money from the convention, but in getting involved in church-based ministry as well. As Marv Knox said, Texas Baptists are blessed, and my personal committment to involvement in the BGCT is to do my part in helping the BGCT continue to support, preserve and assist those nine schools in their work.
I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, fully divine and human, sent for the purpose of revealing God to us, and for atoning for our sin by his sacrificial death, and resurrection victorious over sin and the grave. I believe in his virgin birth and sinless life. I believe the Bible is God’s written revelation of himself to man, is a perfect treasure of divine inspiration with God for its author, salvation for its end and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. I believe in the indwelling Holy Spirit. In my nearly 30 years of ministry, including both church staff ministry and Christian education through Christian schools, I have worked with Baptists who like the SBC, BGCT, SBTC and CBF without difficulty. I have friends and ministry partners who have personal preferences of all different kinds related to what they think Baptist life and Baptist organizations should be and do. We’re really not all that far apart. We need to spend a lot more time listening to each other, and a lot less time thinking about what we are going to say when we do listen.
Part II later…