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…

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

8 responses

  1. spiritualsamurai says:

    Thank you for your evaluation of the meeting Lee. Your insight and comments are deeply appreciated.

  2. Chuck says:

    Lee,

    I found your comments interesting and well-written. I suspect that alleviating your fears and reversing your perceptions of TBC wielding undesirable (monopolizing) control of, and promoting CBF interests in, the BGCT was exactly what the organizers had in mind. So, from your post, the meeting must have been a success!

    You say, “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.” Perhaps then, TBC has changed its feelings toward the SBC, and BGCT churches’ allegiances to the SBC, since 1998, when these statements were made by Jerald McBride–then CBF Board of Directors President–and David Currie, respectively:

    “The BGCT path for the future is far from set. Most BGCT affiliated churches are still using SBC literature, sending their money to SBC agencies and programs, and think of themselves as an SBC church. The BGCT will not be safe until the majority of churches in Texas know what has happened and is happening and no longer feel an emotional connection nor have a strong financial tie to the SBC. We are years from getting to this point.”

    “The people in control of the SBC today are spirit brothers of the people Jesus called blind guides, blind fools and white-washed tombs.
    The people in control of the SBC today are spirit brothers of J. Frank Norris. L. R. Scarbourgh never tried to negotiate with Norris or figure out how to work with him. Scarbourgh attacked Norris on the radio, through pamphlets and in the pulpit.
    He used every means available to tell the Baptist world that J. Frank Norris was mean-spirited and power-hungry, thus helping to save the Baptist witness for several more generations.
    The SBC should be funded by people who do not believe in religious liberty, who do not believe in servant leaders of churches and who do not believe in local church autonomy and the priesthood of every believer. The SBC should be funded by people who believe the Bible is a scientific blueprint for the modern world and that women are property and not partners.”

    Lee, I’d suggest that, rather than TBC having changed its harsh feelings toward the SBC during the past nine years, the “years from getting to this point” McBride referenced simply have not yet expired. The stated goal is still there.

    You went on to say, “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.” This is a true statement in terms of strict polity, with the exception that BGCT churches dually-aligned with SBTC are not eligible (stated or unstated) for certain services of the BGCT. But, the statement is generally well-taken: these churches are certainly granted the equal ability to send funds to the BGCT.

  3. Lee says:

    Considering the way circumstances change in politics, even denominational politics, nine years is a long time, during which learning from experience takes place. I can only take things at face value, and the point was made that the rhetoric coming from the TBC leadership toward the SBC has been toned down considerably and deliberately in the past five years, and the evidence certainly would indicate that publicly, that’s the case.

    This does go both ways. Dually affiliated churches suffer from exclusion in both state conventions in Texas, because they don’t particularly care to divide their loyalties. The SBTC is not exactly a model of open Baptist cooperation, either. And the SBC has shut out members of uniquely affiliated BGCT churches ever since the SBTC was formed, even though they take a considerable amount of funds from BGCT congregations. Nothing, however, prevents dually affiliated churches from electing and sending messengers to the BGCT, just like everyone else. Depending on which list you look at, there are about 700 of these churches, plus about 4,500 churches in the BGCT whose worldwide missions percentage goes solely to the SBC. Churches that are highly disatisfied with the way the BGCT is being run can exercise two options. They can elect messengers to the convention and go vote to get their people on the boards and committees, or they can hop on over to the SBTC. The majority of BGCT committee members and trustees come from churches that support the SBC with their worldwide missions giving, so they must still be participating at some level. Obviously, they are not being shut out. I’d certainly like to see it stay that way.

    The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. We will see where all this winds up going, the reformers in the SBC who ushered in the Frank Page presidency as well as what I perceive to be a change in direction of TBC. I thought Marv Knox’s suggestions were excellent. I doubt if the differences between Baptists that have led to the formation of the SBTC and TBC can be resolved in this generation. But they may be resolved in the next one. So why not get a head start on softening the rhetoric and moving in that direction?

  4. Chuck says:

    Lee,

    One interesting point to consider: Any “bona fide” contributing church to the SBC can still send the number of messengers its membership merits. If $1,000 and $1 million are given by two churches of equal membership, both can be represented by the same number of messengers. Similarly, smaller churches can qualify for maximum messengers if they are disproportionately generous contributors.

    The BGCT changed its messenger-qualifying policy–marking the formal beginning of the SBTC as a convention, in Houston you’ll recall–to require both membership and contribution levels to be met.

    The vastly different messenger-awarding systems actually leaves the SBC much more open and vulnerable to a minority’s reversing its status.

  5. Lee says:

    I don’t have a problem with a convention setting a minimum contribution and membership requirement. I don’t think that a church which gives most of its Cooperative Program money to others should be entitled to full representation in the BGCT if they only pass along a few dollars from families in the church who designate it. Obviously, the SBTC agrees with that, since they have similar requirements. The SBC has had that discussion, and would have similar requirements if it weren’t for the fact that most of the resurgence leadership comes from multimillion dollar megachurches that don’t want to commit a percentage of their budget over the minimum in order to keep control of the convention.

    Chuck, I think a lot of what goes on in convention business is more about the personalities involved than it is about real issues. I attended a Baptist college and that was my first exposure to the fact that there were people who were considered “prominent” in a Baptist organizational structure, and who used their prominence and their Baptist pedigree to pull strings and do favors for friends and family members. I’m still put off by that, and I’ve avoided participating in it. I went to the TBC meeting at the invitation of a friend whose intent in inviting me was to help me correct some misperceptions I had about the group as a whole, and by and large, many of those misconceptions were cleared up. There are some concerns that remain, but I certainly don’t expect TBC, or any other Baptist organization, to make a priority out of things with which I am concerned.

    I have friends in the SBTC, the BGCT, CBF, TBC, the SBC, at NAMB and the IMB, at Baylor University and Criswell College. In the past year, I’ve been to an SBTC sponsored men’s gathering, both the BGCT and the SBC, Dwight McKissic’s Holy Spirit conference, a NAMB sponsored event, and now a TBC gathering. The common element was that I met people in each place who are interested in growing in Christ, advancing the kingdom, concerned about the relevance of the church in today’s culture, and desiring to respond to God’s call in being willing servants of the kingdom. I’m going to keep moving forward in that focus, regardless of where it carries me.

  6. Chuck says:

    Lee,

    My only point is that the SBC is still open to a minority rising up by blitzing an annual meeting with messengers.

    The BGCT, and I guess the SBTC, are not. There’s nearly a year’s notice since the previous year’s contribution is the criteria, and the annual meeting is late October or November.

    A couple of curiosity questions I have:

    Did you receive any comfort at the TBC meeting regarding the BGCT’s official sponsorship of the NewBapCov, and your call for a convention vote? Or, is this one of those concerns you don’t expect will be made a priority by TBC or the convention?

    Was any concern expressed over Kimball-Carter type pluralism/inclusivism that shadows the stated purposes of the Atlanta celebration–i.e., authentic Baptist witness, new prophetic voice, uphold traditional Baptist values?

  7. Lee says:

    It is my intention to make a thorough study of the BGCT bylaws between now and November, and bring an appropriate motion to the floor so that a straight up vote can be taken. One of the things I discovered at the TBC meeting is that there are others who agree that a vote needs to be taken. We’re Baptist and that’s the way we do things like this. On an issue of this much importance, and controversy, we vote. I can’t imagine why a group of free and faithful Baptists would be opposed to that, and I believe there will be at least some in TBC who would support that.

    What I hear from people who support the New Baptist Covenant gathering is that it’s not about Carter or his theology, and that to attempt to claim the agenda is something different than what has been stated is Roger Moran-type guilt by association which is nothing more than a diversionary tactic. They claim that this gathering isn’t about the things about which Baptists disagree, but that the focus is on the places where we do agree. Predictably, conservatives are going to be suspicious, and part of the reason for that is that similar national “gatherings” that they have held in the past have had underlying, and sometimes open, political agendas. Other Baptists seem to accept the fact that this meeting is based on points of agreement, including several conservative African-American groups and a number of Southern Baptists. The pro-gay groups have been excluded. In all fairness, much of the criticism of Carter is politically based, and much of what I have read from conservative sources is full of mis-quotes and statements taken out of context, which diminish their credibility. Comparisons to President Bush’s annual apprearance at the SBC are legitimate, since that is a Christian gathering, and Bush, too, believes that Mormons are Christians and is a pluralist when it comes to Islam and Judaism.

    On the other hand, I’m disturbed by the fact that a Baptist gathering put together to promote Baptist unity around common beliefs requires the presence of politicians to get media attention. The invitation to Republicans, including those running for President, doesn’t change that. And I think a lot of its supporters, including those I spoke with at TBC, are genuinely expecting a meeting that promotes the stated purpose, and would be genuinely disappointed if it does turn out to have a political emphasis. It would be unrealistic to expect that the presence of two former Presidents on the program wouldn’t create any impression that the gathering might have political overtones, or wouldn’t be controversial.

    And that’s exactly why I think the BGCT needs a convention vote on its participation as an organization. I don’t think people who have concerns, which I believe are real, should be dragged along simply because they are a cooperating BGCT congregation. Sure, the convention doesn’t speak for its churches, but in this case the convention hasn’t spoken, only a few individuals have spoken on behalf of the convention. And I think this issue is important enough for the leadership of the BGCT to consider what they are doing if there are even as many as a third of the messengers who have concerns.

  8. Chuck says:

    Lee,

    I like your plan, though my objection remains Carter’s plural soteriology–as represented by his recent reported statements to Newsweek and Rabbi Michael Lerner (not necessarily a trustworthy source, but he must be refuted)–not the national politics.

    I believe that, at the center of all cooperative efforts undertaken in the name of “Baptist”–especially those purporting to offer a “new prophetic Baptist voice” , an “authentic Baptist witness” and “uphold traditonal Baptist values”–must be a clear gospel message which includes the exclusivity of Christ to save. That’s the message the BGCT holds to, as Dr. Wade recently re-emphasized to the two associations alarmed by Charles Kimball’s remarks at the CLC Conference.

    The New Baptist Covenant is, to the society it wishes to minister, speak, and witness to, highly identified by Jimmy Carter. There’s no getting around it now.