When I first began reading about “Valleygate,” I simply could not believe that it was real.  Surely, I kept thinking, it was just a big misunderstanding, and considering the political atmosphere among Texas Baptists, it was being blown out of proportion to discredit the administration of the BGCT because of its more moderate position and its resistance to the conservative resurgence in the SBC.  But as the details began to emerge, and the investigators report was made public last fall, just before the convention, the disappointment began to sink in.  Some people, with influence and power, had bypassed channels and done favors for their friends without holding them accountable.  The lag time in the executive leadership’s recognition of the problem, unwillingness to intervene, and delay in finally getting the ball rolling turned out to be a factor that pretty much made it impossible for the BGCT to recover any of the funds, or prosecute the perpetrators.  It was a very real, very disappointing, disheartening, demoralizing event.

From the time that I was a student at a Baptist college, and became involved with the ministerial association, I realized that Baptist convention leadership was caught up in a system almost wholly dependent on influence peddling, and was a “good ole boy” network.  Getting a nice salary in a denominational job, even in a small, cash strapped convention like the one in Arizona, was a matter of sucking up to the right people.  I’ve never cared for that kind of system, and as a result, never really felt led to pursue a denominational job.  And when you “know” people, the temptation to take short cuts in your work, and take advantage of your influential friendships, leaves the door open to scandal.  The Baptist Foundation of Arizona is a prime example of exactly what happens when there is no accountability because of influence peddling.  The reputation of Southern Baptist work in Arizona, and in many other places in the West, has been permanently damaged as a result of what was the largest non-profit swindle in American history.  Valleygate is another example.

The question now is, “Where do we go from here?”  How do we rebuild trust in a convention that was already in turmoil prior to the lost of $1.5 million in missions money? 

First, there is still some house cleaning to do.  It goes without saying that the staff members who allowed checks to be written and distributed without accountability should have resigned.  The executive director’s retirement, which is an acknowledgement of his accountability in spite of the delay in carrying it out following his announcement, was a positive step in the right direction, as was the executive board’s tightening up of the convention’s existing policies related to the funding for new church starts.  But there is nothing to guarantee that someone on the staff cannot over-ride those policies, which is exactly what happened the last time.  The accountability, and the checks and balances, need to be visible and enforceable. 

No one likes to discuss the need to clean house when it comes to jobs and salaries.  But there will not be any increase in trust without some new faces in the convention’s administration.  The new executive director will be a major key to restoring trust, and needs to be someone who is well outside the circle of influence of the good ole boy system.  He or she needs to be someone that can quickly win the confidence of Texas Baptists, particularly the core constituency in the smaller churches.  It is also time for others in the convention administration to consider making a career change, or taking retirement.  The more open spots there are, the more places there will be for the new executive director to hire people who are qualified rather than connected, and who will be able, as a team, to work with the E.D. in restoring trust in the convention leadership.  It may also be time for some of the executive board membership to step down as well. 

The next president of the BGCT can also help things go a long way toward trust by seeing that trustworthy people are appointed to boards and committees.  These people need to be brand new faces, not recycled people who have served on other boards, have a long Baptist pedigree, and are in positions of service because of who they know and not what they can do.  My vote will go to the person I believe will appoint “regular” people from as broad and diverse a spectrum of Texas Baptists as is possible.  One of the quickest paths to trust, in my opinion, would be for the next president to appoint a whole slate of people who have never served in a state convention office before, from a long list of churches that have never had a single member serve on a board or committee before.  And these appointments need to be completely blind to the other affiliations or associations that these churches might have. 

The emphasis needs to be shifted back to missions, and away from politics.  That’s something that all Texas Baptists can support.  There shouldn’t be any pushing or shoving in any particular direction.  Be content to let churches do their own think with regard to the other groups with which they may choose to cooperate.  And I think that is why it is important, particularly at this point, to let the BGCT vote on participation in the New Baptist Covenant.  At least let the opposition to participating express themselves. 

There are a whole lot of other factors which will affect the success and ability of the BGCT to move into the future and continue to remain viable.  I think it is very important that the convention focus on becoming, and continuing to stay, relevant in all areas.  It does not need to be distracted by battles over control, or scandals over money.  Rebuilding trust is going to take time and patience for the long haul, and the possibility for the BGCT to split,  or fragment, still exists.  This is the Kingdom of God, people.  Let’s get it together while we can.

Advertisements

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.

10 responses

  1. David Lowrie says:

    Lee,

    Thank you for this discerning commentary on our current situation with the BGCT. My heart beats with your heart on a number of the issues you raised. Part of the reason I allowed my name to be thrown into the mix was my concern for the future direction of our convention.

    Concerning the appointment process, I would embrace your thoughts regarding the appointment of “regular” people to our boards and committees. I believe much of this is already being done, but we can do better. We have over 5000 churches that are filled with quality leaders. One of our big problems right now is the fact many believe their voice is not being heard. With the reduction of the Executive board in size, and with the way we have gone about our business in recent years, many feel they are out of the loop.

    We need to end the perception that a handful of leaders are making the decisions for all of us. The BGCT needs to be our convention. I believe in recent weeks a fresh wind is blowing and people are beginning to speak out and to speak up. This is what I had hoped for and dreamed about for years. I pray it will continue.

    I believe without a doubt our best days can be ahead of us. Trust can be rebuilt and restored. Teamwork can be re-established, but it is going to take the best from all of us. As we talk to each other rather than about each other. As we lay aside labels for first names. As we add fresh faces and fresh perspectives to our leadership base, we will create the new face of the BGCT. We dare not forget the lessons of the past, but we cannot allow the past to limit our dreams of tomorrow.

    David Lowrie

  2. Dylan says:

    The people in leadership of the small church I attend perceive that the BGCT is an expensive and wasteful bureaucracy with a tight and exclusive core of leaders drawn from a handful of prominent and politically powerful churches. They perceive that there is an attempt to push the convention to “the left”. They’ve considered joining the SBTC, but came to the conclusion that joining another convention formed on the basis of denominational politics would not help restore our focus on cooperative missions. Valleygate did not help change any of those perceptions.

    Rewriting and strengthening policies related to disbursing any funding from the convention would not be necessary if there was any accountability at all. But when administrative personnel are all part of a good old boy network that helped each other get their jobs, and everyone is either in a system of useful friendships or mutually beneficial alliances, there is no accountability. Personally, I think the primary qualification of the new executive director is that he be someone who has no connections, personal or otherwise, to anyone else that he will supervise.

    David, the fact that you have taken the time to respond, in a careful and well-thought-out way, to these blog posts says a tremendous amount about you as a person, and about what kind of BGCT president you will be, if elected.

  3. Cody Whitten says:

    These things are symptoms of a system that is rapidly sinking into irrelevance. I don’t think there is anything you can do that will reverse that process. The look of the future will be mostly smaller churches, without a denominational identity but with a distinctly Christian one, networking among each other to evangelize and disciple believers, and do missions.

    The conspicuous absence of people under 50 years of age in denominational structures, and even in a lot of traditional churches, is evidence that this change is well on the way, and will be accomplished in a relatively short period of time. That they would return to the church and its organizations in large numbers, and resume the practices and traditions of the past is an unrealistic expectation. Most of those who have been reached by the church are already involved in places that represent this paradigm shift, and most of the others who will be reached in the future will be much more attracted to the new form rather than the traditional stuff. So I think you need to consider whether it will even be worth the effort, or the expense, of trying to restore trust in a convention that is inevitably moving toward irrelevance.

  4. David Lowrie says:

    Dear Dylan,

    Here are a couple of thoughts to chew on.

    Dylan, you wrote:
    The people in leadership of the small church I attend perceive that the BGCT is an expensive and wasteful bureaucracy with a tight and exclusive core of leaders drawn from a handful of prominent and politically powerful churches.

    Thought: One key thing we need to remember is that the executive and elected leadership of the BGCT is not in reality the BGCT. The BGCT is the churches and the people who have freely chosen to cooperate and work together. These leaders have been the face and vision casters of our convention for a number of turbulent years, but they are not in reality the convention.

    Our churches still have a voice if we choose to use it. We can cast a new vision for our convention, but we will have to speak up and speak out. I am not suggesting some kind of revolution or hostile take over. I am just suggesting that if your church represents the vast majority of our churches, which is what I believe is true. Then if we show up and get involved change will be inevitable.

    I contend that what we need is a “both/and” vision rather than an “either/or”. During the years our convention struggled with extreme expressions of fundamentalism and the real fear that we were the objects of a hostile take over, most of our churches were caught in the tension between two political movements. One desiring to seize control, the other determined to hold onto a core set of Baptist values and to fend of the threat.

    In this battle, the hostile takeover was averted and many churches chose to walk away to pursue their vision of reaching Texas with others of like mind (i.e…SBTC). Those who protected our convention against the take over, I believe were well meaning and in many ways helped protect the heart of the BGCT. However, to lead a convention like ours we have to move beyond defending values to claiming the future. We have to have a vision bold and broad enough to embrace the BGCT/SBC churches who make up the vast majority of our churches. There is no reason a BGCT church that supports the SBC should feel like an outsider or like they are doing something wrong, especially since over 70% of our churches continue to support the SBC at a tune of $13.9 million dollars last year.

    I believe the vast majority of our churches have found themselves caught in the middle between two movements going in opposite directions. This vast “middle” has remained silent in the process. Our silence was due to the fact that most of us did not want to be political. We were tired of that kind of leadership. We really were much more concerned about growing and building our churches and reaching the world with the gospel. As some have suggested maybe we needed to be more informed about the dangers of either extreme, but I guess we just hoped this storm would pass and we could move on together.

    This vast “middle” really has not had a visible spokesman to rally around. When our presidential elections were highly contested, we had to choose between the chosen leaders of the two opposing movements. Often these were good men, but they represented political movements we had to choose between.

    I believe we can have an opportunity for new day to dawn over our convention. I believe we can have a day of “openness” when leaders can rise up from among us. When my father was elected BGCT president in the early 1980’s I believe four or five men were nominated, and he won in a close run off with a wonderful pastor from the Houston area. There was little if any rhetoric, but simply a slate of good capable leaders from which to choose.

    I would be naïve to believe we can completely return to my dad’s BGCT but I believe we can create our own version. I guess to make a long story short…The BGCT is the churches. Come to Amarillo, voted your conscience, and do as the Lord leads you, and with God’s help we will create a new face for the BGCT that reflects the reality of who were are and who we believe God wants us to be. Whether I am elected is of little concern to me. My greatest desire is to start a “conversation” in which we listen to each other, and learn from each other. I believe the key is for all us to be engaged in the conversation. For too long the vast “middle” has complied with what was going on. To claim the future God has for us, it is going to take “commitment” not “compliance” from all of us.

    David Lowrie

  5. David Lowrie says:

    Cody,

    Thank you for your thoughts. Honestly, I hope and pray you are not a prophet, but you may be right on target.

    You wrote: These things are symptoms of a system that is rapidly sinking into irrelevance. I don’t think there is anything you can do that will reverse that process.

    I believe you may be right in many respects. All systems, much like the human body die. As system will be born, grow to maturity, and then slowly begin the march toward death. This is true in the natural realm, but I believe the work of the Kingdom is of the “supernatural” realm.

    Cooperation among churches for the sake of the Kingdom will always be relevant. Granted a new version of this cooperation will likely be loose confederations of small churches drawn together by like passions and a common vision. These networks are popping up all around the world. We need to be constantly reminded that we now live in a global village and that the greatest expressions of Kingdom building and vision are being born across the seas. (I hope and pray we will not fall into the plight of Western Europe, where the church has become a museum relic of an ancient past).

    However, we need to be careful we don’t fall into “either/or” thinking. I believe the Kingdom of God is a “both/and” reality. I believe God’s Kingdom is big enough and creative enough to find its expression in vast networks of churches, and also in large dynamic conventions and denominations. Granted, the large conventions and denominations are much more difficult to maintain and to lead because of their size and complexity. But, these large conventions can make a huge difference in the world if they can keep their eye on the ball and make the main thing the main thing. Pride and power may be the greatest threats to these grand movements.

    So I believe we don’t have to choose, we can embrace both realities. In fact, I could see large conventions intentionally spinning off these missional networks of churches through ministries like Worldconnex.

    So there is a big question that begs an answer, so how can we make a large bulky convention relevant, especially in light of your observation that their meetings are more like an AARP meeting rather than a cross section of the generations. You are right about the fact gray hair is the dominate color in a BGCT meeting, except for those colors that come out of a bottle! Oops the secret is out!

    Let me share with you my journey. I became a pastor at the age of 22. My father taught me that part of my Kingdom responsibility was to be involved with the local Baptist association, the state convention, and the SBC. To a young man, these gatherings often felt like a huge waste of time, but I was taught that by being involved in these groups I would be part of what God was doing in the world.
    I am now 47 years old with enough gray hair to start fitting in. Over these 25 years I have held a number of associational posts. I have served as a 2nd VP in the Minnesota/Wisconsin Baptist Convention (which in reality is smaller than many of our associations), and within the last two years I have had the opportunity to serve on one BGCT committee and one board of trustees. Over most of those years that I attend state and national meetings I was just a face in the crowd. I was not even asked to lead in “silent prayer”, but I kept on coming, because I knew God wanted me to be part of something bigger than myself.

    So why are so few young men and women holding places of leadership in our convention? I think the answer is quite simple. You have to show up and be a part of what is happening. You cannot wait for the system to come find you; you must choose to be part of the system.

    The networks that lead to service in our convention are created on the associational level and on the state level. You have to show up and make friends. You might call it the good ‘ol boy system, but it is simply how we are wired…friends nominate friends. If we don’t show up we don’t have a voice. I realize you will have to endure a great deal of things that seem irrelevant but if you want to change the system you have to be part of the system.

    I hope and pray a new generation of leaders coming out of our BSM ministries, universities and seminaries will start showing up at our meetings. I pray their professors and pastors will encourage them to come because if we don’t embrace this new generation who are wired to change the world, we will miss the great opportunity God has for us.

    Our church currently has 12 young adults scattered around the world with the IMB, and four independent missionaries. We also have three couples in seminary. The mark of this new generation is their abandonment to the work of the Kingdom.

    David McDonnell, the IMB missionary, who was gunned down in Iraq was a member of our church during college. He was in a church for a mission conference just weeks before his death. As he spoke of his call to Iraq you hear his passion to reach the nations drip from every word. This generation will not be satisfied with status quo. They demand relevance and action. If we are not going to die a slow miserable death, we better die to our addiction to the past and embrace a new vision for tomorrow. A vision not painted in political terms, but a vision that lives and breathes with Kingdom values. This new generation cares little for the structures of the past, nor do they care about positions of power and influence. Their passion is for Jesus and for reaching the world no matter what the cost.

    Let’s face it, that is not who we are but it is who we need to be as we recreate the new BGCT. If the BGCT dies with a terminal case of irrelevance, I will grieve its loss, but if I am still alive I will find another way to reach the nations. However as long as there is a change for change, I am going to work for the BGCT to be “born again” by the power of the synergy of the Spirit of God at work among us.

    Thanks for listening to the thoughts of an old man!

    David Lowrie

  6. JMatthews says:

    Lee, I agree that there needs to be a “housecleaning” of sorts, as is the case in any organization that has been through what the BGCT has experienced. It doesn’t need to be a witch hunt mentality, and I would guess that there are already a number of people in administration who see the handwriting on the wall, so to speak, and may be preparing to leave.

    The executive board is different, in that it has members who rotate off. If I were the next BGCT president, I’d appoint members to committees who would make sure that people coming off of trustee boards and committees are not put back on other boards and committees, nor on the exec committee, but that the new slots are filled with people who are missions minded, ministry focused and haven’t served before. This isn’t rocket science. The idea that Baptist boards and committees must be made up of people who have some kind of denominational “experience” is the kind of thinking from which bureaucracies are born. The whole idea of having a broad representation from the churches is to keep the flow of excitement, enthusiasm and fresh ideas floating.

  7. Chuck says:

    Lee, David and All:

    Let me expound on Dylan’s mention of the perception of the BGCT as “leaning to the left” or being pushed towards it. Note that this perception is determined by the actions and attitudes of BGCT-elected and high-level employed leadership, by Texas Baptists Committed, and by Baylor’s Board of Regents.

    This is true not only theologically / doctrinally–Charles Kimball, NewBaptistCovenant (as colored by Jimmy Carter’s pluralism / inclusivism), women pastors, women deacons, anti-SBC–but is true politically as well–CLC’s blatant Green initiatives, anti-Religious Right rhetoric, Jimmy Carter’s politics.

    A whole lot of change in course direction, or correction of misperception, will have to come for conservatives to stay supportive of the BGCT.

    Perception-by-association is another factor that is present, and is not going away.

  8. Dylan says:

    Chuck,
    You are way out in right field, so to speak. There’s very little connection with what you’ve mentioned, in the way you’ve mentioned it, with our perceptions of the “push to the left” in the BGCT.

    When we thought about joining the SBTC, we heard their presentation. The immediate and almost universal reaction to it in our church was that it was a narrow and exclusive group with a tightly controlled leadership that was almost completely grounded in denominational politics. We saw their 50/50 split of Cooperative Program gifts with the SBC as nothing more than a pass through. We objected to being required to adopt a form of the Baptist Faith and Message. At least, in the BGCT, we determine our own Cooperative Program distribution percentages, and our participation isn’t based on a particular statement of faith.

    What we object to, and here you may have touched on a few things, is having the officer elections and trustee boards controlled by TBC, having rulings from the chair giving power to the executive board that the bylaws do not give to it, and having the name of the BGCT associated with organizations without the approval of the convention from the floor. That’s the pushing that we see.

  9. Chuck says:

    Dylan,

    I didn’t intend to characterize your church with my observations, just expound on your mention of “push to the left.”

    I’m surprised, however, that your church’s perception of that “push to the left” would have only to do with the polity matters you mentioned, and nothing to do with doctrine or values.

    How does the reference to “the left” even apply to what you describe as your church’s dissatisfaction?

  10. Dylan says:

    Perhaps I am falling into the same habit others have of thinking that anything that isn’t lining up with the SBC conservative resurgence is “to the left.” Not that going left is a bad thing, but I’ll clarify. They see that some distance has opened up between the BGCT and its traditional partnership with the SBC. They don’t object to the BGCT’s involvement with other groups, but they feel that BGCT leaders are moving ahead without asking first.

    As far as theology, doctrine, etc., we believe that’s determined by the local church, not the convention. As a Baptist congregation, we have a pretty good handle on the local church autonomy thing, and realize that true cooperation cannot exist in a vacuum, but there is an expectation that there will be churches and individuals who have a wide diversity of beliefs and practices that we may not hold, but we can still cooperate. We do not subscribe to the “guilt by association” mantra that some Southern Baptist conservatives use to gain and hold power.