I’ve been reading some posts and comments this past week about the upcoming Baptist General Convention meeting in Amarillo in two weeks. I think some people have a few misconceptions about what is happening.
For the first time in a long time, there are two candidates for president, representing two distinctive perspectives. I think that is a good thing. They are both excellent candidates for the position, and have a lot of personal qualities to add to the various perspectives they represent. Joy Fenner’s endorsement by the Texas Baptist Committed’s board makes her perspective easy to determine. She represents the position of keeping the BGCT in the hands of the same leadership, and headed in the same direction it has been going ever since they formed and elected their first BGCT president. That is mainly to “stay the course” and continue to defend the BGCT against the encroachment of the kind of fundamentalism that has dominated Southern Baptist denominational politics for more than two decades. There are some legitimate questions as to the necessity of continuing that exact same course, and other questions related to the participation of the BGCT in the New Baptist Convenant, a controversial gathering seen as being a push to the left, without convention approval or endorsement, that are involved with this perspective.
David Lowrie’s candidacy has been presented as one looking toward the future of the BGCT, in terms of both restoring trust in its leadership in the wake of several staggering scandals and in terms of adjusting the way the convention operates as it faces shifts in denominational paradigms. Lowrie’s candidacy has stressed the need for unity among the various factions within the BGCT, particularly involving those churches that still uniquely support the SBC. Some have characterized it as a “push to the right” and back toward the fundamentalism that dominates SBC leadership. It is anything but that, at least, from my perspective.
David Lowrie has simply stated the obvious. There are 3,000+ churches in the BGCT that, for whatever reason, remain uniquely aligned with the SBC. Although most of those who advocated pushing the BGCT to an exact theological, philosophical and political alignment with the leadership of the fundamentalists in the conservative resurgence have gone to the SBTC, there are many who are non-political, and non-fundamentalist, whose loyalty to the SBC’s institutions and missions endeavors keeps them financially connected and committed to SBC causes. I serve a church that falls in that category.
The loss of trust in the BGCT due to Valleygate, and the recent revelations of even more mishandling of funds, is a responsibility that falls squarely on the current leadership of the BGCT. Texas Baptist Committed’s approach is to stay the course. The perspective that has developed under David Lowrie’s candidacy is to broaden the tent and bring in new leadership. It isn’t an attempt to drive the BGCT back toward the SBC’s conservatuve resurgence, and to characterize it as that is wrong.
Rather, it is a move to be more inclusive toward the 3,000+ churches in the BGCT who have chosen to remain in this state convention and continue financially supporting it while at the same time continuing to support the Southern Baptist Convention. Most of those churches abhor the denominational politics and strife, and are fully committed to the missions and ministry cooperation that is supposed to be the heart of who we are and what we do as Southern Baptists and Texas Baptists. That’s why they have stayed in the BGCT.
I care a great deal about the BGCT and its future. Have you checked out the Cooperative Program support through September? In one month, the gap between the budget and giving has widened by almost 2%, from 95% of the budget to 93.4% of the budget. One month. In that same period of time, it has fallen from a half of a percent behind last year’s giving to a full two percent behind. “Staying the course” will not restore the trust that has been lost as a result of Valleygate, and other difficulties at the BGCT. The challenge of restoring trust is big enough, and the paradigm shifts in denominational work that are right around the corner will bring further challenges. The time has come for deep change, or the result will be slow death.