There is something about spending 11 1/2 hours in a Toyota Corolla (23 hours over a four day period) that has an effect on the way you see the world, especially when you are 6’5″ and not exactly small in the waist, either. For me, though, to travel by car is a pleasure, and I enjoyed every minute of a trip that took me clear across the state of Texas and back. The diversity in the scenery between Houston and Amarillo is absolutely amazing, and incredibly beautiful. I’ll write about that some other time. For now, I want to talk Texas Baptists.
In the past few days, since the announcement was made that my name would be entered in nomination for First Vice President of the BGCT, the hit counter has gone crazy. More people have visited this site since last Friday than in its entire existence of more than a year prior to that. It’s been linked to several other BGCT related blogs, and in the online version of the Baptist Standard, by posters on several message and discussion boards, and suddenly, here we are. It’s no longer just my friends and fellow church members that are reading. If you know me well, you know that’s not an ego trip for me, it is a responsibility that makes my palms sweat and my hands shake. My desire is to honor God and be a Christlike example in everything I do. That’s hard enough without other people watching.
“Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Psalm 141:3
I believe in Baptist cooperation. Southern Baptist cooperative missions work led to the planting of churches in the Mormon-dominated community in Arizona where I grew up, and the church that I attended from preschool through my high school years would not be there if not for that. That’s where, from Sunbeams through RA Pioneers, and through Training Union, I learned about the Cooperative Program. That’s where I was encouraged to attend the Baptist college in the state, where I learned even more about it. I went to a Southern Baptist seminary on money provided by the fruits of Baptist cooperation. Texas Baptists played a significant part in that.
As a result, I cannot support a position that uses Cooperative Program dollars as a means of getting the attention of the convention’s leadership regarding changes that need to be made. There are too many people who are supported and paid by those dollars who are doing Kingdom work with a sincere heart and with dedicated passion to do things that put their work at risk just to get the attention of a bureacracy that, at times appears to be bent on self-destruction. It is a commitment that involves more than just the executive board and administration of the BGCT. Of course, who your church supports is up to you, a fact that the BGCT leadership should keep in mind at all times. But consideration of a decision like this is a serious matter, of the very last resort. I’m not the kind of person that, after losing a game, takes my football and goes home. I’m in for the long haul. It’s kind of like Baylor football, you know? You get scorched by Texas, flattened by Kansas State, but you’ll still show up for the game against Oklahoma. (Sorry, guys, I couldn’t resist! 🙂 )
Joy Fenner’s presidency shouldn’t make anyone want to take their football and go home. It should be something to anticipate with excitement if missions is your passion. We had a choice this time around. I’ve always thought that when there is an election of officers, and there is only one choice, it is a sign of either complete disinterest and apathy in the organization, or that one group is dominating the agenda. The fact that only 60 votes separated the two candidates means that the winner, if she is a good leader, will listen to the concerns of those who voted against her. I believe Joy will do that.
My own willingness to be nominated came from a conviction that I felt someone else needed to run. I’ve said, many times over, that while I understand and appreciate TBC’s work in preventing a fundamentalist takeover of the BGCT, I have never been comfortable with the idea of endorsing and naming candidates for officers. Contrary to the opinion of some, I did not make the BGCT’s participation in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant a campaign issue. I suppose, if there had been time prior to the convention, I could have. Had I done that, it would have been part of the nominating speech and the pre-convention publicity, and I would have made a statement to the Baptist Standard. That was a separate issue. My nomination enabled 257 people, 21% of the messengers who voted, to make a choice that they would not have had otherwise. In that, I accomplished exactly what I indended to. And there is some consolation in noting that my defeat puts me in good company with a lot of other Texas Baptists who are Baylor Bear football fans. I’ve only lost once. 🙂
Several of you have been very gracious and supportive with regard to my efforts to bring a motion related to the BGCT sponsorship of the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta in January. My intention in doing so was to have a place and time during the convention session for those who have raised legitimate concerns about the gathering and the BGCT’s involvement in it. The difficulty in bringing a motion that would not be referred or ruled out of order is in the nature of the involvement of the BGCT. Essentially, the convention is not a “sponsor” of the Celebration. It is in a partnership with the sponsoring organization. BGCT leaders, including the executive director, were invited to participate as a result of the partnership with the North American Baptist Fellowship. It’s hard to explain someone who doesn’t understand Baptist polity that the presence of some BGCT executive staff and some pastors and church leadership on the program doesn’t consitute the endorsement of the BGCT, but it, in fact, does not. It is not a budget item, which would have required a vote. So there is not really anything specific here for the convention to address as a body. A resolution would have had to include speculation about the content and outcome of an event still in the future. Please know, I asked plenty of questions and worked hard to find a way for those who have issues with the personalities and doctrinal questions related to the Celebration to have a place to speak about them, and found many sympathetic people who tried their best to help. At this point, it isn’t really a convention issue. If concerns about the political and doctrinal nature of the Celebration turn out to be the case, then motions to correct the perceptions that have arisen from BGCT participation will easily pass the convention with evidence in hand.
Yesterday’s business session was, to say the least, interesting.
The leadership of the BGCT is made up largely of moderate Baptists, most of whom witnessed the Baptist Wars of the past 27 years. Those wars included the squelching of dissent and debate through heavy handed parliamentary tactics, shutting down of microphones, controlling the committees that control the agenda, and a variety of other methods. Texas Baptists said “NO!” to that, and TBC was formed. On Monday, when a motion was made for a “no-confidence vote” in the executive board, Dan Malone, a layman and messenger from FBC El Paso, and a member of TBC’s Board of Directors, employed a parliamentary maneuver to stop debate on the motion. I find that to be ironic. Allow me to point out why.
It may have been a foregone conclusion that a no confidence vote in the executive board would not have passed for any number of reasons, though that would have been speculation. Obviously, there are Texas Baptists whose churches write checks to the BGCT, and who have supported and helped it in other ways, who felt that such a motion was necessary. Michael Chancellor did. The “smattering” of individuals who raised their ballots in opposition to Mr. Malone’s motion did, too.
I healed from the scars I received in the Baptist Wars in a strongly moderate Baptist congregation that believed every voice of dissent should be heard, even it it was only one voice, and even if it came from the most unattractive position. I’ve been in dozens of Baptist congregations that had the words “everyone welcome” on their sign, but in this congregation, everyone really was. The evidence of that was in the pews and Sunday School classrooms every week.
The kind of dissent that we are talking about here is that which is coming from people who are already in our fellowship, inside the tent. These are people who attend churches that support the BGCT financially, and in other ways. Michael Chancellor and his congregation are a good example of that. His motion would have given opportunity to others who have similar feelings about the executive board to make them known, and to have their concerns addressed by board members who were there, as well as opening the opportunity to those who support the board to respond. The discussion may even have influenced some people to change their mind, one way or another, even though it was a Baptist gathering. Marv Knox called on us to “behave” and while there will always be people with hot heads and open mouths, that should not be the reason not to debate an issue. There are plenty of people available to call an end to that without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The end result of the frustration of shutting down debate is just one more straw to add to the camel’s back in a growing pile of resentment and distrust that creates the impression for a growing number of people and churches that the only alternative is to pick up their football and move on over to the next field. Is that what we really want to have happen? I hope, and pray, it is not.
I may disagree with you on theology, or convention politics, or secular politics, or on how to solve a math problem, but you are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and many of you are fellow Baptists. I will fight for your right as a Baptist to have your voice heard. We do not operate on the principle of majority wins, minority loses. In a convention led by moderates, the people who should feel the most welcome should be those at both extremes of the spectrum.