As many of you know, I am advocating for changes to the constitution and bylaws of the Baptist General Convention of Texas which would speed up the process of choosing and involving different people in the leadership circles of the convention, on committees and the executive board. The proposed amendments, if passed, would place term limits on all committee and board seats, would limit the lifetime service of individuals to two customary terms in order to prevent people from rotating from board to board, committee to committee, and would limit the dominance of certain churches by restricting the number of members who can serve on any convention committee or board at a time to one.
Those who argue against these proposals tend to be those who have the power and influence to benefit the most from the current system. The fact of the matter is that, any way you look at it, such proposals would increase the number of individuals involved in convention leadership exponentially, preventing the stagnation that occurs inside circles where influence peddling, personal prominence and a system built on the perception of prestige has kept the convention organization from doing its best work. The blog article cited above, regarding the Baptist Foundation of Arizona scandal which occurred in the late 1990’s, points to excellent reasons why such a move is necessary for the health of Baptist convention organizations. The Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, in my home state, and with which my home church is affiliated, has suffered immeasureably as a result of a system of insider leadership and influence peddling which cost them millions of dollars and untold public relations damage.
Bill Crotts, who was the director of the BFA at the time the scandal took place, is the son of its former director, and was employed by the foundation when his father was its head. A simple policy preventing nepotism in convention entities would have prevented this entire scandal from happening. Careful vetting of the trustee board, to make certain that fellow church members and friends of the Crotts family were not placed in leadership positions responsible for oversight of the BFA would have also prevented this tragedy. As it turned out, Crotts, the BFA attorney Tom Grabinsky, and a small circle of their close friends were able to perpetrate a ponzi scheme upon unsuspecting and trusting Arizona Southern Baptists, using their connections and influence to hide what was happening.
The result were tragic. In a state with a booming population, money for new church starts and outreach ministry dried up. Churches in strategic locations which were baptizing new believers left and right found their building funds and financial assets evaporating. The convention’s greatest asset in terms of leadership training and ministry influence, Grand Canyon University, found its endowment in danger of being tapped along with other convention assets, and was eventually sold in order to help pay off BFA’s debts. The convention’s office building, prime office space in Phoenix’s central corridor, had to be sold, and the convention offices moved into rented space. Convention support and ministry staff was downsized dramatically. Southern Baptist work in Arizona was booming, moving forward at an exciting pace, and well organized to reach the population of one of the nation’s fastest growing states. Most of my friends who are still there are unable to estimate how badly that work has been set back as a result of something that would have been easily preventable if Baptist cliquishness and influence peddling had been kept in check by simple convention policies.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas is in trouble. It has experienced the effects of the winds of post-denominationalism that are blowing against everything Baptists do, as well as the backlash that comes from scandal. It has also come through a political struggle with an organization claiming victory in terms of retaining control, but with the end result of having lost 2,000 of its churches and a significant portion of the income they once contributed. Its proposed budget reflects a 20% cut in expenses over the past two years, and a loss of income greater than that. The time has come to dig deep within its resources, and bring to the surface the labor and ideas of a broad segment of bright, capable leadership, much of which has been excluded by the pettiness that has governed Baptist life over the past three decades.