Yeah, I know I said this blog was making a change in direction, but after reading the referenced editorial from Marv Knox, editor of the BGCT’s Baptist Standard, I determined to write this.
They both bury their head in the sand and think they are hiding from a real problem.
This is the opening line from the Marv Knox editorial in the Baptist Standard this week:
“Will messengers to the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting talk about the elephant in McAllen Convention Center this week?”
I have to give Marv credit for recognizing that there is an elephant in the room. There has been one for over ten years now, and the almost 30% drop in Cooperative Program giving by the churches of the BGCT and massive drop off in messenger participation are symptoms of it. But the official line that comes from the BGCT, including from the usually up front and brutally honest Marv Knox, misses the point and doesn’t recognize the elephant for what it really is.
Knox says, “A decade ago, Texas Baptists engaged in a ferocious fight for Baptist principles. The BGCT was one of few state conventions to resist the ultraconservative movement that swept the Southern Baptist Convention. But now the state convention is afflicted with a malady far more pernicious than politics—acute apathy.
“That’s right. Increasingly, churches are disengaging from the convention because they just don’t care about it anymore. Many reasons exist: Some grew weary in the fight with the SBC. Some were appalled by that fight. Some have found other avenues for doing missions and ministry and equipping their churches, so they don’t need the convention the way they once did. Some are so concerned with local issues they don’t think much about partnering with others, particularly at the state level. Some don’t see the convention as supporting them, so they won’t support the convention.”
I’m writing from the perspective of having been a staff member in a church that transitioned from being uniquely affiliated with the BGCT to a unique affiliation with the SBTC during my tenure there. This church was as mainstream and typical of the congregations in the BGCT as any other church would be, except from those “inner circle” congregations from which multiple members are drawn for convention leadership. It was, until the early 1990’s, strongly financially supporting the BGCT. I’m going to answer the question that is the real elephant in the room. Why does it seem that the churches in the BGCT are apathetic, and that they don’t care anymore?
I’ll tell you. You can listen, or you can do what the BGCT leadership has been doing to everyone who’s mentioned it in the last decade, and beyond, you can ignore it and talk about everything else.
I’ll give you a couple of related reasons. One is that the BGCT’s resistance and opposition to the leadership of the SBC and the direction it has gone as crossed boundaries that most churches aren’t comfortable crossing. They’ve used their Cooperative Program allocation as a weapon in the fight, and that is probably the main reason for the freefall in giving to the BGCT. Though many BGCT church leaders resisted the SBC dictating denominational policy to them and to the state convention, they never wanted a full separation, and they didn’t want to use missions giving for leverage to get their way.
Texas Baptists Committed was formed, and contributed to a narrowing of the already narrow leadership in the BGCT. Many churches felt that they had lost their voice within a convention whose leadership consolidated its power and limited the appointments to the executive board, convention committees and trustee boards to the membership of a few inner circle churches. The BGCT is notorious for being an oligarchy, with some “prominent” churches having upwards of eight or nine members involved in convention leadership. Some directors of missions and associational leaders, many of whom are not necessarily sympathetic to the SBC’s conservative resurgence, have complained that the broad cross section of names they have been asked to give for consideration for leadership positions has been ignored in favor of names given by a few privileged pastors of some exclusive churches. Among the current list of nominees to be presented in McAllen this week, I found three names of individuals that are nominated for more than one place of service. If apathy in the BGCT is the problem, it is a self-created one resulting from the exclusivity and selfishness exhibited by the TBC and the way they have controlled this aspect of convention life. It’s hard to fight against a group of people who compromise the trust that is required in a Baptist convention system of leadership by raising money and marshalling resources to make sure that a small, elite, exclusive group of like minded individuals from a narrow group of mostly left-wing churches control everything.
Knox says there are 5,600 churches left in the BGCT, though only about 4,000 of those have financially supported the convention during the past two years, and fewer than that have sent their annual church letter. The vast majority of those churches, probably 95% of them, have no connection to one of the moderate Baptist groups, and have no desire to be affiliated nationally with anyone but the SBC. But more than half of the BGCT’s executive board, committees and trustee boards come from the fewer than 300 BGCT churches which have ties to CBF. And there are several churches which have as many as eight members serving on boards and committees.
If you want to know why so many Texas Baptists are apathetic about the BGCT, are cutting their in-state giving, and not showing up for the annual meeting, that’s why.