The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a crisis of integrity.  Consider the following:  One Southern Baptist executive, upon his election as president, is discovered to be guilty of fiscal irresponsibility by using institutional funds to pay for his family to travel to Europe.  Infuriated, the board of trustees threatens to forego his inauguration and rescind his election until another entity head appeals to a majority of the board to sweep the problem under the rug and proceed with the inauguration by arguing that the institution will not withstand two presidential terminations back-to-back.  The story never sees the light of day.  Several years later, another SBC entity president takes a significantly less expensive trip to Europe with his wife, prompting a trustee report and the resignation of the embattled president.

Or consider this:  During earlier days of contested SBC presidential elections, leaders of the resurgence decried that the resources supplied by all Southern Baptists were being expended to endorse candidates and precondition potential messengers about potential actions on the convention floor.  Flash forward sixteen years, and three seminary presidents offer unqualified endorsements of an embattled,  second-string nominee, using the resources, offices, and influence afforded them by all Southern Baptists and the Cooperative Program to engineer the election of officers.

Or what about this:  SBC agency heads begin intentionally obfuscating the difference between funding “SBC causes” and Cooperative Program support when their preferred nominee’s full commitment to the convention is in doubt.  Nobody seems prepared to ask how many dollars from the nominees church went to Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary or to Midwestern Seminary student tuition subsidies, as they would have if the church had been supporting the Cooperative Program, rather than SBC causes.  Questions, in fact, are never answered, but dismissed as “attacks” calling for counter-attacks.

Or yet again:  An SBC seminary president reports “increased enrollment” to his trustees and the convention, covering up the contrary evidence that FTE’s, or the actual basis of Cooperative Program support for the seminaries, are falling.  When people begin to wonder if the president in question has chosen to endorse “supporting SBC causes” rather than Cooperative Program percentage giving is in any way related the fact that his institutions CP revenues are down on account of declining enrollment, they are painted as seditious, or bitter, or even liberal.

Or what about this:  One SBC entity head raises questions about what are claimed to be the “exorbitant” salaries of Executive Committee employees and even goes so far as to meet with trustees of the Executive Committee on numerous occasions to discuss strategies for coerced disclosure.  The salaries of top Executive Committee employees remain undisclosed, but when asked about his own salary, or automobile expense, or the number of convention employees on payroll that are washing his car, or folding his clothes, or changing his bed linens, or preparing his meals, the room gets very quiet.  Dismissed is the fact that the president of the Executive Committee is not given a house with all bills paid, including toilet paper and handsoap, while his accusing counterpart milks every luxury imaginable from the Cooperative Program.

And the list could go on…but you’ll have to wait for my book.

My point is this:  From the highest levels of denominational leadership to the smallest church and the numbers it reports on the Annual Church Profile, we are a convention of half-truths, hidden agendas, and careless misrepresentations.  These things, brethren, ought not be.

Which brings me back to integrity.  Everybody seems to talk about it.  Nobody seems able to define it.  Few seem to possess it.

In his 1996 book, <em>Integrity</em>, Yale Law Professor Stephen L. Carter does more than any author I’ve studied to explore the subject of integrity — both its commendable application in religion and politics and the lack thereof.  As Carter sees it, integrity has three components: discerning what is right and wrong; acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and openly saying that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.  Integrity requires moral reflection, steadfast resolve, and transparency.  On all three counts, Southern Baptists are deficient.

Allow me to explain.  The first essential of integrity requires that a person consider the facts in order to arrive at definite conclusions about what is right and what is wrong.  But Southern Baptists don’t seem to be willing to hear the facts.  Whether it is the actual numbers of our church rolls, or the declining baptisms, we aren’t interested in facing the music, and this because of our own biases.  When “liberals” were running the convention, “conservatives” were quick to point out that liberal theology would mean the death of evangelism and missions.  Only “conservatives” could get the convention on the right track, and the proof would be seen clearly in the baptismal pudding.  Now that baptisms are down, resurgent leaders are at a loss to explain it and all too eager to lay the blame at Geneva’s front door.

Another instance can be seen at the International Mission Board.  Under Chairman Hatley’s deplorable leadership, the board seemed quite unwilling to hear any evidence that people were out to get Jerry Rankin, or that the new policies were attempts to discredit him, or that a caucus existed, or that improper and outside influences on the board had made considerable inroads at frustrating Jerry Rankin’s administration of the IMB.  Indeed, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

And now that Wade Burleson is considering a full disclosure to the whole convention, trustee leadership is reaching new depths in assaulting Bro. Burleson’s credibility and character, hoping that once the facts are released they will drown in a roar of noise about “breaches of confidentiality.”  Southern Baptists are coming to a decision.  Will they dismiss any evidence that their cherished leaders have acted improperly, and perhaps illegally, with the same kind of blind loyalty that kept J. Edgar Hoover in power for half a century?  Or will they appoint and empower a committee to investigate the source(s) of our current crises, and will SBC entity heads cooperate with such an investigation?

Only time will tell.

The second part of Carter’s defition of integrity involves the will of a person who has first discerned the truth to act on it, in spite of great personal cost.  Or put another way, will those people come forward who know firsthand that Cooperative Program funds have been mismanaged, or that caucuses have taken places, or that certain resurgent leaders have continued to employ a network of well-placed political lieutenants to push narrow agendas for doctrinal conformity and bureaucratic control on the convention who entrusted them with immense responsibility?  Or will they excuse <em>prime facie</em> anything questionable or illicit done by “heroes” of the conservative resurgence? Will Southern Baptists take the course of Joab and dispatch Uriah to his death, or will they take the prophetic role of Nathan, and boldly confront the king with those terrible words, “thou art the man?”

Finally, integrity demands transparency.  And when it comes to transparency, Southern Baptists should demand a healthy dose of it.  The secret caucusing and forums must stop.  Executive sessions should be the rare exception, as at the Executive Committee, rather than the rule, as at the IMB of late.  Any man who has integrity should be willing to state openly the nature of his goals, the means he intends to employ in pursuing them, and the reasons why others should join him.

What, then, are my goals for the Greensboro convention:

1.  To see opportunities for convention service opened up to all Southern Baptists, with those who demonstrate a greater commitment to the Cooperative Program afforded the most influential positions.

2.  To see the convention bylaws amended to preclude the recyling of convention trustees year after year and further measures taken to eradicate nepotism, cronyism, and conflicts of interest in denominational appointments.

3.  To reaffirm the place of principled dissent as an essential component of our Baptist witness and identity.

4.  To support any resolution, motion, or recommendation that moves the convention toward greater transparency in its work.

5.  To dismantle without mercy the structures and systems that have tolerated or fostered the foregoing breakdowns of integrity by shining a white-hot light in some very dark places.

In the forthcoming posts, I will explain the means I intend to pursue in advancing this agenda, as well as the rationale behind them.  All this, of course, is one man’s attempt at pursuing integrity.

One more thing: I’m bringing a full slate of messengers with me. :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s