Food for thought

From “Bible Teaching and Religious Practice” by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain:

“Religion had its share in the changes of civilization and national character, of course. What share? The lion’s. In the history of the human race, this has always been the case, will always be the case, to the end of time, no doubt; or at least until man by the slow processes of evolution shall develop into something really fine and high — some billions of years hence, say.

The Christian Bible is a drugstore. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes. For eighteen hundred years these changes were slight — scarcely noticeable. The practice was allopathic — allopathic in its rudest and crudest form. The dull and ignorant physician day and night, and all the days and all the nights, drenched his patients with vast and hideous doses of hte most repulsive drugs to be found in the store’s stock; he bled him, cupped him, purged him, puked him, salivated him, never gave his system a chance to rally, nor nature a chance to help. He kept him religion-sick for eighteen centuries, and allowed him not a well day during all the time. The stock in the store was made up of about equal portions of baleful and debilitating poisons, and healing and comforting medicines; but the practice of the time confined the physician to the use of the former; by consequence, he could only damage his patient, and that is what he did.

Not until far within our century was any considerable change in the practice introduced; and then mainly, or in effect only, in Great Britain and the United States. In the other countries today, the patient either still takes the ancient treatment or does not call the physician at all. In the English-speaking countries the changes observable in our century were forced by that very thing just referred to — the revolt of the patient against the system; they were not projected by the physician. The patient fell to doctoring himself, and the physician’s practice began to fall off. He modified his method to get back his trade. He did it gradually, relunctantly; and never yielded more at a time than the pressure compelled. At first, he relinquished the daily dose of hell and damnation, and administered it every other day only; next he allowed another day to pass; then another and presently another; when he had restricted it at last to Sundays, and imagined that now there would surely be a truce, the homeopath arrived on the field and made him abandon hell and damnation altogether, and administered Christ’s love, and comfort, and charity and compassion in its stead. These had been in the drugstore all the time, gold-labeled and conspicuous among the long shelfloads of repulsive purges and vomits and poisons, and so the practice was to blame that they had remained unused, not the pharmacy. To the ecclesiastical physician of fifty years ago, his predecessor for eighteen hundred centuries was a quack; to the ecclesiastical physician of today, his predecessor of fifty years ago was a quack. To the every-man-his-own-ecclesiastical-doctor-of-when?-what will the ecclesiastical physician of today be? Unless evolution, which has been a truth ever since the globes, suns, and planets of the solar system were but wandering films of meteor dust, shall reach a limit and become a lie, there is but one fate in store for him.

The methods of the priests and the parson have been very curious, their history is very entertaining. In all the ages the Roman Church has owned slaves, bought and sold slaves, authorized and encouraged her children to trade in them. Long after some Christian peoples had freed their slaves the Church still held on to hers. If any could know, to absolute certainty, that all this was right, and according to God’s will and desire, surely it was she, since she was God’s specially appointed representative in the earth and sole authorized and infallible expounder of his Bible. There were the texts; there was no mistaking their meaning; she was right, she was doing in this thing what the Bible had mapped out for her to do. So unassailable was her position that in all the centuries she had no word to say against human slavery. Yet now, at last, in our immediate day, we hear a Pope saying slave trading is wrong, and we see him sending an expedition to Africa to stop it. The texts remain: it is the practice that has changed. Why? Because the world has corrected the Bible. The Church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession — and take the credit of the correction. As she will presently do in this instance.

Christian England supported slavery and encouraged it for two hundred and fifty years, and her Church’s consecrated ministers looked on, sometimes taking an active hand, the rest of the time indifferent. England’s interest in the business maybe called a Christian interest, a Christian industry. She had her full share in its revival after a long period of inactivity, and this revival was a Christian monopoly; that is to say, it was in the hands of Christian countries exclusively. English parliaments aided the salve traffic and protected it; two English kings held stock in slave-catching companies. The first regular English slave hunter — John Hawkins, of still revered memory — made such successful havoc on his second voyage, in the matter of surprising and burning villages, and maiming, slaughtering, capturing and selling their unoffending inhabitants, that his delighted queen conferred the chivalric honor of knighthood on him — a rank which had acquired its chief esteem and distinction in other and earlier fields of Christian effort. The new knight, with characteristic English frankness and brusque simplicity, chose as his device the figure of a Negro slave, kneeling and in chains. Sir John’s work was the invention of Christians, was to remain a bloody and awful monopoly in the hands of Christians for a quarter of a millennium, was to destroy homes, separate families, enslave friendless men and women, and break a myriad of human hearts, to the end that Christian nations might be prosperous and comfortable, Christian churches be built, and the gospel of the meek and merciful Redeemer be spread abroad in the earth; and so in the name of his ship, unsuspected but eloquent and clear, lay hidden prophecy. She was called The Jesus.

But at last in England, an illegitimate Christian arose against slavery. It is curious that when a Christian rises against a rooted wrong at all, he is usually an illegitimate Christian, member of some despised and bastard sect. There was a bitter struggle, but in the end the slave trade had to go — and went. The Biblical authorization remained, but the practice changed.

Then — the unusual thing happened; the visiting English critic among us began straightway to hold up his pious hands in horror at our slavery. His distress was unappeasable, his words full of bitterness and contempt. It is true we had not so many as fifteen hundred thousand slaves for him to worry about, while his England still owned twelve-million, in her foreign possessions; but that fact did not modify his wail any, or stay his tears, or soften his censure. The fact that every time we had tried to get rid of our slavery in previous generations, but had always been obstructed, balked, and defeated by England, was a matter of no consequence to him; it was ancient history, and not worth the telling.

Our own conversion came at last. We began to stir against slavery. Hearts grew soft, here, there, and yonder. There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one — the pulpit. It yielded at last; it always does. It fought a strong and stubborn fight, and then did what it always does, joined the procession — at the tail end. Slavery fell. The slavery text remained; the practice changed, that was all.

During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore, the Chruch, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.

Then it was discovered theat there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch — the priest or the parson? No, these never discover anything. At Salem, the parson clung pathetically to his witch texts after the laity had abandoned it in remorse and tears for the crimes and cruelties it had persuaded them to do. The parson wanted more blood, more shame, more brutalities; it was the unconsecrated laity that stayed his hand. In Scotland the parson killed the witch after the magistrate had pronounced her innocent; and when the merciful legislature proposed to sweep the hideous laws against witches from their statute books, it was the parson who came imploring, with tears and imprecations, that they be suffered to stand.

There are not witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell-fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. more than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.

Is it not worthy of note that of all the multitude of texts through which man has driven his annihilating pen he has never once made the mistake of obliterating a good and useful one? It does certainly seem to suggest that if man continues in the direction of his enlightenment, his religious practice may, in the end, attain some semblance of human decency.”

SBC San Antonio Rooms

Today at my associational executive board meeting, several friends asked me about rooms for the San Antonio Convention next year. I’ve also received several calls from other people wanting me to help them get rooms. In the past, previous administrators at Southeastern Seminary have asked me for rooms. Everybody, it seems, thinks that I have some inside track to getting rooms at the SBC.

Anybody wanting a room at the SBC annual meeting is afforded the same opportunity. On October 1st of every year, messengers are allowed to begin booking hotel rooms through the convention housing office. This year, I helped a number of people get their reservation into the housing office in time to get a room at the headquarters hotel. In the past, I have done this and I will continue to do so in the future. There have been occasions where the headquarters hotel was full and I had to book rooms privately at a slightly higher rate to accomodate all the messengers that wanted to get rooms. This year every person that I asked to go to the convention was able to get rooms at the headquarters hotel, and they obtained their rooms just like everyone else, through the convention housing office in the order they are received. Any suites are upgraded rooms that I pay at my cost.

So my advice to anyone planning to attend the SBC Annual Meeting in San Antonio next year: Get your room reservation in as close to October 1, 2006, as possible. The headquarters hotels for the meeting will be the Marriott Rivercenter and Riverwalk.

Greensboro Wrap-up

General Thoughts

No election of officers in the Southern Baptist Convention will be able to address the systemic and profound theological ignorance of the average messenger to the annual meeting. Somehow, along the way, the conservative resurgence has done a disservice to the churches of our convention through the use of simplistic theological buzzwords that are fraught with complicated exegetical nuance. Inerrancy, in its truest form, speaks only to Southern Baptists’ firm commitment to the full and final accuracy of scripture. Implicit, but not as often affirmed, in this theological affirmation is the doctrine of scriptural sufficiency, or the belief that the Word of God is not only without error, it is without equal. The Bible, and only the Bible, therefore, is the exclusive well from which Southern Baptists must draw their confession of faith or their standard of holy living.

During the last twenty-seven years, many different voices have arisen to denigrate the doctrine of biblical authority. Again and again Southern Baptists have withstood the challenges to inerrancy so that today no person may reasonably fear that inerrancy is under assault from the left. But while Southern Baptists have reinforced the front of biblical authority on the left, there has crept in a threat, almost unrecognizable, from the right. Indeed, there is more than one enemy of truth. While theological liberalism is in full retreat and conservatives are celebrating a hard-won victory, theological fundamentalism has outflanked Southern Baptists from the right, now threatening the sufficiency of Scripture and the Reformation dictum of sola scriptura. While the Sadducees of liberalism are licking their wounds, the Pharisees of fundamentalism are on the move. This was never more evident that Wednesday morning during the first report of the Resolutions Committee.

Resolution on Alcohol Consumption: A Case Study in Absurdity

Late Tuesday evening I met with a group of friends and fellow messengers in the Presidential Suite VII at the Greensboro Sheraton Hotel. Essentially, it was a two bedroom suite divided in the middle by a huge conference room, sitting room, kitchen and foyer. I would guess the total space was about 1500 square feet. For years I’ve been able to get a suite at the Southern Baptist Convention, not because I’m somebody important but because I manage a block of rooms for convention messengers. This year, along with my associate, I secured 152 rooms at the Four Seasons Hotel, all but two of which were solid votes for Frank Page. After the elections were over about forty of us gathered in the suite – which was shared with Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson and his wife Rachelle – to talk about the elections and fellowship. Wade emceed the whole evening while his wife served up drinks of the non-alcoholic kind. After a healthy time of fraternization, everybody found a place to sit and I shared some thoughts about the convention to that point.

The first thought I shared was my perspective on the election of Frank Page, which I will discuss below. The second thought I shared concerned my appreciation for the bloggers who had done more than anybody can estimate to effect a seismic shift whose degree is known only in the mind of God. The third thought concerned my expectations for the next day.

The hour was late, and I assured my friends that we were not the only ones staying up. Those who were angered by the election of Frank Page, the defeat of Mark Dever, and the victory of Wiley Drake on the first ballot were surely regrouping. I predicted to the group that we could expect a response, straight out of the shoots, the next morning during the report of the Resolutions Committee. I was not sure how it would come, but I was certain in my gut that it would.

The next morning when I saw the resolution on alcohol I felt like a prophet. Quickly, I determined that I would not allow that resolution to pass without dissent, especially since the committee declined my resolution on dissent. My associate pastor cautioned me not to speak, afraid as he was that my comments would be misconstrued to the disadvantage of Frank Page. Nevertheless, I went to microphone number one and voiced my concern that the resolution was not only careless, it was silly. First, I do not know of “religious leaders” who are advocating the consumption of alcohol, but I know a considerable number who recognize the latitude of the biblical admonitions concerning imbibing. Second, my support for Frank Page was built on my intense disdain for the narrowing trends of doctrinal and social rigidity and a desire to see those concerns addressed. My opposition to the alcohol resolution is built upon the same goal: to end the days when Southern Baptists draw lines in the sand on doctrines and traditions that are not essential to Christian unity, witness, or the proclamation of the Gospel. I tried to speak with candor and care. I have reviewed my remarks via webfeed and I am convinced that I succeeded.

Of course, a stirring began at microphone number two while I was speaking. Jim Richards, the executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention prepared to offer an amendment to insert language into the resolution that would further marginalize conservative Southern Baptists who differ on minor points of doctrine or practice. It should surprise nobody that the messenger offering the amendment was sent to Greensboro by the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, the church whose reputation and practice continues to be colored by its former pastor, none other than the Rev. Dr. J. Frank Norris of Fundamentalist fame.

In his remarks, Jim made comments that linked “holiness” and “purity” with a position of abstinence. Of course, I noticed that Jim had recently visited his barber, which confounded my ability to esteem his apparent Nazarite vow with any degree of credibility. “Holiness,” to some in denominational life, seems much more closely associated with what one eats or drinks, and this in spite of clear New Testament teachings to the contrary. I respect Jim’s position, and while I believe he is a victim of his own myopia, I do not think his position is unbiblical. It is perfectly biblical for him to abstain, and commendable. It is not, however, a matter of holiness. Jim Richards is not holier because he abstains, and any suggestion to the contrary exposes a serious failure to comprehend the Pauline teaching, especially to the churches of Galatia, that one’s sanctification in holiness is not perfected according to the flesh. But the resolution passed overwhelmingly, and we move on. My only regret is that Wiley Drake called the question before the convention was able to hear the behatted “First Lady” of Southwestern Seminary from microphone number two, where she had marshaled the fortitude to join the debate. I wish I knew what she was going to say, but providence silenced her.

And all God’s people said…..

What frustrated me is not that the resolution mischaracterized the position of those who acknowledge the whole counsel of God in formulating their position on alcohol. Neither was I upset that the convention messengers, having just elected Frank Page on a platform of ending the narrowing trends, chose to adopt a very narrow and poorly worded resolution. What angered me was that a reasonable discussion about the nature and extent of Christian liberty in the Gospel seems impossible among brethren who affirm the inerrancy of biblical authority. We do not seem to understand what Christian liberty is all about, and we certainly do not seem willing to recognize or appropriate the scriptural latitude for the sake of fellowship and peace. When presented with an option to affirm Christian liberty in the Gospel, four-fifths of the messengers raised there ballots to refuse a hearing.

The incredulity I was experiencing at that moment was compounded within the next hour. I stood at the back of the convention floor listening to Condoleeza Rice, a woman who drinks alcohol and approves of abortion and was praised and prayed for as a true Christian sister by the SBC President. Every time Condi struck a note of political liberty or patriotic freedom, the crowd thundered in applause and rose to their feet in ovation upon ovations.

The Southern Baptist Convention has relegated Christian liberty in Christ to confessional oblivion and those who are willing to engage seriously in a discussion of its meaning and limit are characterized as an ungodly, immoral, unholy, and impure bunch of bootleggers peddling liquid licentiousness. Yet when the stars and stripes are waved, or “God Bless America” is sung, tears roll down cheeks and hands are lifted high.

We are, it seems, no different that the German Church at the close of the Weimar Republic. Nationalism is our religion. The Gospel is now emptied of its power to set the captives free. This disturbs me more than the resolution itself. In fact, I could have stomached two years of the runner-up much easier than to stand in the convention hall and watch my fellow messengers rise to their feet when the death of Al-Zarquawi is announced. A soul is sent to hell, and we do not grieve. We cheer.

The Election of Officers

A few moments after Frank Page was elected, I received a phonecall from a former friend who has severed our relationship because he “cannot fellowship” with me because of the positions I’ve taken about nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism and their compromising effect on our convention. His words were quite succinct: “I guess you’re proud of yourself.” The call ended.

I’m not sure what I should be “proud” about, but I suppose that some people assume that Wade Burleson and I are responsible, in some way, for his election. I did not write his nomination speech; that credit belongs to Forrest Pollock who gave it with firm resolve and convincing appeal in a masterful manner. I did encourage every person I knew to vote for Frank Page for no other reason that his concerns resonated with my own. I have explained to Frank that I will not be calling him or writing him to tell him my two-cents about what he should do as convention president. I do not have an agenda to submit. I do not have a vision to promote. I have merely asked him, in the presence of many others, to honor his word and follow through on his promises.

For weeks Wade has been telling me that Frank Page would win on the first ballot. I was not as certain. Somehow in the providence of God that is what happened, and I cannot explain it.

I do want to say a word, however, about the sovereignty of God and the election of officers.

When Frank Page and I visited on the phone before he announced his candidacy, I made one request of him. I asked him to refuse with all his might to presume upon the sovereignty of God in the manner of Ronnie Floyd. I asked him never to say that “God told him to run,” or that he’d “had a Macedonian vision” or that he was “supernaturally drafted.” Frank assured me that he would not say such things, but only that he would tell the convention he had a peace about allowing his name to be placed into nomination.

Southern Baptists had better calm down when it comes to announcing the will of God presumptuously. Ronnie Floyd is probably embarrassed by his defeat. Nobody likes to lose an election, especially when the heavy artillery has been rolled out in his defense. Any person would be disappointed and disheartened at such a loss. But Ronnie was certain he would win, in spite of being told differently by some very astute denominational politicos. I do not have any reservation, therefore, when I suggest that my hope is that Ronnie Floyd & Co., will walk away from Greensboro with a new hesitance to employ the language of holy writ with exaggerated interpretive license.

In the same way, those of us who feel like “victors” must be careful not to start talking about Frank Page like he is God’s choice to lead the convention. He was the choice of the messengers. Whether or not God stuffed the ballot box is beyond our comprehension of his eternal counsel.

And yes, I wrote the nomination speech for Wiley Drake. I believe that Wiley was the best candidate for the post, and I put my full efforts into seeing him elected. Anybody who wonders why I feel this way should watch these videos.


During the debate on the 10% clause, I watched as Jerry Vines and Jack Graham stood behind microphone number two waiting for the moment to speak against the amendment. When the moment came, Vines nodded to Graham who marched to the microphone and gave a calm appeal. Soon thereafter, from the same spot, Jerry Vines lectured the convention some obscure provision of the Peace Committee before moving the previous question and ensuring that he had the last word. A messenger objected by referencing a previous rule that forbade a messenger from speaking to a matter and the ending debate by moving the previous question. The point of order was not well taken, and something terrible happened.

From the bleachers, a man cried out that “Just because your name is Jerry Vines doesn’t mean you get special treatment.” I have to confess that I caught the uncomfortable sneer of Dr. Vines a time or two this week, but I really don’t hold anything against him. He is a faithful preacher and a mighty spokesman for biblical values and personal holiness.

I don’t care who it is, but especially when it is a man who’s done as much for the Southern Baptist Convention as Jerry Vines, such outlashed animosity is completely inappropriate. It is, in fact, downright rude. But the convention was stressful and people were saying and doing things that I’m sure they’ll regret upon subsequent reflection.

I’ve been accused this week of filing lawsuits against Paige Patterson, which is not true. Frank Page has been accused of being a “closet moderate.” Wade Burleson has been attacked in the Greensboro Airport by one of our seminary presidents who told Wade’s minister of music that Wade had “no integrity” after asking him “how he liked having a pastor who drank.” Even I have engaged in some questionable teasing about the peculiar shade of citrus that colored the face of Ronnie Floyd’s nominator. We’re a long way from knowing how to engage in healthy disagreement without attacking character of mocking with snide jabs. I’m guilty as charged, but at least you’ll have a one-year reprieve from my harangues and rants.


When I arrived at the Greensboro Airport to return to Dallas, I was interested to see the diversity of my traveling companions. Not only were all my church’s messengers booked on that flight, but we were joined by convention parliamentarian Barry McCarty, a Lifeway trustee, Cliff Cummings of Oklahoma, a host of tired convention messengers, and the President and First Lady – along with personal attaché – of Southwestern Seminary. As I walked to the gate, at least three people stopped to tell me that Patterson was on my flight. One of my convention messengers had already “found out” where they were seated, and another reported that the First Lady was talking about “satanic attacks” and the “small apartment” where they live at the presidential manse. This, after my discovering that I was “being watched” at the convention this week. All this cloak and dagger nonsense is ridiculous, and I find it quite funny. Why people feel they need to “report” to me, or to anybody, the actions/words/seating assignments of another is beyond my comprehension. But I know that it happens, because I used to report stupid things like that to those who I thought gave a crap.

It was then that it dawned on me.

Most of the problems facing the Southern Baptist Convention could have been resolved with a sudden loss of cabin pressure somewhere over Tennessee. But since we all survived the flight, I guess we’ll have to wait until San Antonio to see what actually happened this week in Greensboro. In the meantime, I plan on attending a few more IMB trustee meetings, beginning with the July meeting in Richmond, Va.


A time for choosing

The following statement constitutes my best effort at a nomination speech for Frank Page of Taylors, SC, for the office of Southern Baptist Convention president. I am confident that Forrest Pollock will do a fine job on his own, but we all know that these nomination speeches are worked and reworked, edited and re-edited by groups of men concerned to elect their nominee. I am concerned to elect Frank Page. Therefore, I offer this draft as fodder for the biggerwhigs who might actually stumble across this little blog of mine.

My Fellow Messengers:

The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, threatened as they were by factions and loyalities and different views on the gifts, that they were to keep their pecularities and preferences from splintering them into a thousand pieces. The only way that the apostolic admonition would work, he told them, was if they did everything in love, which would never fail them.

Southern Baptists are a diverse lot. We have emergent leaders and resurgent loyalists — young bucks and old curmudgeons. We have small churches and megachurches and all churches in between. We are from the Northeast and the Southwest, from the West Coast and the East. Some of us are traditional, others are innovative. Some can’t see anything right with the bureaucracy, and some seem beholden to it. But in all these things, Southern Baptists must remember that the only answer for Corinth — and the only answer for us — is to pursue faith, hope, and love.

I rise to place into nomination for the office of convention president a man who exemplifies these spiritual virtues. His name is Frank Page, and his leadership is needed.

Frank Page is a man of great faith. Throughout his ministry, Pastor Frank has followed the call of God to churches where the harvest was thin and the people were discouraged. From declining attendance to growing membership, from a loss of evangelistic zeal to a hot-hearted passion for the lost, the churches Frank Page has led have faced the difficult task before them and risen to the task. He has been creative in his ministry philosophy, but never compromising in his biblical fidelity. He has been willing to attempt new strategies for training disciples, but never has he faltered in his commitment to the inerrant Word of God. He’s always told us where he stands, but he’s never demanded that we agree with him to join the harvest field alongside him. Whether we are Calvinist or revivalist, elder-ruled or pastor-led, altar-callers or holy-rollers, Frank Page has the experience, the courage, and the wisdom to get us all pulling in the same direction without letting non-essentials break our fellowship.

Frank Page is also a man of great hope. He dreams big dreams about the future of our convention, and the future he sees is bright. But Frank’s hope for our convention is not built on battles won or victories celebrated from former days of evangelical vibrancy. Frank Page believes that the only way our hopes can be achieved is if our perspective is honest. There are questions about the stewardship of our convention resources that need answering. There are concerns about narrowing trends that need addressing. Things are not all roses in our convention, nor have they ever been. Ours are not halcyon days of integrity and accountability, but neither are they dark ages of systemic decay and dishonesty. These are not the best of times, but neither are they the worst of them. Frank Page knows that the time has come for Southern Baptists to consider ourselves, to examine our convention’s work and measure it by the Word of God. He knows that we cannot be blind loyalists, nor can we be disgruntled critics. If we are going to seek first God’s Kingdom in our generation, we better make sure it is God’s Kingdom we are seeking. Frank Page will call us to hope again that Southern Baptists can put our petty differences behind us and get moving again toward the hope and future that God promises to his people.

Finally, Frank Pages is a man of love. He loves the Lord and his Church. He loves the Word of God and he loves seeing people’s lives changed by it. Frank Page loves the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Program, because he knows that together we can do more than we can if we go it alone. Love, it is said, is measured not in words but in deeds. When it comes to showing his love for this convention, he does it by leading his church to give sacrificially and consistently to support the work of more than 5000 foreign missionaries, and to underwrite the ministries of all our seminaries and agencies. To paraphrase the book of James, “Do you see a man who says he loves the Southern Baptist Convention, but does not support the Cooperative Program? I ask you, can that love save us?” The Southern Baptist Convention should be led by men whose support for our ministries is unquestioned — a man who leads by example is the only leader Southern Baptist will follow. Frank Page loves our convention greatly, but his loyalty is to Christ uniquely. He will lead us courageously to adopt the same priority.

I urge you, my fellow messengers, to support a man who supports our convention. To vote for a man who holds the faith without compromise, hopes the best and works to achieve it, and who loves the Lord, the Church, and all the churches that constitute this great convention. I urge you to support Frank Page for convention president.

Thank you.”

Roger Williams on dissent

In the 1663 charter of the State of Rhode Island, Baptist colonist Roger Williams wrote these words:

“No person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be in any wise molested, punished, disquieted or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and who do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all may fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments.”

And yet, Southern Baptists have a group of trustees at the International Mission Board who would silence any dissent and/or threaten the dismissal of those who express ojections of conscience to policies and narrow doctrinal parameters.

Leaves one wondering: Just how Baptist is the Southern Baptist Convention

O.S. Hawkins and Stewardship

Regular readers of this insignificant corner of the blogosphere will already know of my concern about the stewardship of our convention resources. I’m frustrated that our Cooperative Program dollars have been spent too carelessly at times, and I’m sure there is enough blame to spread around all of the agencies. When you hear that seminary presidents have personal chefs and housemaids and hostesses on convention payroll to make of their our official residences a more silent witness decadent domicile, it can become quite disheartening. When you hear those same leaders appealing for more convention dollars it becomes downright insulting.

But there are some commendable and praiseworthy instances of denominational stewardship, and today I saw one of them.

While I was waiting to board an outbound plane from Dallas-Ft. Worth to come to Greensboro, NC, for the annual meeting, I sat at the gate watching a few SBC/SBTC bigwhigs mulling around the sitting area. That’s when I noticed that Guidestone President O.S. Hawkins was waiting there with his lovely wife, Susie. The call for first class passengers sounded in the loudspeaker, and I arose to board, having upgraded my ticket from a coach seat. Once seated comfortably in First Class, I watched as the file of convention-bound Baptists boarded the plane and found their seats in coach class. I watched carefully, wondering which two first class seats would be occupied by Dr. and Mrs. Hawkins, planning on pulling a modest prank on him once he was seated.

To my suprise, Dr. and Mrs. Hawkins made their way to coach to be seated with most other convention goers.

Now, I realize that the Hawkinses probably have more frequent flyer miles than I do, and that he could have easily upgraded to First Class. I also realize that the president of Guidestone has a significant travel expense, which is necessary for him to accomplish the task of administering our retirement fund and representing our various stockholding interests. But when he travels on the convention expense, Dr. Hawkins travels coach.

This impresses me. Not because I think he deserves to sit in coach, because it would probably cost him nothing to upgrade. It just reflects his desire to assure Southern Baptists — and there was a plane full of them — that the administration of our retirement funds are not appropriated on executive perks and privileges. They are used to build our retirement…to maximize the return on our investments.

It also helps for young pastors — like my friend from Ft. Worth and me — to see that the president of our annuity fund does not see himself as an elitist. A man who runs with the rich and powerful and who commands attention and respect by men more powerful than he has not lost the common touch. He has not climbed so high that he cannot see the bottom rung anymore.

Of course, I thought of how Jimmy Hoffa ran the Teamster’s retirement fund. Hoffa would have been in first class on the nickels and dimes of poor bologna-eating truckdrivers.

Today I was taught by O.S. Hawkins. Not by a sermon, though he can surely preach them. Not by a challenge, though he can surely give them.

Rather, I observed his silent witness, and paused tonight to thank God for him. And I wonder how many dollars go back into our retirement funds or help with Adopt-an-Annuitant widows because O.S. is faithful in the little things?

The FBI and the SBC

Through ten American presidencies, five Republicans and five Democrats, one fixture of our American political empire remained the same: the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Honorable J. Edgar Hoover. He weathered scandals and assassinations, Prohibition and Civil Rights, two world wars, Korea and Vietnam. He fought against Communists with Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy; he fought against blacks with Lyndon Johnson and George Wallace; and he despised anybody with the last name Kennedy. He saw politicians come and go, and often he was the reason for both. From his lofty perch at the Justice Department Headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, Hoover kept a watchful eye on Congress, the Supreme Court, and the White House with the attentive scrutiny and conniving interference of an Olympian god.

J. Edgar Hoover was Washington D.C. for three generations, and by means of a close circle of loyalists who reported directly to “The Boss” he was able to maintain a system of secret files on every major governmental figure, all the moneymen in the nation, most actors and actresses in Hollywood, and anyone who posed a potential threat to his clenched grip on the gears of political power. Those who underestimated his influence or will to exert it did so to their own peril. Tape recordings were made and kept on file. Mail was intercepted. With a promise to keep things out of the public eye, Hoover could seal a candidate’s electoral victory. With a threat of disclosure or a caution about political suicide, he could keep a name off the ballot. Hoover’s political tentacles stretched into all three branches of government and could squeeze every cabinet office. A phonecall, or a letter, or even a raised eyebrow could end a man’s career, or launch it. He could get something in the papers, or keep it out. By the end of his life, J. Edgar Hoover controlled more pieces of the American political pie than any man in the history of our nation; and while every president wanted him gone, none could muster the political clout to force his ouster. This, of course, was for one simple reason: he knew where all the bodies were buried. If somebody could be gotten to, he would get them.

And everybody could be gotten to.

Lately I’ve been fascinated reading a biography of J. Edgar Hoover written by Curt Gentry and aptly entitled “The Man And The Secrets.” Among the most peculiar details of Hoover’s half-century reign at the FBI are the way that his secretary, Miss Helen Gandy, and his closest assistant, Clyde Tolson, were able to shield “The Boss” from most criticism and protect his dirty little secrets, not least of which was his own domestic fetish for all things frilly. About Gandy, Gentry writes:

“Although she was now seventy-five, she still ran the entire office, overseeing every phase of its operations. Her genteel manners and pleasant voice contrasted sharply with his domineering presence. Yet behind the politeness was a resolute firmness not unlike his, and no small amount of influence. Many a career in the Bureau had been quietly manipulated by her.”

About Tolson, Gentry writes:

“He was seventy-one years old, six years younger than the Boss, who, when others weren’t around, called him Junior. He’d had other nicknames over the years. One, from the thirties, was Killer Tolson, bestowed after the famous New York shootout with Harry Brunette. The men in the field didn’t think he’d heard it, but he heard everything. That was his job. Clyde Tolson’s mandate was simple: to protect the Boss from any possible attack, whether from without or within, by whatever countermeasures were felt necessary. “Hatchetman” was another epithet more than infrequently used. He didn’t particularly mind knowing people called him that. Whether it was true or not, such fear had its uses.”

As I’ve worked through Gentry’s bestselling analysis of J. Edgar Hoover, I’ve been impressed at the congruity between the way that the FBI – and indeed the Federal government – worked under Hoover’s masterful administration, and the way that certain corners of the Southern Baptist Convention have come to operate. Certainly, the scale is much smaller and the influence is less pervasive, but the system shares many similarities.

First, J. Edgar Hoover knew how to weather a storm. If his enemies were undoing themselves by saying the wrong things or by behaving badly, Hoover did nothing. There is no sense in wasting ammunition, as Hoover well knew. Hoover would let men who threatened his powerbase twist in the wind, and occasionally he would disseminate sordid details, true or not, to hasten their political demise. If the storm brewing involved him, Hoover would sit tight. Presidents, at most, are assured four years in office unless removed by Congress. Hoover’s appointment was bound by no such term limitation. When the Kennedy boys tried to edge him out, he just waited until a shot was fired from the sixth floor of the book depository in downtown Dallas. When questions were raised about the bureau’s investigation into the assassination, Hoover never responded but quietly exerted pressure on the Warren Commission to exonerate him.

Similarly, the time has come for the Southern Baptist Convention to ask some very critical questions about the wasteful way that Cooperative Program dollars have been spent. There are questions about manipulation of the nomination process by which political allies are recycled to top convention posts. There are serious questions about the way that Paige Patterson, in particular, has worked to undermine the administration of Jerry Rankin at the International Mission Board by circulating criticisms among trustees or outright telling them that the board would be more effective with a resignation at the top. The North American Mission Board has faced some terribly difficult questions about administrative negligence, and more questions continue to surface about the presence of secret caucuses formulating subversive agendas within our trustee boards. And as these questions are asked, those who hold power and feel threatened by the imminent scrutiny will erect blockades, tighten their grip, refuse to answer questions, and try to ride out the storm. When Southern Baptists see a man who will not answer questions about his administration of an SBC agency or his use of Cooperative Program dollars, they should be very suspicious. They should also prepare for “countermeasures” taken to discredit the questioners or to undermine convention confidence in their charges.

Second, J. Edgar Hoover dealt with information. His facts and his files were his key to power. He never closed his ear to a rumor, and he never forgot an offense. When necessary, Hoover would dispatch a G-Man or two to wiretap a telephone call, or to intercept a piece of mail, or to tape-record a conversation. At the time of his death, it took his secretary more than two weeks to destroy all the tapes and transcripts and pieces of correspondence that constituted the director’s secret files. Occasionally Hoover would drop a hint or hire a mercenary to accomplish his political objective. Proximity to the Boss was usually reward enough for eager agents with bureaucratic ambition.

In a similar way, talk of who knows “where the bodies are buried” colors Southern Baptist conversation. The efforts to collect information on political “enemies” goes on with little conflict of conscience, and I will give two examples to prove my point. On July 3, 2003, an email was sent out to all Southeastern Seminary students preparing for six weeks of intensive training at the IMB’s Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, VA. In that email, the director of Southeastern’s mission program requested that young missionary candidates collect information and record in detail what they saw and heard during their training and report back to him. In the email, he disclosed that he was working with IMB Trustee Bill Sanderson of Wendell, NC, to prepare a dossier in order to address the “problems” at the International Mission Board. You can read about this whole ordeal, here. Within a few months, Paige Patterson was circulating to all IMB trustees a “white paper” written by the same Southeastern professor and which contained severe criticisms of the Rankin administration. During the time, I myself was involved in several conference calls with a caucus of trustees at the International Mission Board where plans were discussed to bring an end to Jerry Rankin’s tenure. Among the participants in those calls were Diane Reeder of Louisiana, Albert Green of Texas (being replaced by Nathan Lino, mentioned earlier in this blog), and Wyndham Cook of Texas, and others. Moreover, I was personally offered a job working at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in February 2004 to listen to multiple hours of audio-recordings of Jerry Rankin, collected by the seminary president’s office, and cull them for suspicious theology, potential instances of charismatic teaching, or questionable statements that could be interpreted as contrary to the BFM2000. Of course, I refused to accept the job or the payment of Cooperative Program dollars that came with it. Adding to the problems are the stacks of emails I have received, most of which are from Russell Kaemmerling of TX, that detail a strategy to block candidates for top IMB administrative posts and replace Rankin’s choice with Patterson’s stalking horses. These, and other materials, I will provide to the investigative committee formed as a result of Wade Burleson’s motion at this year’s annual meeting in Greensboro, NC. (It should be remembered that Kaemmerling was appointed to the IMB post during Patterson’s presidency in Orlando, FL. He was nominated to the post by Wichita Falls layman Bill Streich, who is now one of Jerry Sutton’s endorsers, according to this story.)

Third, Hoover could save a man’s career, or he could end it. Which course he took depended heavily on the perceived loyalty of the man or the perceived threat. When Abe Fortas was nominated by Lyndon Johnson to fill the post vacated by retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren, Hoover was able to get him filibustered until Nixon replaced Johnson in 1968. Once his old political ally was in the White House, Hoover was able to get an intellectual feather-weight and bumbling constitutional lawyer named Warren Burger confirmed. The propaganda machine never stopped at the FBI either. Hoover was famously small of stature, prompting the Director to have a raised dais placed under his desk to give him a taller appearance while sitting. No man taller than Hoover was promoted to the top posts just in case a photo of the two side-by-side would make the Boss look diminutive. Hoover could spin the press, never through lies but always through half-truths. Moreover, Hoover would make end runs around the president to get a bigger budget for the FBI’s covert operations. Whatever Hoover wanted from the Congressional Budget Office, Hoover usually received. If a congressman or senator started to ask questions about financial oversight at the bureau, he could anticipate that his political challenger in the next election cycle would have defaming facts at his disposal. Where he got them, nobody wondered.

When it comes to spinning the media and cooking the numbers, the SBC is in a serious state of ethical disintegration. Whether it is pastors who inflate the numbers of their churches’ membership rolls or support of “SBC causes”, or seminary presidents who overstate their enrollment numbers, we are facing a crises brought about by a baptized version of Goebbellian propaganda. We have also had to deal with SBC entity heads lobbying Executive Committee members for additional money from the convention’s allocation budget. When their percentages of the pie have been increased only slightly, request for more “special offerings” in the form of Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong have piled up. When neither have squeezed another nickel from the Cooperative Program, designated funds solicitation has increased whereby pastors of large churches and wealthy businessmen are encouraged to contribute directly to the agency rather than through the Cooperative Program, thus short-circuiting the means of supporting all SBC causes in a manner consistent with the convention’s stewardship plan and opting instead to build the endowments of some institutions to the neglect of others. Often times, the biggest donors are awarded with choice trusteeships at the institution where their dollars were directed.

I could go on and on about Hoover’s use of scapegoats when he needed to deflect criticism, or his use of moles in other governmental agencies, or his attempt to bring all the intelligence agencies under his own command, or his ability to have large buildings in Washington named after him to preserve his legacy, or his racism that kept black agents beating the streets in the worst posts and their representation in the bureau minimal, or the house full of antiques and linens and silver service and oriental rugs and taxidermed animal carcasses that were piled on top of each other on the morning that Hoover’s naked body was carried from his official residence in an armored limousine. But that would take more time than the readers of blogs can afford.

At Hoover’s funeral, the president of the United States offered the following eulogy:

“J. Edgar Hoover was one of the giants. His long life brimmed over with magnificent achievement and the dedicated service to this country which he loved so well. One of the tragedies of life is that, as a rule, a man’s true greatness is recognized only in death. J. Edgar was one of the rare exceptions to that rule. He became a living legend while still a young man, and he lived up to his legend as the decades passed. His death only heightens the respect and admiration felt for him across this land and in every land where men cherish freedom.

“The greatness of Edgar Hoover will remain inseparable from the greatness of the institution he created and gave his whole life to building . . .. While presidents came and went, while other leaders or morals and manners and opinion rose and fell, the director stayed at his post . . .

“He personified integrity; he personified honor; he personified principle; he personified courage; he personified discipline; he personified loyalty; he personified patriotism. The good J. Edgar Hoover did will not die. The profound principles associated with his name will not fade away. . .

“In the Bible, the book which Edgar Hoover called his ‘guide to daily life,’ we find the words which best pronounce a benediction on his death. They are from the Psalms: ‘Great peace have they which love Thy law.’ J. Edgar Hoover loved the law of his God. He loved the law of his country. And he richly earned peace through all eternity.”

Of course, at the moment Richard Nixon was praising J. Edgar Hoover moral virtue and administrative excellence, special agents were carrying boxes women’s clothes out of the director’s closet, and the President himself was plotting break-ins and political retribution. I suppose the lesson for us all is that we should not allow our convention to become dominated by any one person or party, we should never allow the conservative resurgence to be identified too closely with any one single individual, and we should never let our concern for legacies and loyalties to overshadow our concern for the truth.

Some people will think that I’m painting with too broad a brush. Others will suggest that I’m overstating my case. Still others will comment that linking SBC personalities with J. Edgar Hoover is unfair. To the last objection, however, I must ascribe merit.

J. Edgar Hoover never used his office to endorse a presidential candidate publicly.

Incidentally, people should remember that nobody believed that Hoover was as involved as he was until years after his death when agents and aides and attaches started coming forward to tell their stories and provide the evidence to support their claims. Before then, Hoover could do no wrong. Today, his legacy is strong but balanced, and the FBI is stronger for it. His name remains etched on the Justice Department building, for another shall not arise like him.

For that, America should be grateful.

Southeastern trustee speaks…

In a comment thread on this blog, a former trustee at Southeastern Seminary posted the following comment in response to my post on nepotism. I felt it deserved a wider reading that it would have received in the comment section. So without further ado, here are the thoughts of former Southeastern Seminary trustee Jimmy Hedrick:

Ben, having been a SEBTS trustee during the Patterson reign I do confer that consrervative denominational leadership did seem to have shades of nepotistic and cronism skin color when I rubbed up against it. Reading your blog and seeing the names referenced in the co-op chain of denominational institutions was a flash back. Yet it was an act of a good providential sovereign God that arranged my weak connection that saw to my chosen appointment as the replacement of Adrian Rogers when he stepped down to a bigger kettle of evangelical fish (Focus on the Family board member). I was a rookie with Dr. Tim Lahaye(short lived of Maryland residency) visitng Dr. Patterson’s stuffed wild game presidential office my first campus trustee mtg. visit. I was a nobody from the hinterland of Seneca, Kansas pastoring a flock of less than fifty sheep. I learned alot about the working of power and authority in my 6 yrs of service. Stuff does constantly happen under the radar screen. It was humbling to observe how things came to pass under the almighty hand of God. I do believe the philosophical statement on leadership, “you get the leaders that you desrve / leaders are no better than the stock from which they grew out of”. I feel like the conservatives are not any different than the liberals of past reigns ie.,Give us liberty w/o accountability.God have mercy and send a revival of repenting and loving hearts amoung all us pietistic do good missional SBCers…”

Run, Ronnie, Run…

The following nomination speech is an aggregation of my thoughts about the best possible case for electing Ronnie Floyd to the SBC Convention Presidency. After the speech, I will offer my response.

“My Fellow Messengers,

For many years Pastor Ronnie Floyd has led Southern Baptists, both by example and by the offices to which we have elected him. Now in his twentieth year as the pastor of First Baptist Church Springdale, AR, Ronnie Floyd has taken a medium size church in one of the poorest states in the nation and led it to reach an entire region with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Through his state-of-the-art television ministry, Ronnie Floyd is seeking ways to reach lost people in creative ways. But Ronnie’s heart for extending the ministry of First Baptist Sprindale has not minimized his commitment to deepen the ministry through consistent and disciplined personal holiness.

Ronnie Floyd is a man of prayer. Ten years ago this summer, Ronnie Floyd challenged all Southern Baptists to get serious about seeking the Lord’s face. His church experienced personal revival as a result of its renewed commitment to prayer and fasting, and the fruit of that amazing work of God’s Spirit remains today.

Ronnie Floyd is a visionary leader, and he’s never content with the status quo. Southern Baptists are in danger of succumbing to old methods of evangelism and ministry that worked a quarter century ago but are quickly becoming outdated and outmoded. From the moment he wakes up in the morning, until the evening when he goes to sleep, Ronnie Floyd is actively pursuing ways to get the message of personal victory through salvation in Jesus Christ to more people, faster, and more effectively. Ronnie Floyd can lead Southern Baptists to renew our vision and recapture a heart for personal revival.

He is also a man of immense concern for the health and strength of our nation. Whether leading thousands of men in spiritual renewal at a Promise Keepers rally, or through his books and sermons, Ronnie Floyd is always concerned to see America restored to God. He’s been on the front lines of the culture wars, and he’s never compromised a commitment to biblical morality. We need his voice, and the integrity of his life, if we are going to make a difference in our culture.

Finally, Ronnie Floyd is a mentor to young pastors. Scores of young men have grown up under his ministry, and many more have looked to him for guidance and direction as they plant their lives in various fields of harvest. Ronnie has walked with them, prayed with them, challenged them and counseled them how to be better stewards of the calling of God on their lives. In a day when many are worried about losing the next generation of Kingdom servants, Ronnie Floyd has fought against the current to make a difference in the lives of younger leaders.”

First of all, I have to confess that I do not believe Johnny Hunt will take this approach. I believe that justifications for low CP giving will be offered, along with numbers and statistics and more of the same “God has appointed him for such a time as this” jargon.

Second, I want to say that I really do believe that Ronnie Floyd has done a great work in Arkansas. Who can doubt that a church has grown at FBC Springdale? Who can assert that Ronnie hasn’t made a great difference in many people’s lives? I’ve certainly never suggested it, and I’ve not heard anybody who has.

Third, I do not believe that Ronnie’s personal prayer life — however effectual and earnest — should be a talking point for his nomination speech. Prayer is a matter of a man before God, and I’m not interested in throwing open the chambers of his prayer closet to investigate what God is doing therein. It seems odd to me that some of the people pumping Ronnie’s candidacy and using his private devotional life as a basis to appeal for votes are the same people who exoriate Jerry Rankin for what happens in his private prayer life. A man’s prayer closet is a closed matter. What God does there is nobody’s business. The same is true for fasting and giving. I’m not interested in how many hours a day Ronnie Floyd prays, and I’m not interested in how many dollars he tithes. I don’t really care how many days he goes without food. Those are matters between Ronnie Floyd and the Lord Jesus Christ. To discuss those matters in a campaign speech is comparable to the sin of Uzzah…touching that which is holy with unclean hands.

Yet, I will not vote for Ronnie Floyd. Not because he is a bad person or a bad preacher or a bad pastor. He’s a fine person, from what I know; and many can attest to the excellence of his pastoral leadership. I will support Frank Page for president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and I will encourage every messenger I know to do the same.

I was asked to support Jerry Sutton, and originally I thought I would agree. Upon further reflection, however, I have determined to stay with Frank Page for the reaons I have already enumerated on this blog.

Thank you, and good night. Tomorrow, I’ll be posting about J. Edgar Hoover. You’ll love it, I’m sure.

And they said I was making this up…

Lest you think I’m drawing connections where there are none…

Southwestern Seminary announced a new website today, to make “White Papers” more accessible to the local churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.

First, I noticed that the IMB’s latest trustee nominee from Texas, Nathan Lino, is on the editorial board of the file cabinet institute.

Second, I’m assuming that the “white papers” that are made available will fall in line with other “white papers” that have been disseminated in recent years under Southwestern’s imprimatur.

And I wonder how long it will take a “white paper” on the Baptist distinctive of “liberty of conscience” to make its way to the masthead?

This is me…not holding my breath.

BGCT gets it right

Regarding the concern of nepotism that I have posted on this blog, I’ve discovered that the Baptist General Convention of Texas — better known as the state convention every “conservative” loves to hate — has carefully included a nepotism clause in their nominating procedures. This, taken from BGCT governing documents:

Trustees must not be related in the third degree by birth, adoption or marriage to each other or to the Presidents/CEO (CEO, CFO, CAO, COO) of the institutions on which board they serve. This interpretation would exclude those related as parent, child, brother, sister, grandparent, grandchild, great-grandparent, great-grandchild, great-great grandparent, great-great grandchild, aunt, uncle, nephew, niece or cousin or the spouse of one of the above.

Due to possible conflict of interest, nominating anyone for a position as trustee who is an employee of the BGCT or an employee of one of its institutions or agencies should be avoided. The only exception to this might be the selection of a non-administrative employee of an education institution to serve as a trustee of a health care institution or non-administrative health care institution employee being asked to serve on an educational institution board. Physicians cannot serve on the board of a hospital where they practice.

No member of the Committee on Nominations for Boards of Affiliated Ministries may be nominated by any subcommittee to serve as a trustee unless currently serving as a trustee and eligible for re-election.

No person shall be eligible for concurrent membership on more than one affiliated board or board of related institutions or agencies.

Committee members shall avoid nominating themselves or their relatives to serve on committees or boards of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

No employee of an institution shall serve on a nominating subcommittee.

So there goes my theory that conservative leaders are adopting the same methods of control used by moderates in days gone by.

No, it seems that conservatives have developed a system of political spoils all on their own…and one that reaches new heights depths of nepotism.

Nepotism: It’s what ails us

The hardwired dictionary that comes standard with my new MacBook Pro defines nepotism as “the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.” The word comes to English from the Italian words nepotismo and nipote, which mean “nephew.” Its usage is from the middle ages when bishops of the Roman Catholic Church were notorious for bestowing titles, offices, and lands to their “nephews,” who were quite commonly their own illegitimate children. The term has come to refer primarily to questionable preferentialism in political societies, but its original meaning applied to religious orders. When a religious leader fell victim to its temptation, nepotism threatened to compromise the confidence that the faithful had in their ecclesial authorities. In every case, nepotism was an expedient tool for achieving the political ends of religious leaders. In many cases, it was a cloak for vice.

Like the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and all religious societies for that matter, must recognize the threat that nepotism poses to its witness and the loss of confidence that follows such egregious strategies of political maneuvering. Not every case of apparent nepotism, whereby a family member or close associate of an influential leader is appointed to a place of power by an indirect means, is a case of true nepotism, whereby the same person receives the same appointment for a particular purpose of political payback or to achieve a particular political agenda. But Southern Baptists are held to a higher ethic. We are, the Scripture reminds us, to flee every appearance of nepotistic evil.

Something I saw today in the 2006 Nominations Committee Report made me start to think about nepotism and its clear and present danger to the confidence Southern Baptists have in the system of trustee selection. Allow me to explain my point by mentioning a few names included in the report.

First, I noticed the name of a father and son who are being nominated to trusteeships at the same time. Replacing Randy Davis of Amarillo, TX, on the Lifeway Board of Trustees is David Lino, pastor of Faith Family Baptist Church in Kingwood, TX. David’s son, Nathan, is being appointed to replace Texas trustee Albert Green on the International Mission Board. Now, perhaps I am mistaken, but are there not enough pastors in Texas Baptist life to fill these few vacancies on SBC agencies and institutions without drawing two names from the same family? My problem was compounded when I discovered that Nathan Lino was also appointed this year to serve on the 2006 Tellers Committee by SBC President Bobby Welch. And my concerns were further raised when I did a little more investigating.

There are nearly 6000 churches and missions in Texas. The Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC) has about 2000 churches and the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) has about 4000. The SBTC sends about 15 million a year to the SBC through the Cooperative Program, and the BGCT sends almost that same amount. So I started to wonder how many uniquely-aligned BGCT churches had representation on SBC trustee boards. The answer, you wonder?

Only one. The International Mission Board has a trustee from Texas named Robert “Bob” Graham. You may remember the retired pastor of Field Street Baptist Church in Cleburn from the 2003 Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ, where he closed the Tuesday morning session with the benediction. Bob Graham, incidentally, is the brother of the Rev. Jack Graham, pastor of the behemoth Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX, and who was serving that year as the convention president. The next year (2004) Bob was appointed to the IMB by one of Jack Graham’s first-term nominators, J. Keet Lewis, who was that year’s chairman of the committee on nominations and whose membership is at Prestonwood Baptist Church. Keet Lewis, by the way, is on this year’s Committee on Order of Business and was Paige Patterson’s appointee to the 2000 Committee on Committees. So out of 4000 BGCT churches, the only man qualified to serve as a Southern Baptist trustee is the brother of former SBC President Jack Graham. The only man qualified to join him on the SBC board is Nathan Lino, whose father is the best choice for a vacant Lifeway spot. Nathan Lino, by the way, is the author of an interesting letter, circulated back in April of this year. So enough of the father-son, brother-brother analysis. Let’s move on.

Two other names mentioned in this year’s Committee on Nominations report are Mary Jo Nichols, who has resigned her trusteeship at the IMB to move to Texas, and her husband, Dean Nichols, who is rotating off the Executive Committee and who is also moving to Texas. Specifically, the Nicholses are moving to Fort Worth, where Dean has accepted a job working for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. So, essentially, we had a husband serving on one committee while his wife served on another. But the intrigue doesn’t stop there. Dean Nichols, who is a graduate of the Criswell College and an avid sportsman, was appointed to the Executive Committee in 1999, the first year of Paige Patterson’s presidency in Atlanta, GA. The following year, Patterson appointed the Nicholses’ son, John, to the Committee on Committees as a member from Alaska even though he resided in Wake Forest, NC, where he attended school at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. John appointed Shiela Bierdeman, a member of his dad’s church in Kenai, AK, to serve as the 2000 Committee on Nominations member, who in turn appointed John’s mother and Dean’s wife, Mary Jo Nichols, to fill an unexpired term on the International Mission Board, where she served as secretary and member of both the executive committee and the committee that drafted the new policy on private prayer before resigning her trusteeship last month. Husband-wife-son connections, complete with a new job at a Southern Baptist seminary.

But the last name that caught my eye was the name of Kathleen “Kathy” Kelley of Las Vegas, NV, who will be presented to the 2006 annual meeting for election to a vacant seat on the International Mission Board made by the term completed by Nevada trustee Johnny Nantz. Incidentally, both Nantz and Kelley served on the 2003 Committee on Nominations from Nevada, but the truly intriguing detail is that Miss Kelley, a retired schoolmarm, is the sister of Dorothy Kelley Patterson, the “first lady” and wife of Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson. And Miss Kelley isn’t the first of Patterson’s in-laws to find their way to a trusteeship at the International Mission Board. In 2000, Patterson’s brother-in-law, Russell Kammerling of TX was appointed to replace Judge Paul Pressler at the International Mission Board, where he served eighteen months before resigning his trusteeship for personal reasons. In 2000, Patterson’s son-in-law, Mark Howell, was appointed to serve on the SBC Committee on Nominations from Kentucky. Little known is the fact that Patterson’s father-in-law, Charles Kelley, served on the board of trustees at Midwestern Seminary in the late 90s during the end of Mark Coppenger’s presidency and at the election of his replacement, Phil Roberts, another of Patterson’s former professors at Criswell College and Southeastern Seminary. More widely known is that Patterson’s other brother-in-law, Charles Kelley, Jr., is the president at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. So, in summary, here are the instances of nepotism, whether apparent or true, that are all a part of the concerns that any one man – or any one family for that matter – could wield too much influence in the Southern Baptist Convention.

1. Midwestern Seminary Trustee Charles Kelley, Sr., who is Patterson’s father-in-law.

2. New Orleans Seminary President Charles Kelley, Jr., who is Patterson’s brother-in-law.

3. International Mission Board Trustee Russell Kammerling, who is Patterson’s brother-in-law.

4. International Mission Board Appointee Kathleen Kelley, who is Patterson’s sister-in-law.

5. 2000 Committee on Nominations Member Mark Howell, who is Patterson’s son-in-law.

6. 2000 Committee on Committees Member John Nichols, who was Patterson’s student at the time and whose father is listed below.

7. 1999 Executive Committee Member Dean Nichols, who is Patterson’s former student and most recently hired employee; and whose wife, Mary Jo Nichols, is listed below. Dean Nichols also served on the 2004 Committee on Committees by appointment of SBC President Jack Graham.

8. International Mission Board Trustee Bob Graham, who is the brother of Jack Graham and who was appointed during Graham’s first year as SBC President.

9. International Mission Board Trustee Mary Jo Nichols, whose son preceded her on the 2000 Committee on Committees as one of Paige Patterson’s appointees.

10. International Mission Board Appointee Nathan Lino, who is Patterson’s former student and whose father, listed below, is also up for appointment this year.

11. Lifeway Trustee Appointee David Lino, whose son, Nathan, listed above, is up for a trusteeship at the International Mission Board.

12. 1998 Baptist Faith & Message Committeewoman Dorothy Kelley Patterson, who is Paige Patterson’s wife and current president of the SBC Ministers’ wives luncheon.

13. International Mission Board Trustee Bob Pearle of TX, who currently serves as the pastor of Birchman Baptist Church where Patterson holds his membership.

14. Former International Mission Board Trustee Chairman, Tom Hatley of Arkansas, who is a graduate of the Criswell College.

15. International Mission Board Trustee Bill Sanderson of Wendell, NC, who was appointed to his post by a Southeastern Seminary dean’s wife in 2000.

16. ***(UPDATE)***International Mission Board Trustee Kevin King, whose is married to the sister of Daniel Akin, the current president of Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, and who is a former student and professor under Paige Patterson.

17. International Mission Board Trustee Randy Davis of Tennessee, who was Paige Patterson’s appointee to the 2000 Committee on Committees and whose replacement Brenda Jicka, is mentioned below.

18. International Mission Board Appointee Brenda Jicka of TN, formerly of West Virginia, who was Paige Patterson’s appointee to the 1999 Committee on Committees and who formerly served on the IMB as a trustee from West Virginia before her current nomination to the board from Tennessee.

19. Oh, don’t forget that Paige Patterson himself served on the Foreign Mission Board before he moved to North Carolina to take the helm at Southeastern Seminary.

Okay, I’m getting tired of typing all these right now. I guess I’ll have to do a whole post on the connections between IMB trustees who have approved the new policies on tongues and baptism and Paige Patterson, who has repeatedly circulated materials to IMB trustees that are critical of Jerry Rankin’s administration. Or maybe I’ll just wait and see if the Southern Baptist Convention adopts the recommendation of Wade Burleson to form a committee to investigate. If that happens, there are file boxes of information that I’ve seen recently to warrant a thorough examination of Burleson’s claims, and many IMB trustees who I’ve talked to in recent months, both current and former, have volumes of phonelogs, letters, emails, and assorted pieces of substantiation to justify concerns that nepotism, cronyism, and political preferentialism have undermined the work of the International Mission Board and created an atmosphere that now frustrates Southern Baptist confidence in the trustees elected to implement and oversee our foreign missions enterprise.

Evidence that demands a verdict

Little can be done to salvage the legacy of the 29th president of the United States. Elected as a relative unknown by a landslide margin, President Warren G. Harding continues to be ranked among the worst leaders to ever occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There were, of course, the reported affairs. And then there was the Teapot Dome scandal, and then the numerous charges of bribery, fraud, and money laundering. Harding was, however, able to keep himself off the front burner, allowing his lieutenants to take the heat for the escalating frustration of the American people with his administration. The one thing that Harding could never shake during his twenty seven month presidency was the fact that cronyism, nepotism, and political paybacks were the trademark of his presidential appointments. In fact, it has been argued by Harding’s biographers that he would have weathered the storms of outrage had he been more careful to select competent staffers and nominate experienced, qualified men and women rather than recycling the “Ohio Gang” around various posts and positions of governmental influence.

And yes, I’m about to go there.

The Southern Baptist Convention is rank with nepotism, cronyism, favoritism, and a network of political spoils distribution that would make Old Warren blush with shame. For many years I’ve been watching appointments to SBC agencies closely, and I want to give you just one set of examples to make my case. Consider the following:

In 1999, SBC President Paige Patterson, also serving as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, made the first of his appointments to the convention committees on committees, resolutions, tellers and credentials. Let’s consider his nominees for that year first.

Patterson appointed his old friend T.C. “Tommy” French of Baton Rouge, LA to serve as the chairman of the committee on committees. Previously, Tommy had served on the SBC Sunday School Board at the time that LLoyd Elder was fired. French now serves on the New Orleans Seminary board, where Patterson’s brother-in-law Charles Kelley serves as president, as well as two years (2005-2006) on the SBC Resolutions Committee, serving this year as the resolutions committee chairman. French was also elected in 2000, during Patterson’s presidency, to the office of SBC First Vice President. Joining French on the list of appointees was Charles Harper of Baton Rouge. The following year, Charles Harper was appointed to Patterson’s second committee on nominations, using the post to appoint Tommy French, his fellow committeeman, to the New Orleans Board. Within two years Harper was elected to serve on the SBC Executive Committee.

Also in 1999, Patterson appointed Barry Holcomb (AL), who happens to be the immediate past chairman of NAMB, serving during the end of Robert Reccord’s administration. From California, Patterson chose James Freeman of FBC San Diego, where Patterson’s former student from the Criswell College, Tony Crisp, served as Pastor. In turn, Freeman appointed Tony Crisp to be the next year’s committee on nominations designee from California. But keep reading.

Patterson appointed two men from Colorado, who then appointed Charla Johnson, wife of current Criswell College president and Patterson protege Jerry Johnson to be the next year’s nominator. He also appointed Matt Schmucker of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. to the committee; Schmucker was elected the following year to serve on Patterson’s second term committee on nominations. Pamela Lilly, wife of Bob Lilly of Baltimore, MD, was appointed to Patterson’s 1999 committee on committees while Bob was appointed by Patterson to the 1999 Tellers Committee. The next year, Bob, who was also the chairman of Midwestern Seminary trustees during a portion of the Mark Coppenger debacle, was appointed to the 2000 Committee on Nominations. In 2001, he was again appointed to the Committee on Committees.

From Missouri, Patterson selected his former professor of evangelism and the provost at Midwestern Seminary during the Coppenger debacle, Jim Cogdill, to serve on the Committee on Committees. From New England, Patterson selected a recent graduate of Southeastern Seminary, Bill Hedgepeth, who had been sent by the seminary as a church-planter to New Hampshire. From North Carolina, Patterson chose from his own home church, Mt. Vernon Baptist Church of Raleigh, to appoint Steve Choplin. From Pennsylvania, he chose Mark Dooley of Souderton, who was also put on the 2003 Committee on Nominations during Jack Graham’s term as president. From South Carolina, Patterson fell back on his old yes-man Daniel Johnson of Jonestown, who served two full terms as Patteron’s trustee at Southeastern Seminary. From Tennessee, Patterson chose Stan May, a missions professor at Mid-America Baptist Seminary and colleague of current IMB chairman and self-avowed Landmarkist, John Floyd.

Turning to Texas, Patterson selected Pastor Brian Waite of DeSoto, who happened to be the pastor of Patterson’s other brother-in-law Russ Kammerling. The next year, Russ Kammerling was appointed to the International Mission Board, though he was under a 19 count indictment for federal fraud at the time. Kammerling served less than two years at the IMB before serving two full years at a federal penitentary.

The 1999 West Virginia appointee to the Committee on Committees was Brenda Jicka of Huntington. Three years later, Brenda’s husband John was appointed to the Committee on Committees, while Brenda was appointed to fill an unexpired term on the International Mission Board. The next year in 2004, Brenda was reappointed for a second term on the IMB, which was cut short by a move to Tennessee. This year, Brenda Jicka is being renominated to the International Mission Board, only this time she will be a trustee from Tennessee.

For the 1999 Resolutions Committee, Patterson selected a few interesting people. Among them were John Mark Caton, one of Patterson’s former students at Criswell and a current trustee at Southwestern Seminary; and another member of his home church in Raleigh, NC.

When the year 2000 rolled around, Patterson was ready with a stacked deck of nominees more interesting than the 1999 slate. Consider the following:

The Chairman of the 1999 Committee on Committees was Bill Bowyer, pastor of Wake Cross Roads Baptist Church and a member of the Southeastern trustee board that brought Patterson to the seminary after his untimely departure at the Criswell College. Along with the other NC Committeeman for that year, J.T. Knott, Bowyer appointed Mary Cowen and Alan Branch to the 2000-2001 Committee on Nominations. Mary Cowen is the wife of Gerald Cowen, one of Patterson’s deans at Southeastern, while Alan Branch was one of Patterson’s doctoral students. The next year, Branch and Cowen appointed NC Pastor Bill Sanderson to the IMB, and if you want to know how Sanderson has executed his trustee responsibilities at the IMB, I suggest you read this.

From Alabama, Patterson chose Ed Litton of North Mobile, who was also chosen three years later to begin service on Patterson’s board of trustees at Southeastern Seminary. Then from Alaska, Patterson chose John Nichols, a student at Southeastern whose father, Dean Nichols (also a Criswell College grad) was serving on the Executive Committee. John’s mother, Mary Jo, was elected the following year to serve as a trustee at the International Mission Board, where she has served until this year as the secretary of the board. Furthermore, Mary Nichols served with Louisiana trustee Lonnie Wascom on a two-person committee to draft the new IMB policies on tongues, before resigning her trusteeship in May 2006 to move to Texas with her husband who has taken an untitled post with an undisclosed salary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where Patterson now serves as president.

But let’s move on…

In Colorado, Patterson turned once again to the Central Baptist Church of Aurora, formerly pastored by Southern Seminary trustee Jerry Johnson, to appoint Korey Buchanek. In turn, Buchanek appointed Patterson’s former attache and current Liberty Seminary dean, Ergun Michael Caner, to the 2000-2001 Nominations Committee. Deepak Reju of Capitol Hill Baptist church was appointed, and in turn he appointed Matt Schmucker, mentioned above.

Now it really get’s interesting. Patterson went to the Aloma Baptist Church of Winter Park, FL, to appoint Rosie Mitchell. Rosie then appointed her pastor, Anthony George, to the committee on nominations. George is a graduate of the Criswell College and Southeastern Seminary, but the fun doesn’t stop there. That year, a Southwestern trustee from Florida (Jim Leftwich) was resigning, though he didn’t resign until after the 2001 convention in New Orleans. A few weeks after the convention was over and Leftwich had resigned his post at SWBTS, trustees in Fort Worth went looking for an interim replacement. Texas trustee Royal Smith of FBC Dallas called Paige Patterson — I know this because he called me asking for Patterson’s contact information — to get a recommendation. Who else did Patterson recommend than Anthony George, who would have been ineligible for the spot because of bylaw prohibitions had Leftwich resigned a few weeks earlier. Conveniently, Anthony George was elected to the Southwestern Seminary Board in time to fill the presidential vacancy left by Ken Hemphill’s resignation. Liz Traylor, wife of former SBC 1st Veep and Pensacola Pastor Ted Traylor was appointed to serve alongside George.

But I digress…

Janet Hunt, wife of would-be SBC presidential nominee Johnny Hunt was appointed by Patterson to the Georgia spot, and she in turn appointed a member of FBC Woodstock to the Committe on Nominations along with current Georgia Baptist Convention president Wayne Hamrick. From Illinois, Patterson selected Cristie Lewis, the wife of Southeastern trustee chairman Tim Lewis, who presided over the board during the transition from Patterson to Danny Akin at the Wake Forest seminary campus, in addition to leading the investigation into this matter. From Indiana, he chose John Mark Yeats, a former student of Patterson’s at Criswell and son of John Yeats, formerly of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger and current Recording Secretary for the SBC. John Mark Yeats is now surving as a professor of Church History at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth. Patterson appointed Barbara Fox of Kansas to the committee as well. Fox is the wife of Kansas pastor Terry Fox, who also serves on the North American Mission Board, currently serving as chairman of the presidential search committee charged with finding a replacement for the recently deposed Bob Reccord.

When it came to Kentucky’s committee members, Patterson opted to select John Mackey of the Shively Baptist Church in Louisville, who in turn offered his pastor, Mark Howell, as the next years committee on nominations designee. Mark Howell is married to Patterson’s daughter, Carmen.

From Maryland, Patterson chose another trustee of Southeastern Seminary, Phillip Mercer, mentioned also in this story; and from Pennsylvania he appointed Kenneth Cademartori, who had recently served on the board of trustees at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, and who would go on to serve his first term on the International Mission Board beginning in 2005. Cademartori’s wife was appointed in 2002 to serve on the Committee on Committees by SBC President James Merritt. In Tennessee, Patterson found current IMB Trustee Randy Davis (replaced this year by Brenda Jicka, mentioned above) to serve as the 2000 Committee on Committees designee.

In Texas, Patterson turned to a fellow member of the Council on National Policy, J. Keet Lewis, of Prestonwood Baptist Church. Lewis was later appointed as chairman of the committee on nominations in 2003, and he currently serves on the committee on order of business.

For the Resolutions Committee, Patterson chose another Southeastern trustee from Florida, Hayes Wicker, who is slated for nomination to the SBC Pastor’s Conference presidency this month in Greensboro. He will be nominated by James Merritt of GA. Patterson also appointed Nancy Pressler, the wife of Houston Judge Paul Pressler, and Pensacola Pastor Ted Traylor, mentioned above.

And that’s just two years of appointments. Wait till you see the connections I can make for subsequent years. Like in 2001, when the wife of Waylan Owens, who served as Patterson’s vice president of institutional effectivess (whatever that is) at Southeastern Seminary, was appointed to the Committee on Committees. That year, Elizabeth Owens appointed Alisa Bentley to the Committee on Nominations. And guess who was put on the Southeastern Board the following year? You guessed it, George T. Schroeder, a layman from the First Baptist Church of Little Rock, AR, where Patterson’s son-in-law, Mark Howell, was then serving as pastor. And yes, that’s the same Mark Howell who was the previous year’s Committee on Nominations member from Kentucky. He remained at FBC Little Rock for several years, before accepting the pastorate of Houston’s Northwest Church in Texas. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the odds that he’ll be up for a Texas post in short order. But back to my point…

Can anybody honestly claim that I’m being unfair when I raise questions about the possibility that one man — or one group of men — might be wielding too much power in the Southern Baptist Convention? Can any person read that list and not ask questions about all the connections to the International Mission Board especially?

No, you can’t really claim that Warren G. Harding was a crook. You really can’t paint him as a power-hungry tyrant. You certainly can’t say that he overstayed his welcome. But you can question the way that he handled his appointments, especially when you see the effect they had on the government years after Harding had long passed from the scene.

These are the facts that fueled the Memphis Declaration. These and many, many more.

*All of the foregoing names, dates, and details are easily verified by somebody with access to the internet, which I assume you have since you are reading this. Calls for “documentation” therefore will be ignored. The documentation is already on Seek, my brethren, and you shall find.

Ronnie’s Annuity…

Many of you are already aware that Ronnie Floyd is a trustee at Guidestone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. You are probably also aware that Floyd’s churches, First Baptist Springdale-Pinnacle Hills, etc, contributed a meager $32,000.00 to the Cooperative Program through the Arkansas Baptist State Convention last year. And you’ve probably been told about the .27% giving.

But were you aware that Ronnie’s church, because it participates in the Arkansas Baptist Convention, even though its a meager $32,000.00 per year, divided according to the ABC budget, that his church RECEIVED $22,000.00 last year from the Arkansas Baptist Convention in matching annuity contributions for its staff?

That’s right. Small churches all across the state of Arkansas are subsidizing Ronnie Floyds retirement fund.


I have just received these figures to further clarify the issue of the matching funds annuity.

First Baptist Sprindale/Pinnacle Hills contributed $32,000.00 to Cooperative Program through the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, constituting the abysmal .27% we all know about. What we didn’t know was that the Arkansas Baptist Convention’s allocation budget divides all receipts according to a 58.23/41.77 split between the state convention causes and the Southern Baptist Convention. Out of that 58.23%, the Arkansas Baptist Convention matches annuity contributions for clergy and staff of its member churches who participate with Guidestone Financial Resources. So once you divde the $32,000.00 according to the conventions allocation budget, First Baptist Sprindale-Pinnacle Hills actually contributed $18,633.60 to ministries and causes of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. From the convention, however, First Baptist Sprindale-Pinnacle Hills received $22,000.00 in matching annuity funds for its ministry staff. So basically, the Arkansas Baptist Convention provides almost $3500 in retirement subsidies for the largest church in its convention. Of course, the subsidy is paid by the smallest churches in the convention.

Just facts. No commentary. You do the math and ask the questions.

Forrest Pollock to nominate Frank Page…

Jim Smith reporting…

Excellent nominator…excellent nominee. Hopefully Forrest will stop by my little corner of the blogging world to read the nomination speech I am preparing for Frank Page. Should be up tomorrow. Tonight something has taken precedent.

In the meantime, isn’t it refreshing to see open dialogue and dissent from the ridiculous actions of the International Mission Board? Also, please know that Forrest Pollock’s missions pastor, John Russell, has just been elected as the IMB 1st Chairman. These are good signs.

Looks like the inmates won’t be running the asylum for much longer.