The First Veep…

No convention in my memory has experienced the delayed announcement of candidates that this year has. While speaking with a fellow pastor today, I jokingly noted that last year’s election of Wiley Drake to the office of 2nd Vice President robbed the luster of the First Vice President position. Nobody has ever paid much attention to the Veeps anyway. Until, that is, Wiley Drake was elected. Nobody knew what they do, and we still don’t know what they’re supposed to do. All we know is that they don’t get their way paid to conventions and they don’t get official letterhead.

I’ve been thinking about people that I’d like to see elected to the First Vice Presidency, and I’ve got a short list of viable candidates in my mind. I’ll list them below, with the almost certainty that my blogging their names could solidify their refusal to run.

1. Dr. Michael Dean — Dean is the pastor of Ft. Worth’s Travis Avenue Baptist Church. He’s been a trustee at Southwestern Seminary, serving two years as its chairman, and he’s a BGCT pastor who is acceptable to both conventions in Texas. He’s avoided political alliances in the SBC, and is regularly regarded as a Christian statesman, exemplary pastor, and denominational loyalist. It is most likely that a Texas pastor will get the job. In my estimation, Dean is the best candidate. I suspect, however, that SBTC folks will unite behind somebody like Michael Lewis of Great Hills Baptist in Austin or Garland pastor David Galvan or the eternal IMB trustee, Bill Sutton of McAllen.

2. Mrs. Adrian Rogers — Last year’s highlight moment could have been the challenge given by Adrian Rogers’ widow. Standing courageously before a packed coliseum, she boldly pronounced that her husband never would have supported the narrowing of the parameters of cooperation. Her statement, perhaps more than anything else, cemented the election of Frank Page. We’ve never had a woman to serve in elected convention office, and not even the fundamentalists would oppose Miss Joyce.

3. Dr. David Crosby — The pastor of New Orleans’ First Baptist Church has become a poster child for the recovery effort in the Mississippi Delta. He’s been bold in his efforts to rebuild the city, and he’s already got a spot on the convention platform. Electing David Crosby could serve to highlight Southern Baptist relief efforts.

4. Roger Moran — Southern Baptist fundamentalists have a way of rewarding their warriors. Roger Moran will have lost all platform in the convention to advance his various narrow causes by the time he rotates off the Executive Committee next month. Already, some Missouri Baptists are throwing his name around to feel out the viability of his candidacy. The move would be risky, however, because of Moran’s high profile as a fightin’ fundamentalist. Every BGCT messenger in attendance would oppose him tooth and claw.

5. Unnamed missionary candidate — I’m pulling hard for an IMB field missionary to be elected to the First Vice Presidency. The move is unprecedented, but would be quite refreshing. So many of our field personnel feel isolated and forgotten when it comes to the convention proper. Electing a field missionary would reinvigorate our focus on world evangelization, as well as bringing an “outsider” to the platform for perspective and fresh ideas.

I’ve heard a few more names, but nothing really viable. In a five-way race between the candidates listed above, I’d have to choose between Joyce Rogers and the missionary, though I’d hope for a run off between either of them and Roger Moran.

A motion that will be made…

Today, I received a copy of a motion that a messenger to the annual meeting of the SBC intends to make:

“I move that this convention requests the Executive Committee to reexamine Article 3 of the SBC Constitution and Article 30 of the SBC Bylaws to determine the following:

1.  Whether or not Article 3 of the SBC Constitution contains a sufficient list of qualifying and disqualifying provisions to seat messengers from churches at our annual conventions; and

2.  Whether or not Article 30 of the SBC Constitution contains sufficient provisions to govern the full and fair representation of each state convention and territory.

I further move that the Executive Committee be requested to report on these matters and bring any proposed amendments to the next annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

The more things change…

…the more they stay the same.  Back when our convention was still working for the “conversion of negroes and other heathen,” back in the days when our we condemned all “worldly amusements” on the “Sabbath,” back when a resolution was actually passed to change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention to the “Baptist Convention of the United States,” and back in the days when Southern Baptist ministers were urged to “refuse to solemnize” the marriages of divorced people…

We also refused any effort at collaboration between Northern and Southern Baptists because such a move would tend to “keep up strife.”  This, from an 1870 resolution on cooperation with other Baptists:

WHEREAS, Many of our brethren, both North and South, are desirous of attempting, by some suitable means, to secure organic connection between the several Boards of the Baptist denomination North and South;

RESOLVED 1. That in the judgment of this Convention, any attempt in this direction would, instead of tending to draw together the Baptists of the North and South, tend rather to keep up strife among the brethren.

RESOLVED 2. That while we desire to cultivate fraternal feelings towards our Northern brethren, we recommend to the several organizations now existing in both sections to prosecute their own work by such means as the Providence of God may put into their hands, bidding each other God speed in the work of spreading the Gospel throughout the whole earth.

So we’ve repented of our treatment of Blacks.  We’ve changed our confession of faith to soften our Sabbath observance.  We’ve voted down the study of a name change.  And today, most Baptist ministers will perform ceremonies for divorcees.

But we still clench our jaws and lock our knees at any suggestion that Baptists get together for any reason at all.

Three resolutions that should be considered…

I have been given the chance to review a number of resolutions that were written by pastors hoping to submit them for consideration at the 2007 annual meeting in San Antonio. Among the many I read, there are three that deserve great attention.   If indeed they were submitted, I hope to see them in the report of the Resolutions Committee during the Wednesday morning session. The three resolutions are listed below, along with excerpts from each:

1. A resolution on the heresy of Mormon doctrine:

“RESOLVED, That we denounce every attempt, in the media or otherwise, to portray Mormonism as a sect of authentic Christianity; and be it further

RESOLVED, That while we affirm provisions of the United States Constitution that prohibit religious tests for public office, we strongly urge our convention leadership to refuse the temptation to provide counsel for Mormons seeking public office as to how they might appeal to evangelical voters.”

2. A resolution on the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering:

“RESOLVED, that we praise the Lord for the sacrificial generosity of Southern Baptists who have given faithfully to the task of world missions; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage all Southern Baptists to begin even now praying for the Lord’s will as it relates to their gift this year to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge all Southern Baptist churches to seek opportunities for direct mission partnering through the International Mission Board by sending mission teams and developing prayer partners to foster greater mission awareness and more generous mission giving among their members.”

3. A resolution on political non-partisanship:

“RESOLVED, that we urge our convention leaders to exercise great restraint when speaking on behalf of Southern Baptists so as not to intermingle their personal political persuasions with their chief responsibility to represent Jesus Christ and this convention; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we resist any formal or informal association of this convention with any partisan political agenda.”

The propaganda continues…

I have just read Frank Page’s full statement regarding the New Baptist Covenant. As usual, his full statement was excerpted for maximum critical effect. When one reads his full statement, you get the picture that the folks over at Baptist Press picked portions of it to characterize the Carter-Clinton initiative in the worst possible light. Before I provide the link to the full statement, I want to make several observations:

1. Frank Page did not say that Presidents Clinton and Carter are motivated by a leftwing liberal agenda in this New Baptist Covenant, as Baptist Press suggests. He did say he would not be a part of such an effort, if indeed one existed. That is a far cry from the way BP characterized his comments.

2. Frank Page acknowledged that some of the Covenant participants are themselves guilty of negativity and critical spirits. He did not, however, suggest that such perceptions were insurmountable for Christians who seek to work together.

3. Frank Page did not suggest that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Bill Underwood believe a false gospel, or have succumbed to a social gospel. He merely reinforced his own belief that the Gospel is primarily concerned with overcoming men’s separation from God, without denying its social implications.

4. Frank Page did not denounce the meeting, as BP Editor Will Hall originally titled his article. He did reinforce, however, the value of Christian collaboration and dialogue for mutual edification.

5. Frank Page did not suggest that Southern Baptists have focused satisfactorally on social needs. He did, however, illustrate the many commendable ways that Southern Baptists are involved in these kinds of ministries, while calling for greater involvement.

6. Frank Page did not suggest that the New Baptist Covenant was an unfruitful and unworthy effort. He did, however, pray that the efforts would promote biblical mandates among its participants and encourage others to do the same.

With that in mind, go read Frank Page’s full statement and place it next to the Baptist Press story. If the President of the Southern Baptist Convention can’t expect his own denominational press to accurately present his words, how on earth can we expect the secular press to do any different? Baptists get miffed that the “secular media” doesn’t give us a fair shake. Today, however, it seems that BP has fallen down on its job by cutting and pasting Frank Page’s balanced and careful statement so as to publish a news story with hostile tones.

Street Fight…

Cory Booker was a 32 year old, ivy-league educated city councilman from Newark, NJ. In 2002, he decided to challenge the city’s incumbent mayor, Sharpe James, in what became one of the most contentious and highly-publicized mayoral races in American history.

Last night, I watched the documentary by Curry Marshall entitled “Street Fight,” which chronicles the bitterly contested election. The setup is classic: A young, visionary and highly motivated leader challenges the system of corruption, nepotism, fraud, and nest-feathering nurtured and led by an older, established career politician whose dirty tricks and intimidation tactics were reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson or Richard Daley or Boss Tweed.

Sharpe James hurled every accusation imaginable at Cory Booker. He called him a “carpet bagger,” an “Uncle Tom,” and even raised questions about his moral integrity. James used Booker’s lighter skin to question his “blackness,” and threw the city of Newark into a crisis of identity and purpose. Booker ran his campaign out of low income apartment rentals. Sharpe ran his out of city hall. Booker ran his with technology by exposing the failures of James’s administration. James ran his by using the police force to chase off cameras and follow Booker supporters around.

In the end, Sharpe squeaked out a victory against Cory Booker to win a fifth and final term. By 2006, however, Sharpe James was embroiled in the kind of lawsuits and federal investigations from which a politician seldom recovers.

Today, Cory Booker is the mayor of Newark, NJ, having taken his oath of office on July 1, 2006, following the biggest landslide election in Newark’s history. In other words, while Southern Baptists were electing Frank Page to bring change to a system dominated by party bosses, the City of Newark was electing a younger leader to bring change to a corrupt city government.

Sharpe James is facing federal indictments this week. Cory Booker is posting podcasts and Youtube videos to take his message of reform straight to the people.

Southern Baptists have two more street fights before we know if things will change in our convention. The first is in San Antonio next month. The second is in Indianapolis next year. The first will bring the reelection of Frank Page. The second will bring — we hope — the election of David Dockery.

And the Sharpe Jameses of the Southern Baptist Convention will fade away. Below is the trailer for the documentary, “Street Fight.”

On propaganda…

Some of you may have already read the concerns that hit the blogosphere in the last 24hours that yesterday’s edition of Baptist Press stepped down from the mountain of journalistic fairness and freedom to trudge through the yellow mud of Orwellian propaganda. Wade Burleson has taken issue with the headline commentary in an article originally titled “Page denounces New Covenant,” but changed to “Page responds to Carter.” Marty Duren has raised questions about the prominent coverage of the perennial rants of Ergun Caner. My issue today, however, is different.

Late yesterday evening, a FIRST PERSON article was published on Baptist Press entitled, “The Wall is the Castle.” In the article, Douglas Baker reflected on Southern Baptist’s return to San Antonio by dipping his quill deeply into the tradition of civil war rhetoric most notably characterized by our nation’s sixteenth president. The title for the article, and a major subject of consideration, was taken from the 1988 convention sermon preached by Dr. Joel Gregory, “The Castle and the Wall.” Baker looked back on 19 years of Southern Baptist history and addressed his hopes for a unified convention with a Kingdom focus and gospel resolve.

But this morning, Pravda Baptist Press pulled Douglas Baker’s article. Perhaps it was because he said nice things about Joel Gregory. Perhaps it was because he said honest things about SBC leadership. Or perhaps it was because he raised sincere questions about the viability of any denomination irretrievably inclined to war.

Or maybe there is another reason yet to be revealed.

Whatever the case, we at Baptist Blogger much liked Baker’s article. This morning, we asked him for a copy and the permission to reproduce it. Graciously, he agreed. So here you have it, dear readers. The article pulled last night from Baptist Press for reasons we know not:

The Wall is the Castle

By Douglas E. Baker
Wars are seldom easy to explain. Their causes change with the tides. What once seemed a just cause for engagement can soon become clouded amid scenes of carnage and death. People change. People die. Motives ever so slowly elide to camouflage error. One moment in time (often only one speech) is all that is required to morph a mountain of mistakes into a hill of courage.

This was once accomplished in American history by a President who knew that after news of one particular battle reached the eyes and ears of the American public, some new reason for the conflict had to be placed before them or else the gruesomeness of battles such as Gettysburg would no longer motivate men to lose their lives killing their own countrymen. Lincoln knew that once the photographs of the aftermath of this battle reached the public domain, the entire nation would respond with a collective gasp of horror. No one ever imagined the American Civil War would come to this. Entire generations of Americans were obliterated in one day.

And so with the smell of rotting flesh so bad that people over ten miles away could smell the stench of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln stood on what is now a cemetery and spoke memorable words of national identity. Masterfully, he did what anyone in his position would want to do: he transcended the politics of the moment and the strife amidst the armies to call the sights which he saw that day evil – for that is what they were. On that field of battle there were no victors. The groans of dying men revealed a nation in a deadly struggle for her soul. Regardless of whose cause was just, on that day the blood of men’s lives united a nation in grief.

For two minutes, however, there was peace. The guns were silent, and the thought that all battles might soon cease ushered in a moment of hope. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address attacked no one, but touched everyone on both sides of the national schism. After his address, the most hardened cynic mourned not only the loss of over ten thousand men, but the loss of the unity that caused the conflict in the first place.

When the Southern Baptist Convention returns to San Antonio in this summer of 2007 after nineteen years, it will be, in some ways, like visiting Gettysburg years after the battle. Some Baptist historians point to the 1988 annual meeting as the point when the great schism of the Southern Baptist Convention became most apparent.

Memorable in every way was W.A. Criswell’s famous “skunk sermon.” As he mounted the podium before the capacity crowd of the Pastor’s Conference he stated, “May I speak on the curse of Liberalism?” which was followed by the infamous statement, “a skunk by any other name still stinks.” Seemingly on cue the entire audience roared with applause mixed with shouts of “praise God” and “Amens” all over the coliseum.

At that same podium only days later, however, stood another Southern Baptist icon – Joel C. Gregory. A figure now derided by many in SBC circles as everything from a charlatan to an apostate, Gregory spoke words which are still remembered. His comments were so penetrating that no sooner had he finished the sermon, people were asking for the transcript. Were the age of the Internet alive back in that day, the sermon was sure to be on thousands of blogs by day’s end. Preaching classes across the nation still speak of Gregory’s, The Castle and the Wall. He moved beyond the business of the denomination to warn a convention of churches that her continued warlike strife could soon forever replace her witness before a watching world. When allies are regarded as enemies, Gregory warned, the very fortress of Christian orthodoxy can cause those who desire to protect the Christian castle to use their resources to construct a wall. For the same stones that build the castle can all too easily be used to erect a wall.

During this civil war of Southern Baptists, here was a Lincolnian moment. The silence of the rhetorical gunfire was only temporary as the war had to be won by one side. Just as Gettysburg was the turning point of the war between the states, the Southern Baptist Convention has never been the same since San Antonio.

Much has changed since that noon hour nineteen years ago in the Alamo City when words calmed the vast torrents of theological warfare. W.A. Criswell is dead. Denominationally speaking, so is Joel Gregory. Both candidates for president of the Convention that year have retired. A new generation of Southern Baptists – many of whom have never heard of Criswell or Gregory – will soon gather in San Antonio. The irony: the denomination seems to be still at war.

The very identity of the Southern Baptist Convention still stands in question for many. New frontiers of ministry in the post-modern age are demanding a re-evaluation of long-standing Southern Baptist programs, and the overall impression that seismic shifts are at work beneath the feet of the denomination have many worried that the way forward might be hidden in plain sight.

Some predict the inevitable loss of the denomination, and if history is a guide, they are correct. The effects of the Fall seldom enable people – even Christians – to work well together for very long. Pride renders its ugly head and personal agendas quickly choke the life out of good efforts and sanctified innovation.

Yet, this could be the Southern Baptist Convention’s finest hour if, by the sheer force of God’s grace, men of God will rise to remember the heritage of the Southern Baptist Convention and those who gave their lives to establish her in 1845. The return to a founding vision once empowered an American President to transcend the trials of the present and press forward toward a reconciled nation. Perhaps such a study of the Baptist past might enable the pastors of the present to press toward the goal of future ministry armed with history’s warning that if great humility and prayer do not mark all who perform ministry in the name of Christ, the wall of human arrogance will replace the castle of Christian theology.

The new birth of freedom of which Lincoln spoke could only happen if, as was his wish, the dead who consecrated the killing fields of Gettysburg, would be remembered as something more as mere participants in a battle. He desired that they be seen as advancing the cause of the founding generation who conceived of a nation of liberty and dedicated themselves to freedom’s proposition that all men were created equal.

How much more should the Southern Baptist Convention remember the passion of past leaders as a uniting force dedicated to the divine proposition that all men are born sinners who stand in urgent need of the saving grace of God. Could this be a turning point in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention?

That history is yet to be written.

And here is a PDF file that shows the original publication, as edited, from Baptist Press:

The Wall is the Castle — Doug Baker