The Southern Baptist Convention is in a Corinthian crisis, and it doesn’t involve tongues at all. Instead, we are in a place where some are of Mohler, and some are of Burleson. Others are of Patterson, and some are of Chapman. The factionalism manifest on the convention floor over the past several years has grown. People do not only identify themselves with sides and personalities of our latest confessional cause célèbre, but they employ a similar taxonomy when evaluating the validity and motivation for any action initiated or supported by the “other side.”
This, more than anything else, is going to rot our convention. What we saw occur on the convention floor last year in the three-way presidential race were the middle symptoms of the division already entrenched among our denominational leaders. You had Patterson and Mohler pulling for Ronnie Floyd and using their offices to publicly endorse him. Then you had Pressler and the resurgent worker bees throwing their weight behind Jerry Sutton. Finally, you had a momentary alliance of dissidents pull off the biggest surprise victory of the convention since Jerry “Landslide” Vines won the convention presidency by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin.
The Patterson-Pressler coalition has cracked, and perhaps irreparably if for no other reason than both old warriors are entering the twilight of their years. New leaders will arise, and it is unlikely that any confluence of personalities like Adrian Rogers, Jimmy Draper, and Charles Stanley will unite to provide the peaceable and endearing balance to rabid fundamentalists like some of their fellow resurgent patriarchs.
There is a palpable division among our entity heads, and I know more about this than I’m able to explain right now. For years, they have operated under the impression that their personal enmity could be contained within the Great Commission Council. The convention, they believed, needs to believe that their agencies are working together harmoniously and that their leaders share a common vision for Kingdom work. As the years have rolled on, however, the division has grown more pronounced and the sides have reached an impasse of personality and power. Unless reciprocal respect and mutual affection become sincere rather than superficial among these leaders, the younger generations will continue to choose sides between them.
There you have it: My most basic explanation for the disunity and disruption of the Southern Baptist Convention. But I digress from the purpose for this post, which is to assess and explain a good many things about the San Antonio convention. So here we go:
The BFM Statement
Several weeks ago, I determined that I would ask the convention to adopt the Executive Committee’s statement on the BFM2000. For some reason, I have this uncanny ability to remember parliamentary minutiae with impeccable accuracy. First, I scoured every copy of the SBC Convention Annual that I had on my shelf, dating back to 1962, to see if any entity report had been adopted in part or whole by the convention on a matter not recommended for adoption by the entity’s board of trustees.
I could find no precedent.
Second, I pulled out a copy of Roberts Rules of Order to verify that my recollection was correct, and that the convention could “adopt” a portion of a report to claim the report as its own. Of course, this little used parliamentary rule existed. Third, I checked Barry McCarty’s twenty year-old book on parliamentary rules for church leaders to discover if our convention parliamentarian had commented upon the provision. Of course, he had and I was confident that his counsel to the convention president would be consistent with his own written interpretation of the rule.
Finally, I notified SBC President Frank Page and Committee on Order of Business Chairman Allan Blume as a courtesy to apprise them of my intention. On Sunday evening before the convention, I emailed the exact wording of my motion to Rev. Blume.
Late Monday afternoon, Wade Burleson and I discussed the reality that the motion could suffer defeat if either of us made or spoke to the motion. Wade approached Rick Garner, whom we had both come to know, and Rick agreed to make the motion.
On Monday evening, Wade and I hosted over 40 people in our suite for a time of briefing about the motion. I explained the parliamentary rule, fielded questions, and highlighted the times in the convention schedule when these messengers would need to be prepared at a microphone. I anticipated the arguments that could be used against the motion, and together we all formed a series of responses to diffuse the certain objections of Patterson, Mohler, Land, Yarnell, York, Kelley and their students.
Right out of the shoots Tuesday morning, Rick Garner made his way to microphone number nine and read the motion into the minutes. Late Tuesday afternoon, I met with Boyd Luter, Rick Garner, and a few others to craft the three-minute speech that Rick would have to give when the motion made it to the floor. Just before going into the Tuesday evening session, Rick and I went over his final draft of the speech — I think I offered one phrase and two words — behind an escalator and then went into the convention hall.
On the front row behind microphone number nine, Wade Burleson, Dwight McKissic, and I sat to watch the debate flesh out. Rick spoke clearly and calmly, then the fireworks started to go off. Back and forth for a few minutes, messengers spoke in favor and opposition to the motion. There were four moments that I knew the motion would pass, and only one that I thought it would fail.
First, when the microphone lit up and a young woman spoke against the motion, but for reasons that actually helped our cause. Rather than speaking against the main motion to affirm the BFM2000, she actually stated that she supported the old 1963 statement. Similarly, a man got to a microphone to speak about soul competency and the priesthood of the believer. He may as well have denied the virgin birth in front of that crowd.
Then there was Robin Hadaway, who with his mumbled, incoherent opposition did little to help his cause. In fact, Professor Hershael York has already observed that no “articulate and passionate antagonist” to the motion ever spoke during the debate. I certain hope — with authentic sincerity — that Hadaway’s articulate passion for teaching missions is greater than the inadequate measure noted so appropriately by York concerning Hadaway’s feeble foray into the convention fray. I also hope that Frank Page will regard incoherence alongside unsweetness as disqualifying characteristics for next year’s appointees to the Resolutions Committee.
When the camera switched to a microphone to speak against, I saw Art Rogers standing there. He said, politely, “No, Mr. President. I am speaking for the motion.”
Standing behind Art, and barely visible except for his pompadour of strangely red hair plugs, was Richard Land. Next to him was Hershael York. With these men warming up in the bullpen, I knew we had to have a vote fast. The question was called, and after a near 2/3 majority vote to end debate, Frank Page allowed the messengers to continue. The moment that he was shouted down by Southwestern Seminary professors and students was the lowest, basest few seconds of the annual session.
At one point, the microphone in front of us was empty. Wade ran up and pushed the “for” button. When the number was called, Wade pointed to Dwight and said, “you’re up.” Without fair warning and completely extemporaneous, Dwight moved quickly to the microphone and spoke – the only black pastor to do so from the convention floor this year.
Bob Cleveland spoke, wearing a t-shirt; and Jeremy Green spoke, looking like Fred Rogers. After the vote was over, I spoke with a retired convention executive and asked him what he thought.
“I didn’t recognize anybody at the microphones,” he said.
“That’s a good sign that things are changing,” I responded.
Knowing that Richard Land or Hershael York was next up, I went to a switchbox and pushed “Point of Order.” My question was going to be about whether or not the time had expired, and then I was going to move the question again.
Before I had the chance, Frank Page informed the messengers that the time for debate had expired and asked for a 2/3 vote to extend debate. After a raised vote that looked a clear majority from the back of the room, Page ordered a ballot, and the messengers calmed from what was the most vigorous and tense debate in the last few years.
I’m not going to try to parse the motion, because I think the statement speaks for itself. All the ballyhoo about whether or not the messengers knew what they were voting on is irrelevant to me. I have said before, and I reiterate my concern, that at any given moment there are only a handful of people who know what’s happening in the Southern Baptist Convention. Most messengers are woefully ill informed and happily so. I can only speak to my reason for having pushed the issue.
I believe that the Southern Baptist Convention has the responsibility to reaffirm its confessional boundaries every so often. I also believe that the time to reaffirm those boundaries is when they are being challenged from the inside or the out. I further believe that the convention has the obligation to inform the trustees of the agencies and institutions funded with our cooperative program dollars of our doctrinal expectations.
The argument that respecting those doctrinal parameters established by the BFM2000 would bind the convention trustees from disallowing pedophiles or sodomites or adulterers or gluttons from employment is both specious and disingenuous. Early Tuesday, I was asked by an entity president if I wanted him to have that kind of freedom in his hiring. My response: “I wasn’t aware you were recruiting them, let alone trying to hire them.”
Al Mohler and Paige Patterson and Phil Roberts and Chuck Kelley – well maybe not the last two – know better. But they also know – as do I – that the convention cannot sustain a serious and nuanced discussion of polity or doctrine. What do they do, then?
The same thing fundamentalists always do: Trot out their three favorite tools of fear-mongering by shouting about abortion, sodomy, and the “feminist agenda.” Want to get the SBC out of the BWA? Get Paige Patterson to tell you that they are soft on homosexuality. Want the messengers to oppose a toothless statement on the Baptist Faith & Message, raise the specter of gay rights activists trying to make a living under Mohler’s administration. Nevermind the fact that Article XV of the BFM2000 addresses both sodomy and abortion, while Article XVIII sets this convention apart from feminist ideology.
Truth, however, makes an unwelcome ally when power is the prize.
Moreover, I am saddened that Barry McCarty and I are the only people in the convention who seem to know Roberts Rules of Order. The convention had the opportunity to amend the statement before its adoption. If Richard Land and Al Mohler and Malcolm Yarnell were dissatisfied with the Executive Committee statement, they could have exercised their rights as messengers to revise the statement by offering a qualifying clause or editing language they deemed unclear or problematic. Of course I don’t expect Jeremy Green or Bart Barber or Emir Caner or Nathan Lino to know how the rules work. But others surely must, I would think. Rather than leading this convention into greater disunity by mounting a challenge to an affirmation of the BFM2K as a sufficient guide, why not do something constructive to bring the sides together around a mutually agreeable statement?
Peace, it seems, is an unsavory morsel for dogs who prefer a fight.
Of course, it is possible that an amendment was contemplated but ultimately pulled because of concerns that — if it failed — it could have exposed some convention leaders to unwanted criticism or assured a larger margin of victory for those pushing its adoption.
Whatever the case, the convention has spoken. We did not vote on an interpretation of the statement, or about the motivation of its primary movants. Rather, we adopted a statement that is clear and concise, fair and balanced. It is, I feel, a rather innocuous statement, unless of course you don’t think the Southern Baptist Convention has the privilege to express its mind on any matter. I will grant that the messengers may not have been clear, and surely some of those who spoke for and against the motion were not. But the statement itself is very clear:
The Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, or a complete statement of our faith, nor final or infallible; nevertheless we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention.
I do find it interesting that the arguments marshaled against the statement are strangely similar to those used to change the charter of Baylor University and remove direct appointment of trustees from the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “The agencies are owned by the trustees, who set policies as they see fit. The convention cannot exercise doctrinal or administrative control of the boards, except by appointing trustees. And if you happen to appoint trustees we don’t like, we might have to take that privilege away too.” It seems, again, that the pigs are starting to resemble the farmers. But what do I know? I’m just a barnyard jackass looking into the windows.
On my way back to Dallas, I was stopped in the San Antonio airport by a member of the Committee on Order of Business. My motion, he said, was a “brilliant move.”
“You mean Rick Garner’s motion,” I said with a smile.
I suppose the greatest lesson our convention should learn from this whole ordeal is that the tiniest of rudders can turn the largest of ships. The headlines coming out of the convention, the issue that exposed the competing visions for our convention agencies that we might address them, and some of the most impassioned exchanges between convention leaders came about because of a single messenger who knew a minor footnote in Robert’s Rules of Order. Indeed, no deliberative body in the world has that kind of potential for both good and evil.
Nobody predicted the low messenger registration numbers for the San Antonio convention. When the SBC cannot get more than 8500 messengers in Texas, we’re in trouble. Even more troubling is the fact that messengers who do register do not show up for critical votes. I predict that we will have 7000 messengers or lower in Indianapolis, and even fewer in Louisville. Attendance will spike, however, when we return to Orlando. Quite frankly, Mickey Mouse can get more Baptists to the annual convention than all the bus tours and confetti cannons and shofarim our Cooperative Program dollars can buy.
One reason we have low voter turnout during the times for elections and debate is because of the constant changing of times for everything. We move things forward 15 minutes. Then we move them back. At any given moment, I had no idea which version of the program was correct, if any. If I was scheduling the convention, I think I would set up the election of officers for back to back votes. I would continue to allow multiple times to introduce new motions, but I would schedule the bulk of the Tuesday evening session for one block of time for debate on the motions presented during the morning. All of the previously scheduled business times would be rolled into one giant block of time for debate and votes. If we got through the time early, I would let everybody go home early that night. Resolutions would still be on Wednesday morning, followed by all the seminary reports back to back with a time for questions for all the seminaries in one block.
And then I would make sure that all votes were announced 15 minutes before they were to occur via a loudspeaker and an alarm in the exhibit hall. If messengers were given a heads-up about votes over a loudspeaker, I think many of them would make their way into the convention hall with ballots in hand. As it is now, the only thing you hear over loudspeakers in the exhibit halls are the blue light specials at the Lifeway store. I would also think about having “balloting kiosks” throughout the convention hall to enable messengers to vote at those places on all votes requiring a ballot.
Jim Richards won and David Rogers lost. Ultimately, this election will have far less impact on the convention than I originally thought, yet I realize my perspective might be different if my candidate had won. Many factors served to give Jim Richards a slam dunk election. Patterson whipped the fundamentalists into a feeding frenzy just before the vote, for one. Add to it that SBTC showed up for the vote and the BGCT didn’t, the greater name/face recognition for Mac Brunson coupled with the FBC Jacksonville pastor’s preaching the nomination speech. SBTexan articles were all provided to convention messengers prominently touting Jim Richards’ accomplishments.
And then there was the debacle regarding my having edited David Rogers’ answers to the Florida Baptist Witness article, though unknown to most convention messengers by the time of balloting, it didn’t help his candidacy among the informed fence-sitters. Of course, if it was known just how much editing and scripting I’ve done in the last two years, Jim Smith and Joni Hannigan would combust spontaneously.
I think I would like to debate Jim Richards about a number of things. In fact, I hope to request such an opportunity in the coming weeks. His vision for the Southern Baptist Convention is different from mine. The difference, however, is not one of direction but of degree. Speaking of debating, I think Malcolm Yarnell and I have agreed to consider doing such a thing at some point this next year.
Bart Barber’s motion regarding the study of seminary professor salaries was nobly intended but poorly executed. I wish Barber had requested that the seminary trustees themselves conduct a study of their institutional salary schedules rather than asking for a “committee of eleven.” He would have been able to get his motion through without a problem had he followed that counsel. Neither should he have appealed the ruling of the chair. Rather, he should have asked if he could revise his original motion to reflect the parliamentarian’s concerns about procedural issues. If I understand parliamentary procedure – and there is reason to believe that I do – he could have offered a substitute motion, or asked to amend his original motion as the primary movant. Nonetheless, I was surprised that a man who’s made quite a reputation for respecting the trustee process would have offered a motion to supplant that process by appointing an outside review committee. I seem to recall another messenger trying the same thing last year, to no avail.
If any motion deserves convention action, in my estimation, it must be Les Puryear’s request that agencies and institutions of the SBC make available all trustee voting and attendance records both online and offline. The process of doing a roll-call vote on every item before trustees would be laborious, but there are ways to accomplish such a task by combining various reports, etc.
The motions about the Emergent Church Movement are getting tired, and the motion to ban the Chronicles of Narnia from Lifeway Stores was ridiculous. Perhaps the most absurd motion in my estimation was the one asking for a military color guard to present the American flag at the beginning of the Southern Baptist Convention.
How about this, Jethro?
The Southern Baptist Convention isn’t a gathering of Americans to honor their country. It is a gathering of Christians to pursue Great Commission objectives. Of course, I’m one of a few dissidents in the SBC who think that patriotism in worship is idolatrous, and that George W. Bush addressing our convention is about as misplaced as having Dwight McKissic address the Sons of the Southern Confederacy or Jim Richards give the commencement address at
Bob Jones Harvard University.
The Missional Thing
I was invigorated by Ed Stetzer – once again – as he shared his thoughts on the need for Southern Baptists to think critically and creatively about our strategies for evangelism and missions. Stetzer is clear when he speaks, humble in his criticisms, and prospective in his ministry philosophy.
To be honest, I’m still not sure what it means to be missional. The word itself is not very descriptive, and I have yet to find an authoritative lexicon. In my own simple mind, I think of missional as opposed to traditional, by which I mean status quo ministry structures and methods not “the faith once delivered to the saints.” More than anyone else in Southern Baptist life, Stetzer is asking questions that need asking. So far, he’s the only one that’s trying to answer them with any convincing credibility.
As I begin averting my attention away from convention politics, it is to Stetzer’s work that I will first turn to get my bearings on a confessional landscape of virgin rainforest yet untouched by the bulldozers and chainsaws of denominational bureaucracy. Stetzer’s challenge — and that of his missional colleagues — will be to see if they can retain their unconventional approach and perspective without becoming anticonventional.
Al Mohler wields tremendous influence in the convention, and rightly so. Once in a generation, Southern Baptists produce a man with the intellect, presence, and political instincts of an Al Mohler. Over the course of a decade, Mohler has shifted the fulcrum of theological education in Southern Baptist life to Louisville. His faculty is top-notch, and his students bear the fruit of serious ministry preparation.
He’s also got more than his fair share of marketing savvy, coupled with a healthy balance of humor and gravitas. Southern Baptists reformers would do well to seek Mohler’s counsel and cultivate his respect. The president of Southern Seminary is cultivating the brightest minds in Southern Baptist life by training the most pastoral track M.Div. students in the history of Evangelical Christianity.
Mohler is potentially victimized by the very thing the Apostle Paul warned about elevating men of youth to positions of such tremendous responsibility. Mohler is prideful, and elitist. I do not say this to condemn him, because the Lord knows that Mohler’s done a better job at keeping himself humble than I have. Of course, pulmonary emboli have a way of reminding a man that he’s mortal.
I respect Al Mohler — always have — but there were a few moments during the San Antonio convention when he tipped his hand a little too much. On the one hand, he gets preachy when he needs the bubba-pastors to rally for his cause. On the other hand, he’s got the finesse to satisfy the bubbas with a wink and a nod to the Southern Baptist intelligentsia who know what he’s up to.
I don’t believe that Al Mohler will seek the convention presidency next year, in spite of all the folderol and subterranean rumbling. If nothing else, Mohler is astute enough to see how Patterson’s influence in Southern Baptist life started to diminish when he needed the convention presidency to press his agenda. Mohler realizes that his legacy is tied to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and not to the convention presidency. With his seminary as the hottest ticket in evangelical theological education, Mohler has too much to lose by a presidential candidacy. If he plays his cards right, he will wield more influence in this generation than Adrian Rogers did in the last, and without the convention presidency to do it. If that happens, he will have to develop a more diplomatic tone than the one on display during his report in San Antonio.
The Southwestern Report
Unlike some of my blogging colleagues, the Southwestern Seminary report was a source of great humor for me. I had been dropping not-so-subtle hints during recent months that I might do something interesting during the Southwestern Seminary report. I was approached by two Southern Seminary students who asked if I was going to have Patterson subpoenaed during the report. Patterson himself was busy circulating the rumor that I might bring a lawsuit against him and make it public during the report.
Like dutiful pups, his loyalists made their way to microphones at the first moment Patterson took the stage, convinced that they could protect him from the anticipated assaults. From the back of the convention hall, I watched the scene play out; and before the time for questions, I passed down the middle of the room from microphone to microphone, tapping people on the shoulder and asking them if they had a question.
Jaws locked, eyes grew cold, and anger flared nostrils. Once I knew that Patterson would be buffeted by inane questions lobbed soft by Southwestern sympathizers, I conceived of a brilliant plan, which I ultimately rejected to sit quietly as was my intention all along. In conference calls and meetings leading up to the convention, I told people that I would not be doing anything during the SWBTS report. One never attacks his opponent at the moment an attack is expected.
Nevertheless, I thought I would follow suit and make it to a microphone and ask one of the two following questions, both of which are about as central to the seminary report as those asked by other messengers.
“Dr. Patterson, will you please take a moment and settle this controversy once and for all. Rumors and innuendo cannot continue about this matter, and I believe you could go a long way to resolving some issues right here and now if you will just answer my question. So, Dr. Patterson, which is it?
Coke or Pepsi?
Boxers or briefs?”
Patterson’s rant looked pathetic. Of course, so much that he does looks pathetic to me these days that I’m obviously not an impartial observer. This year he was able to skirt the question of declining enrollment, rising expenditures, and accreditation jeopardy. Next year, he might not be as lucky. At some point Patterson will have to face the music and explain to the convention why Southwestern continues to lag behind the other seminaries. This year, Southern Seminary received only $10,000 more in Cooperative Program allocation than Southwestern. If the trend continues, Southwestern will be due for a considerable drop in funds next year, both due to its declining enrollment and the new funding formula yet to hit the CP allocation budget.
Patterson is also suffering from advanced paranoia, due in large part to the frustration of wondering just what lawsuit or document or letter I will produce next. For now, however, I’m going to cool it on the public reproduction of the files I’ve amassed. I might post excerpts from the interviews I’ve conducted over the past year with denominational leaders of both conservative and moderate persuasion. Whatever the case, Patterson has been able to blame Southwestern’s problems on Dwight McKissic, bloggers, and me. In fact, Patterson is at his best when he’s under attack.
What he cannot stand is the increasing irrelevance that his views have upon Southern Baptist life. The seminary he spent ten years building – Southeastern – is now under leadership that owes no allegiance to Patterson’s idiosyncratic doctrine or politically manipulative ways. He does not have ten years to invest in Southwestern, and he must be frustrated that his legacy and influence will find its greatest distillation at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, MO. Like a lion in winter, Patterson is at a loss to deal with the mutinies and rivalries and parodies he’s facing with unprecedented force.
I was grateful, I must admit, that a messenger asked Patterson a question about that silly little program in sewing and cooking that he’s instituted at Southwestern. We at Baptist Blogger will wait and see what odd academic novelty Patterson will concoct next to try and float his sinking ship.
No, Southwestern Seminary isn’t drifting down river toward liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, or ecumenism. Neither is it traveling upstream with a seminary armada. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has hit a sandbar and found itself leaning far too right and immobilized. The whole evangelical world looks on with a mixture of laughter and tears. The sight of Paige Patterson commanding his institutional oarsmen to keep rowing – all the while they kick up nothing but sand – is sad indeed. The sight of Dorothy surveying the ship’s demoralized crew from the deck like some deposed British monarch is twice as sad. At some point, the trustees will have to explain their ultimate stewardship to the convention. I predict, however, that Patterson is busy searching for a retirement exit, wishing to himself that he hadn’t burned a bridge with Morris Chapman that might have afforded him a staff job at the Executive Committee to empower something or another.
Overall, I was pleased with the Resolutions Committee’s report, though I continue to wonder about the need for resolutions at all. First, the resolution on child abuse was needed. In the past year, Southern Baptists have had our soft-underbellies exposed on the weakness of our autonomous polity to deal with child victimization in our churches. Most mid-sized to larger congregations in major cities have established policies to prevent the abuse of children. In the rural areas, however, most churches still operate with a naivete about the incubation their 1950s models of ministry provide for serial abusers.
C.B. Scott of Alabama offered a resolution — written by yours truly — that called churches to greater interest in the ministry of rescuing abused children. Both C.B. and his wife, Karen, have taken a personal interest all their lives in ministering to kids from broken and abusive homes. To some degree, I think this explains their deep affection and encouragement of me. Both that resolution and mine on preventing clergy abuse were merged into an excellent reaffirmation of Southern Baptist’s desire to protect children under the ministry care of our churches.
I wish that Marty Duren’s resolution on political non-partisanship — also written largely by yours truly — had made it to the convention floor. Marty Duren and I have had an ongoing conversation about the need for Southern Baptists to reanchor our primary concern with the Kingdom not of this world, convinced as we are that excessive entanglement and undue interest in the American political scene has compromised Southern Baptist’s prophetic witness against the state. Quite frankly, I’m tired of waking up in a Southern Baptist bed and seeing an elephant on the pillow beside me. Next year is an election year, and I hope that the SBC will consider adopting a resolution similar to the one Marty submitted for consideration. Of course, the greater likelihood is that we will adopt resolutions buttresses planks of the Republican platform.
The resolution on global warming displaced last year’s alcohol resolution in the number five slot, which henceforth should be reserved for the absurd. I didn’t vote for this resolution when it finally came up for adoption, not because I have any knowledge of all the arguments, both scientific and otherwise, regarding global warming. Sitting outside tonight on a unseasonably cool Texas evening, I have reason to have suspicion about the validity of global warming propaganda.
The resolution on integrity in church membership, offered by Tom Ascol of Florida, is not going away until Southern Baptists start referring to ourselves as the “formerly largest Protestant denomination.” Ascol and the Founders have done more to raise awareness of Southern Baptist deceit when it comes to the actual size of our convention, and I am amazed at the ridiculous and illiterate arguments offered against this resolution for two years in a row. I also think it’s strange that Southern Baptist conservatives are making strides to become the chief proponents of autonomy, proving again that the old moderate axioms have been adopted for reasons other than confessional appreciation for their place in Baptist history. “Autonomy” was the expedient article of Chuck Kelley’s unsuccessful end run on the Executive Committee. It’s the reason Malcolm Yarnell wants Southwestern Seminary to be able to enforce unrestricted doctrinal narrowness for the Fort Worth seminary. Simply put, it’s the rationale du jour for establishment conservatives to withstand accountability to the convention that pays their salaries.
In our esteemed opinion, the best thing to come out of the SBC meeting in San Antonio is that Chairman Tom Hatley has rotated off the International Mission Board, as has Roger Moran from the Executive Committee. Frank Page’s appointments will start to trickle down to the denominational trustee boards, and the last, best effort for reforming our bureaucracy will gain steam.
When a man chooses the right enemies, he acquires the right friends. Of course, if he chooses an enemy of immense popularity, he loses a good many friends along the way. Through all the events of the past year, I’ve managed to maintain the friendship of men like Malcolm Yarnell, who appreciates more than any other my congenial ribbing. I’ve gained the opportunity to dialogue respectfully and temperately with Southwestern Seminary administrators. I’ve developed friendships with pastors and laymen across the convention with whom I might have never enjoyed fellowhsip.
And then, I’ve experienced the heartache of lost friendships. Men with whom I once shared a daily lunch appointment in Wake Forest now turn their backs when I pass their way. Fellow students and close colleagues during my seminary days bristle with resentment and turn a cold shoulder when our paths intersect. Perhaps most surprising to me was the encounter I experienced with a former roommate, coworker, and friend whom I’ve invited into my pulpit, shared accommodations at pastor’s conferences, laughed and cried and enjoyed holiday meals. While passing through the exhibit hall, we met face to face. I, unaware of his resolve to avoid me as a Jew would avoid Samaria, walked up and extended my hand with a smile. He glared stone-faced, gripped my hand with a cool, dispassionate salutation, and told me in no uncertain terms that he wished to discontinue all interaction with me.
Very fine, I told him, and walked on.
On the last night of the convention, an IMB trustee from Texas spoke rather rudely to me, though she and I have had no unpleasant personal exchange in the ten years we’ve been acquainted. “I wish you would leave us alone and stop trying to undo the conservative resurgence,” she said abruptly when I spoke a warm word of greeting. Go figure. The fighting spirit of fundamentalism has no ability to draw distinctions between ideological conflict and personal animosity.
This is the collateral damage of denominational conflict. People take up offenses that are not theirs, choose sides against their friends, and shake the dust off their feet. One of the things that I have admired about men like Wade Burleson, Art Rogers, Dwight McKissic, Bart Barber, Hershael York, Malcolm Yarnell, Russell Moore, and others is their ability to recognize that business is business without losing a sincere Christian disposition, forgiving spirit, and willingness to disallow our differences to separate the brethren.
This concludes my San Antonio wrap-up. I have one more SBC-related post before I transition the nature of this blog.