Convention parliamentarian must recuse himself from Southwestern matters

AM1959716137HIMarch 19, 2018

Rev. Barry McCarty
Chief Parliamentarian of the Southern Baptist Convention
2001 W. Seminary Drive
Fort Worth, TX 76115

Dear Rev. McCarty:

This year will mark more than three uninterrupted decades that you have served Southern Baptists as chief parliamentarian during the proceedings of their annual convention. It will also mark the third convention you have been under contract with the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention since your election to the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before 2015, you had maintained confessional affiliation and employment within another denominational framework.

According to press reports, you affiliated with a Southern Baptist church in Georgia immediately prior to your election to the Southwestern faculty upon recommendation of the seminary’s president, Rev. Paige Patterson. This move, you stated, owed to a growing conviction that “Southern Baptists are the strongest voice for New Testament Christianity in our generation,” adding that you wished to “claim [your] inheritance in this tribe.”

Your decision to affiliate formally with the Southern Baptist Convention has been widely celebrated among denominational leaders. And your decision to accept the 2015 offer of Paige Patterson to teach at Southwestern has been well received by many. For years, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention have had strong confidence in your impartial, even-handed parliamentary guidance, particularly during complex debates over matters of both doctrine and policy. As your seminary’s top administrator noted, you have “pulled [the convention’s] bacon out of the fire” on many occasions.

I have long shared this confidence in your fairness and strategic counsel. You may recall our private meetings and correspondence in the Spring of 2007 before the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio that year. On one particular occasion, we met in North Dallas and sat outdoors at a small café to discuss my plans for various parliamentary maneuvers at the convention the following month. At the time, I had prepared a motion – which ultimately came to be known as the ‘Garner Motion’ – for the convention to adopt a statement establishing the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as the only sufficient confessional framework for Southern Baptist entities. This effort, we discussed, was opposed by key leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention including your current ministry supervisor, Paige Patterson.

You were a tremendous resource to me in the formation of that motion, and others that have been adopted successfully in the years since. A careful student of parliamentary procedure myself, I have found your public and private counsel on such matters consistently helpful. At every turn, I have underscored my confidence in your ability to instruct convention presidents and platform leaders concerning parliamentary procedures with clarity and fairness.

Nevertheless, I am concerned that your dual responsibilities – as a seminary professor at one particular SBC institution and chief parliamentarian to the convention at large – may present an insurmountable conflict during this year’s annual meeting. Indeed, messengers are already preparing to ask questions concerning the enrollment declines at Southwestern Seminary, the state of finances at the school, and various administrative decisions.

I fear that your reputation as a neutral parliamentary advisor to the convention’s president and the messengers may suffer unnecessarily should your employment at Southwestern be perceived in any way as a challenge to your unbiased procedural counsel.

Perhaps an illustration is in order.

In 2005, the Southern Baptist Convention met in Nashville, TN, at a time of extended impasse between New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. The issue of “sole membership,” you may recall, had brought the convention to a decisive moment. Trustees and administrators of New Orleans – led by the seminary’s president, Rev. Chuck Kelley – were opposed to adopting “sole membership.” Advocates from both sides of the issue made presentations to the messengers, and the convention ultimately approved the adoption of sole membership by a margin of 78-21 percent. It was a contentious, complex, and tense moment for everyone involved.

During that debate, you were able to guide the convention president and the messengers dispassionately and objectively toward a definite conclusion and a decisive resolution to a conflict years in the making. Imagine, therefore, how that floor debate might have soured quickly if – rather than serving as an unaffiliated and independent parliamentarian – you had been serving concurrently as a full-time faculty member of New Orleans seminary, subordinated to its president and obligated to support his position on the issue.  Or, at the very least, unable to voice opposition to his position because of your contractual relationship.

Simply put, no man should be required to balance those competing responsibilities. Indeed, no balance is possible and a conflict of interest is inevitable.

For this reason, I am asking you to consider taking uncompensated leave of absence from your professorial responsibilities at Southwestern at the conclusion of this academic year and until after the convention meets in June. Alternately, I am asking that you formally and publicly recuse yourself from any parliamentary role in matters related to Southwestern Seminary during the coming convention. That recusal, I might add, could necessitate a renegotiation of your contract with the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In either case, I am confident you will pursue the right course to preserve a well-earned reputation for impartiality and avoid throwing the Southern Baptist Convention messengers into unnecessary confusion about your parliamentary counsel and potential conflict of interest during this year’s annual meeting in Dallas.

CC:  Rev. Steve Gaines
CC:  Rev Frank Page
CC:  Guenther, Jordan, & Price PC