The Light of the World and email stewardship

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(Editor’s note: The following letter will be sent electronically later today to the chief executive officers of the listed recipients.)

December 17, 2018

Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention
Golden Gate Seminary
North American Mission Board
International Mission Board
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Lifeway Christian Resources
Guidestone Financial Resources
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Dear sirs:

The safekeeping and stewardship of official records is of paramount importance, particularly in the digital age.  According to a recent report by a global telecommunications research firm, the average number of business-related emails is anticipated to grow this year to 140 each day. This trajectory is significant, and has created numerous complications for both public and private sector industries. It is equally true of the non-profit sectors.

The federal government, for instance, has struggled to archive electronic records, produce them according to law, and monitor the statutory compliance of government employees with respect to email use. Moreover, laws prohibiting the use of private emails to conduct official business have proven both practicably unenforceable and politically exploitable.

To be sure, the improper use of official and private email accounts can be inadvertent. Nevertheless, the law provides that all official communications involving institutional matters are the exclusive property of the institutions’ owners. For government agencies, they belong to taxpayers. For entities of the Southern Baptist Convention, they belong to the churches.

Despite resistance at some SBC entities, by 2005 all entities of the Southern Baptist Convention had amended their charters to name the convention as sole member of their respective corporations. This ownership extends beyond the real property assets and endowments; it includes the technology infrastructures, work product, certain intellectual properties, and all communications of the entity.

Recently, two entities of the Southern Baptist Convention have engaged in prolonged negotiations about the ownership and proper custody of official records. This dispute has cost time and resources that distract from the institutions’ ability to perform their primary mission. In another instance, a seminary employee illegally accessed, distributed and published copies of confidential records.

Additionally, and potentially more injurious to the reputation of institutions owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, official email communications that do not meet the requisites of Christian charity could run the risk of damaging the convention’s witness.  In recent months, I have reviewed publicly available archives that contain printed copies of official correspondence in which convention employees exchanged communications that are potentially defamatory. At the very least, they are petty.

Brethren, these things ought not be.

With that in mind, I ask that you each consider ways to ensure the proper use of convention-owned resources relative to information systems, email servers, and technology infrastructure. You may wish, among other initiatives, to consider the following:

  1. Assess the benefit of fully digitizing official records that pre-date the advent of electronic capabilities.
  2. Reinforce to entity employees that official email accounts only are to be used for official purposes, and that no official business is to be conducted via private email accounts.
  3. Remind entity employees that all communications — whether public or private, utilizing official or unofficial email accounts — are to be marked by Christian charity in both text and tone.
  4. Develop clear policies regarding the archival and custody of all official communications and require employees to affirm these policies in writing as a condition of employment.

The Baptist Faith & Message article on stewardship states clearly: “Christians have a spiritual debtorship to the whole world, a holy trusteeship in the gospel, and a binding stewardship in their possessions. They are therefore under obligation to serve Him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these are entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others.”

Indeed, the vigilant stewardship of official communication records is essential to protect the assets owned by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Ensuring the proper use of an entity’s digital servers is a matter of gospel obedience. To be certain: the federal government should not have a higher standard of accountability and transparency than seminaries, mission boards, and commissions whose mission is to bear faithfully the Light of the World.

Thank you for your continued leadership of the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention. On nearly every front, the sense that these entities are under the wise stewardship of Christian gentlemen is apparent. Personally, I appreciate your continued labors and have used the occasion of this letter to pray for you and your families.

With every wish for a joyous Christmas season,

The Baptist Blogger