Over the next two weeks as Southern Baptists prepare to gather in Birmingham for the annual convention, The Baptist Blogger will publish a series of reflections about each SBC entity. Having carefully reviewed the 2019 SBC Book of Reports and the appendices with accompanying financial statements, we are confident that Southern Baptists are at a moment of tremendous opportunity.
But that moment of opportunity coincides with the perilous chance that we get it wrong, that we miss the moment and rather than coalescing around the most compelling articulation of our missionary mandate since Bold Mission Thrust, we further Balkanize and fracture.
In short, we will either prove that a cult of personality loosely described as the Patterson-Pressler coalition was the unifying feature of the conservative resurgence, or we will affirm not only in word but in deed that Christ — who is himself the focus of divine revelation — is Lord.
We will either merely preach — both as men and women — the gospel that is above all, or we will live it and charitably bind ourselves together in pursuit of holiness, humility, truth, justice, and mercy.
The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention was without competent leadership for more than a year, and it showed on an almost weekly basis. Nevertheless, most of the trains have kept running on time, which is more a testimony to the genius of our polity than a commendation of the Executive Committee’s interim leadership.
There will likely be at least one motion about Baptist Press — which needs serious reorganization and some clarification about its role as either public relations machine for the Executive Committee and its newly elected president, as a news service providing Southern Baptists with partial information, or as a professional media arm of the entire Southern Baptist Convention and its entities that seeks to help the world better understand who we are and what we do as a people of faith.
The 2019 Book of Reports includes information regarding two items of most pertinent interest as it relates to the work of the Executive Committee. First, the EC will report to the convention how it has addressed the repeated concerns of messengers about inadequate trustee training and orientation. Our suspicion is that the committee’s action — a minor addition to the SBC’s organizational manual — will not satisfy the messengers who have persistently asked for a more robust and unified process to help newly elected trustees better understand their governance role and equip them to act more prudently on behalf of the convention’s churches.
Second, and more problematic, is the Executive Committee’s apparent determination to proceed with an ill-advised and clunky amendment to the SBC’s constitution. Specifically, the Book of Reports offers no indication that the Bylaw Workgroup or the trustee officers understand the bungled job they’ve done with respect to the investigation of clergy sexual abuse. For more than ten years, the Executive Committee had a chance to prove that they are competent, cautious, and consistent, yet they failed.
Then, this past February, the trustee chairman — aided and advised by the Executive Committee’s acting CEO — pushed through the committee significant changes to the SBC constitution. The reasons the current trajectory is foolish are many, and if the current proposed language gets to the floor, we are confident they will become a catalyst for the amendment’s defeat. Indeed, the entire discussion — as presently scheduled — will prove confusing, disruptive, and ultimately weaken the Executive Committee’s position and sully its reputation.
So let’s face it, the current amendment will struggle to receive more than 2/3 vote in two consecutive conventions to change the constitution.
Struggle is putting it mildly. It will fail. Period.
There is a better way, and we are hopeful that the new executive committee president has brought some sensible recalibration to the way Southern Baptists address this matter in Birmingham. Southern Baptists do not have to strip the convention messengers, the elected convention leadership, or an appropriate standing committee of the convention from instituting a fair, thorough, and efficient process of addressing the ongoing participation of churches who fail to protect innocence in their midst.
Finally, there is one other matter that should be considered in Birmingham, and likely will be brought to the floor.
Ten years ago this June, Southern Baptists asked the convention president — at the time, Johnny Hunt of Georgia — to appoint a task force to consider “how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.” That motion was made by Dr. Albert Mohler, and it passed overwhelmingly.
For more than a year, that task force did its work under the leadership of its chairman, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, and brought its recommendations to the 2010 annual convention in Orlando. Ten years later — again we will be in Orlando — it seems appropriate that Southern Baptists ask the Executive Committee to assess whether or not the recommendations that grew out of that process have been successful.
And who better than Dr. Floyd, who is now the president of the Executive Committee, to lead the effort in evaluating whether the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s recommendations have succeeded in achieving their stated purpose. A good place to start looking for answers to that question might be the recent report from the Annual Church Profiles.
Tomorrow evening, we will consider the International Mission Board’s annual report.