Birmingham Wrap-Up: Resolutions

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The only resolution anybody will ever remember from the convention in Birmingham is Resolution No. 9On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. 

This resolution — both its content and the parliamentary train wreck that accompanied its passage — was a disaster. For starters the committee, despite the collective brilliance and academic sophistication of its members, seemed to misread the messengers and overestimate the degree to which those messengers would perceive the committee as they perceived themselves.

What we had was a group of smart people determined to propose a smart resolution full of nuance and complicated scholarly themes and terms. What they forgot is that the Southern Baptist Convention, on its best day, is a body with incredible common sense but restricted bandwidth to engage in scholarly debate.

Every time in Southern Baptist history when the “smart people” start telling the “regular people” something, all hell breaks loose.  Take the debate over the BFM2K in Orlando, for instance. You had some very smart people on the floor trying to make scholarly arguments about biblical authority and the complexities of the inerrancy argument.

On the platform was Al Mohler and Dick Land, both of whom know a thing or two about optics and convention dynamics. These men did not attempt a scholarly defense of the BFM2K, but rather appealed to the messengers with succinct one-liners that drew thunders of applause and shut down debate.

Contrast that with this year’s resolutions committee fumble — aided and abetted by a parliamentarian and Order of Business Committee that were determined not to let J.D. Greear’s resolutions committee suffer a losing vote on the floor. So they made up rules as they went, attempted to roll the controversial resolutions into a block with non-controversial ones, and fostered greater confusion rather than clarity.

Never mind the fact that the resolutions were saved for the very last moment of convention business at the end of two long days of difficult, painstaking conversation about some of the most heart wrenching themes ever to make their way into the convention’s order of business. This was foolish scheduling, if for no other reason than the sad reality that the only people who stay till the bitter end of any event — football games, baseball, etc. — are the fanatics.

Thus was the convention hall left with a very smart group of men and women on the platform trying to defeat a very organized and determined group of opponents to Resolution No. 9. What happened was chaos.

Neither the parliamentarians nor the committee served J.D. Greear well at this point. They should have — sensing the reality on the floor — pulled the resolution altogether. There is never a mistake in a tactical delay.

*Note: Since 1986, Convention parliamentarian Barry McCarty has never facilitated nor advised the use of motions to “postpone indefinitely,” “table,” or “reconsider” despite the perfectly appropriate purpose of these motions when a deliberative body is not ready to consider or close a matter. If he’s the chief parliamentarian in Orlando and similar nonsense starts to take shape, we intend to force him to dust off these forgotten chapters of his own book.

One other point that we can’t escape mentioning.

Images matter, which is something propagandists have always understood. Subliminally, in ways we don’t even perceive ourselves, what we see affects how we perceive what we hear and read.

Suppose for a moment what would have happened if when the Southern Baptist Convention was considering the Confederate Flag resolution in 2016 the committee chairman, Steven Rummage, was wearing a seersucker suit and a gentleman’s Panama straw hat.  And what if, in that moment, when James Merritt stood to ask that the convention amend the resolution to remove all reference to the “emblem” of “honor” and  “valor,” Rummage — dressed in clothing reminiscent of a plantation owner — called for the messengers to oppose Merritt’s amendment.

Now let us be clear about what we are NOT saying.  We are NOT saying that Steven Rummage is an unreconstructed white supremacist. We are NOT saying he has sympathies with the Old South or the Ku Klux Klan.

What we ARE saying is that Rummage would have been most foolish — whatever his sartorial preference — not to consider how the optics would inform the messengers, even subliminally.

Jump forward to 2019 and Chairman Curtis Woods, a most capable scholar and by every measure a truly kind and generous Christian servant.

Yet there he stood, in a tan suit with a bow tie and horned rimmed glasses. Few people might have thought about it at all, but that is the way that optics and images work.

Our point: If you want the convention messengers to consider a resolution that recognizes heterodox ideologies as “set of analytical tools,” you might want to avoid wearing an outfit that could have come straight out of Louis Farrakhan’s wardrobe.

Images matter. Optics are important.

And Southern Baptists are not immune to their effects, even when subliminal and unintentional.

Bottom line: Resolution No. 9 was a dud and a distraction the consequences of which we are still fighting back. It should never have been brought to the floor, and when it became clear that it was both confusing and controversial, the committee should have withdrawn it.

That they were not advised of this option by the parliamentarians has not escaped our notice.

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