Morris Chapman’s Motion

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During the Tuesday morning session of the SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., the former president of the Executive Committee, Dr. Morris H. Chapman, made a motion concerning the transparency and accountability of the various entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.  His motion was:

“I move that this convention, as the sole member of each entity corporation, request the Executive Committee to amend the Business and Financial Plan of the Southern Baptist Convention and other appropriate legal authorities where necessary to strengthen the fiscal accountability of SBC entities to the convention and to promote greater transparency regarding the use of Cooperative Program dollars.”

The genius of Dr. Chapman’s motion is that he did not prescribe an outcome, but rather he opened a pathway. The Constitution of the convention and its Bylaws establish and govern the convention itself. And the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 sets the parameters of confessional fidelity.

But the Business and Financial Plan — perhaps the least known and yet most important governing authority for the convention entities — is the rulebook for the day-to-day operation of the convention entities. It is prescriptive and binding for effective and accountable administration of the convention’s assets.

What Dr. Chapman did was brilliant. Without saying what we all know to be true — namely, that most of the crises faced by the convention in its history can be traced to lax oversight and fiscal irresponsibility — Dr. Chapman has called for Southern Baptists to open the windows of our convention entities and allow a little more sunlight, which is the best disinfectant, into the house.

Dr. Chapman could have proposed a motion that laid out specifics. Surely, few people in Southern Baptist life understand the complexities, difficulties, and enforcement mechanisms that keep SBC entities fiscally accountable. He could have made a motion that listed article and paragraph, proposing line-by-line changes that are informed by nearly two decades at the helm of the Executive Committee.

But such a motion would have (1) been cumbersome for the messengers to comprehend and consider efficiently; (2) been potentially interpreted as an end-run around the very governing board he used to serve; (3) hamstring his successor, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, into a pre-determined outcome without adequate reflection or legal and administrative analysis; and (4) run the risk of opening for a floor debate any number of poorly conceived “solutions” for supposed “problems” that a handful of irritable messengers perennially identify.

Later Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Chapman was recognized by SBC President J.D. Greear to speak to his motion before its referral under SBC Bylaw 26B. In his remarks, Dr. Chapman — without mentioning the scandal of mishandling sexual abuse or the failure of some SBC trustees to hold certain entity leaders accountable — recognized that Southern Baptists are in a “moment of self examination” that affords the convention an opportunity to implement needed reforms.

The brilliance of his timing was his sense that the convention was at this moment of reflection and that the messengers were already prepared to consider structural changes to ensure our gospel witness is undimmed by further compromises of biblical integrity.

For us personally, it was good to see Dr. Chapman back at a microphone, engaged as an elder statesman of the convention and doing what he has always done best: harmonize a commitment to biblical authority with a standard of administrative efficiency that any confessional organization boasting the size and influence of the Southern Baptist Convention must diligently maintain.

The simple fact is this: since his retirement in 2010, the Executive Committee went on auto-pilot, providing an opening for the aggrandized and oft-times weasel influence of a lawyer’s brain left unchecked by the prophetic vision and sensitivity of a pastor’s heart. When the Executive Committee has been at its finest, it has been led by a strong pastor statesman supported — but not supplanted — by accountants and businessmen and yes, even attorneys.

When last Southern Baptists heard from Dr. Chapman in a public way, he was warning us that the implementation of certain provisions of the Great Commission Task Force report would prove shortsighted. Reducing the Cooperative Program allocation for the Executive Committee would handicap its essential work.

He was attacked, even vilified, by some who now see more clearly in retrospect what Dr. Chapman foresaw nearly a decade ago.

And so this year, Dr. Chapman returned to the convention microphone not from the platform as an elected entity leader, but rather as a patriarch of unparalleled experience and administrative savvy who — apart from Charles Stanley in 1985 — received more votes than any other man to ever be elected convention president before or since.

In the time since his motion in Birmingham, some have speculated openly and publicly that his concern was narrowly focused on the disclosure of executive salaries. Any student of history would realize that Dr. Chapman’s concern would not be so narrow. There was a time that we, like so many others, were frustrated by the unpublished salaries of convention leaders. Even Dr. Chapman’s salary was printed publicly only upon his election and not thereafter.

(Side note: we believe that salaries should be disclosed upon election and not thereafter)

But in the intervening years we have come to a conclusion about executive salaries in the SBC: No entity leader is overpaid, but some are potentially underworked.

That said, Dr. Chapman’s motion calls for a much more sweeping examination of the Business and Financial Plan, and potentially the adoption of certain enforcement mechanisms to ensure that all convention entities — whether they receive a Cooperative Program allocation or not — would raise the bar for disclosure, accountability, and transparency first to the trustees who govern the respective entities, but also to the convention messengers in annual session.

Which makes us wonder why Baptist Press has not done an interview with Dr. Chapman about his motion to ascertain what informed his decision to bring the motion, what observations he might have that would better streamline our cooperative efforts, and what reporting requirements needed reexamination in light of emerging technologies and accounting standards.

It is simply too hard to find raw data about SBC entity finances. Not even trustees feel they have the reliable and timely information they need — in understandable formats — to execute their sacred responsibilities as charged by the convention messengers who elect them.

So we await greater clarification from Dr. Chapman regarding his motion, and we hope that Baptist Press, which has had a rough few weeks of revelations about its past editorial decisions, will help Southern Baptists better understand the motion they voted to refer to the Executive Committee for action.


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