Part One: The next takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention?


For as long as the Southern Baptist Convention has existed, there have been factions vying for increased influence in denominational life. Most of the time, this struggle has been little more than the natural tensions that arise in any deliberative body: whether a condo board and home owners association or the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

The SBC is a political creature — not only political to be sure — but political indeed.

At times, caucuses have organically emerged to shift the power dynamic. At one time, it seemed like all the early leaders of the SBC were somehow tied to Southern Seminary. At other times, Texans like J.B. Gambrell, George W. Truett, J. Frank Norris, and B.H. Carroll were the dominant figures. Still others saw leaders in Georgia like Louie Newton and Louisiana pastor M.E. Dodd hold outsized influence, only to have their influence challenged in time by rising younger pastors like Herschel Hobbs, J.D. Gray, Wayne Dehoney, Carl Bates, and K. Owen White.

There have been theological factions, at times, as some aligned with legendary pastor and avowed biblical literalist W.A. Criswell while others sympathized with more moderate leaders like Franklin Paschal or Grady Cauthen. And yet, there were still other ad hoc caucuses that rose and fell through the years, with some benevolently following the compass of masterful denominational tacticians like theologian Duke McCall or laymen like Mississippian Owen Cooper or Congressman Brooks Hays of Arkansas.

And then, there have been the men who can best be described as pure denominationalists, institutional men who didn’t really align theologically with anybody, but it didn’t really matter. Men like Landrum Leavell or Darold Morgan or Baker James Cauthen who led their respective entities commendably, never got too involved in the convention squabbles that happened during their tenures, and when they retired, they did so with commendations from every corner for their faithful stewardship and steady hands.

But the majority of the men in this last category — the entity heads who’d earned their salaries on the convention doll and whose official responsibilities spanned the presidencies of multiple elected convention officers — never sought for themselves the convention presidency.  A few of them — like Duke McCall or Robert Naylor at Southwestern — sought the presidency, or rather were nominated and lost. James Sullivan was elected president, but it was after his retirement from the Sunday School Board.

To be sure, the convention has elected entity employees as convention president, as in the case of James P. Boyce, E.Y. Mullins, L.R. Scarborough and The Red Bishop himself. All these men were all elected to serve as convention president concurrent with their status as a convention entity employee. But, as has been noted many times over, these have been rare exceptions rather than a rule.

And it wasn’t until 1986 that a single person held for more than three decades the only unelected office of the convention: the convention parliamentarian. At the time, the parliamentarian was not a convention employee. In fact, he wasn’t even a Southern Baptist. But all that changed under Paige Patterson. More about that later.

For now, the facts are clear. The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have historically preferred pastors rather than denominational employees for elected convention service, whether as officers of the convention or as committeemen or trustees. Never in the history of the convention has there been a trend toward the empowerment of the permanent bureaucratic class.

And never in the history of the convention have all the key leaders controlling the order of business, the parliamentary rulings, the recording of business, and the pipeline of convention trustees been on the Cooperative Program payroll. And it wasn’t until the last decade or so that the convention would have seen so many former presidents receiving the salaries of their post-pastoral ministries funded by the Cooperative Program.

Recent trends, however, have seen fewer pastors and more paid convention employees seeking and being either elected or appointed to key convention-wide leadership positions.

This, Southern Baptists, is a problem.

To be continued…


2 thoughts on “Part One: The next takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention?

  1. We’ve had the trend of SBC presidents going on the payroll shortly after serving as president, possible hired by people they helped put on trustee boards. Jimmy Draper, Morris Chapman, Bobby Welch, Johnny Hunt, Ronnie Floyd

  2. C. Barry “Dr. Gavel” McCarty’s removal as parliamentarian, is long overdue. His “conversion” to Baptist doctrine, church membership, and his preaching professorship, moreover, is particularly troubling. Apparently, having friends in high places reaps upward mobility.

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