At the SBC in New Orleans, Lifeway Director Thom Rainer reported that the Lifeway Trustees had reviewed a resolution passed at last year’s convention in Phoenix requesting them to discontinue sales of the 2011 NIV Bible. Since the point of this post does not have to do primarily with the perceived virtues and/or defects of the 2011 NIV, I will not lay these arguments out here. The relevant point is that the Lifeway Board of Trustees, upon consulting with experts and reviewing the reasons given at last year’s convention supporting the resolution, decided to ignore the recommendation of the messengers of the convention and continue to sell the 2011 NIV anyway.
Personally, I think they made the right decision. It appears, upon further review, that the opinion of a majority of the messengers voting on the resolution was unduly influenced—number one—by a lack of information regarding the actual issues involved, and—number two—by a certain degree of misinformation that was communicated at the convention regarding those same issues. It was, admittedly, a subjective call, but the way I interpret it, the Trustees were faced with the difficult decision of determining whether the convention, if it had access to the same information they had access to, would have arrived at the same decision they arrived at when voting upon the resolution. Rainer, in his reply to the messenger who presented the resolution (and, concurrently, to the convention as a whole) repeatedly and passionately urged us as Southern Baptists to “trust the Trustees.”
In this particular case, I happen to think the Trustees were right. But, I don’t think Trustees in Southern Baptist life are always right. Honesty and consistency force me to acknowledge that on other occasions I have not been quite so supportive of certain Trustee decisions. In the case of the IMB policies passed several years ago regarding private prayer language and the baptism of missionary candidates, I have argued that decisions taken by the IMB Board of Trustees likely did not reflect the will of the majority of Southern Baptists. To this day, I am convinced this is still the case, and wish that these policies were reversed.
At the same time, I think the episode regarding the resolution on the NIV at last year’s convention is a perfect example of the propensity of groups of individuals (even those as qualified as duly appointed messengers to the SBC) to be swayed in the rush of the moment by persuasive and emotional argumentation (sometimes referred to as demagoguery).
During the Conservative Resurgence, it was often said that the various agencies and boards of the SBC were out of touch with and acting contrary to the opinions and wishes of the grassroots majority of the members of SBC churches. It would appear that subsequent history has validated this claim. As much as disgruntled moderates may raise the specter of demagoguery with regard to the supposed takeover of the SBC, it would be extremely difficult to demonstrate that the general direction of the SBC with regard to the basic tenets of the CR is at variance with the views of the majority of the congregations that make up the SBC, both before and after the CR.
Whether that is the case with regard to the IMB policies is, I believe, much less certain. I still believe that if the rank and file of Southern Baptists were made aware of all the issues involved, they would not agree with these policies. With regard to the NIV resolution, on the other hand, I believe the majority of Southern Baptists, if privy to the information given to the Lifeway Board of Trustees, would be in agreement with their decision. In this case, information is our friend.
The danger involved is that of assuming an elitist posture that presupposes the uninitiated are incapable of making an informed decision on a particular matter all on their own. This is one of the positive values of Southern Baptist blogging. It is a move in the direction of an increased democratization of denominational life. It opens up the floor to the voices of a greater variety of participants. It provides an opportunity for the marketplace of ideas to run its full course. Just as in a court of law, arguments and counterarguments, allegations and defenses of allegations, can be presented back and forth, back and forth, until the time the judge and jury (in this case, the rank and file of Southern Baptists) feel they have adequate information to form an educated opinion on the issues at stake.
Admittedly, the system is not perfect. It is practically inevitable that from time to time policies and decisions made on this or that fail to adequately reflect the opinions and wishes of the majority. Ultimately, though, that should be the goal. And I believe that blogging can play a positive role in working toward this end. Unfortunately, however, there is also the danger that discussions and debates on forums such as blogs grow so caustic that they become counterproductive to our ultimate objective.
While SBC Voices is far from the only venue on which these discussions take place, and some may feel the opinions most often voiced here do not reflect their own, I personally believe the balance struck here at Voices between the freedom to express opinions that may be outside the box along with the encouragement and guidance to maintain a Christlike, civil discourse while doing so is exemplary, if not somewhat unique, in the Southern Baptist blogosphere. And I think a good bit of this can be attributed to the good-natured, mature, and godly moderation of Dave Miller.
Not that any of us here (including Dave) has any excuse for getting “the big head”—we’re all just fallible, flawed human beings—but I think the SBC Voices experiment (if you will) is beginning to demonstrate what blogging in Southern Baptist life can be, and what good it can accomplish. We will likely continue to disagree about many different issues that we discuss here, and we may not end up resolving any of the debates currently taking place. But that is not necessarily a bad thing, just as long as we continue to listen, learn, and treat one another with the respect due to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I think perhaps more people are beginning to take notice as well.