Todd Littleton blogs at The Edge of the Inside. He wrote a four part series reflecting on the 2012 SBC Annual Meeting through the lens of offering his first ever motion on the floor of the SBC and its demise as Ruled Out of Order. While the nexus of his thoughts turn on a singular incident, Todd finds it illustrative for what ails us. Rather than post these in series form, Todd offers them as stand alone posts. His first post on the subject ran here at Voices and Part 2 here. Maybe what he offers is a Minority Report or as his chosen website title indicates, a perspective from the Edge.
I have never been to an RNC or a DNC but I have been to several Annual Meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention. I suspect the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are not too dissimilar from the SBC Annual Meeting or vice versa. In all three meetings, I am assuming this occurs at the RNC and the DNC, delegates and messengers pledge the American Flag.
That’s right we pledged the American Flag right out of the gate in NOLA. We met to conduct the business of the Southern Baptist Convention whose chartered purpose reads,
… eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the Baptist denomination of Christians, ?for the propagation of the gospel, any law, usage, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.
– Charter of the Southern Baptist Convention, ?December 27, 1845
Our printed program noted the time slot at 8:18-8:20 a.m. A military Chaplain in full dress led us in the Pledge. No scruples about Civil Religion for we Southern Baptists. We did not pledge the Christian Flag or the Bible. Growing up in an SBC church in Oklahoma City found us at least pledging all three during Vacation Bible School. Not here. We prayed to King Jesus and pledged “ … allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which is stands.”
Our mission statement nowhere obligates us to make this procedural move. In fact it reads,
As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus?Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.
– Adopted by the messengers to the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Florida on June 15, 2010 in response to the Report of the Great Commission Task Force
I am not un-patriotic. We planned our recent trip to Colorado in hopes to enjoy the July 4th Parade in Creede and the fireworks display in the evening. We made the parade but the fire ban in Colorado left us only dreaming of fireworks in the canyon. I am proud of my Country. But, when we gather according to our stated purpose and mission, pledging allegiance to any other than Jesus is disconcerting. An inerrant reading of Romans does not imply the necessity of such an action for a gathering of Christians.
Not only do the three meetings pledge the American Flag, each calls for a representational form of participation. Delegates to either National Convention represent a particular geographic region. Voters who went to the polls for their primaries or caucuses will hope their delegates vote according to their expressed wishes. Delegates cast the proxy votes for the candidate who won primary elections and caucuses. Their respective candidates will win their party’s nomination and face the other in the General Election come November. Procedural moves discussed in the current primary season may come to mind. How are delegates counted? Will Ron Paul really disrupt the RNC because of certain procedural protocols regarding delegates?
Messengers to the SBC Annual Meeting represent the churches that elected them for the specific year’s meeting. Churches hope those sent as messengers will represent them well when the need for casting a vote is required.
For instance, I have mentioned Alan Cross’s resolution. When it came time for a vote, each messenger would cast a vote for or against the resolution based on the ethos of his or her sending church. Some messengers may believe their church cares more about preaching the Word than engaging their community with any commensurate deeds and vote against Alan’s motion. Others who find the ministry of Jesus replete with deed doing would cast a vote in favor.
Resolutions submitted to the Annual Meeting pass through the hands of an appointed committee. The Resolutions Committee considers each resolution and its merits. Sometimes they deem a resolution unsuited for the floor for any number of reasons. This year the Resolutions Committee decided not to bring one of Dwight McKissic’s resolutions to the floor for a vote. Dwight followed procedure and sought to have the decision overturned by appealing to the floor of the convention. Though he made an impassioned plea, the gathered messengers upheld the Resolution Committee decision. Procedure followed. Decision made.
Every institution needs procedures in order to effectively conduct its business. Were the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention void of procedures we cats who make up those annual meetings could hardly be herded. We have our Chair and Parliamentarian to herd us on to successful meetings. The Committee on the Order of Business keeps us on schedule, timekeeping reports and business sessions.
We also have our ways at getting our way.
One unwritten protocol in SBC Life is we do not overtly embarrass our leaders. It is a matter of procedure. That is not to say that we do not covertly embarrass our leaders. My first encounter with such a move was my first SBC meeting in NOLA. Jim Henry had won the election as President of the SBC in 1994. He was not the chosen one. Occasionally the pecking order is disrupted. Greensboro anyone?
Maybe Jim did not abide the powers. Could be he preferred inviting those not on the approved list to serve in places reserved for the in crowd. Whatever the cause, the SBC voted to boycott Disney shortly after Henry finished his second term as President. No, I did not vote for the boycott. Was the boycott and Henry’s Presidency merely co-incidence? Not for me. How would it look when Henry would go home to FBC, Orlando knowing Disney employed many people in his congregation? Embarrassing. Covert. Not overt.
Or consider the ongoing interest to regale Lifeway for product selection. Just prior to the Annual Meeting this year Dr. Rainer made the unfortunate decision to pull Blindside from the shelves in Lifeway Stores. Reports mounted that one of we Southern Baptist tom cats would swagger to the mic and with populist Christian rhetoric put Rainer on the defensive for selling the movie. Another would make a motion to instruct Lifeway to be schooled by Dr. Patterson on the evils of the TNIV. This included prior consent from Patterson. During the Lifeway report questions were to be asked that would mount more pressure on Rainer. What about abiding the agreement that entity heads would stay out of other entities’ business? Let’s increase attendance on Seminary Hill rather than dabble in the management of other entities. How often are we making use of the new Chapel in Fort Worth? Covert. Not overt.
Conviction Not Procedure
Our procedural moves betray our convictions. In fact, it is at this point I think we could point to the very way our practices have borrowed from our host culture more than we have decidedly committed to live, organize, and unify around the Way of Jesus. The Kingdom of God, according to Jesus, comes without hierarchy. Unless of course some who led the CR think they are replacement leaders for the Twelve Tribes under a new dispensation. Jesus spoke of washing feet, of humility, of loving other more than self, of cross-bearing rather than cross building. These behind the scene games mock our public convictions, if not completely render them moot.
Alan and I were having a discussion during our time in NOLA. We chatted about missiology and missional. He made a comment that one particular branch of the Christian Tree seemed more prone to syncretism than others. He suggested the branch we inhabit appeared more insulated against such melding of other political/religious/spiritual forms with Christianity. I disagreed.
Our forms, procedures, pledges, and subterfuge paint an entirely different picture. We look the part of a political process. I suspect most have not read Yoder, much less Wallis, and so the idea of Jesus being a political subversive would elude them. Few have read post-Holocaust political theorists who have read Paul and find him radicalizing the message of Jesus for political purposes.
Our looking political appears more like we have committed to American exceptionalism and syncretized political forms and procedures with our Christian convictions. B21 intended to retell the same old story nearly deifying CR leaders. “Keep contending!” The script that was left out was the political means determined to takeover the SBC followed a political trajectory under the rubric of a convictional position. Might I remind you that all the promises made for the takeover making the SBC more aggrandized have never materialized. I refer you to Dr. Stetzer’s trend lines. We still are not planting enough churches to stave off decline.
Our culture warring cabal carries around its own log while attempting to pluck the splinter out of the eyes of our friends – fellow Christians. Everyone loves to impale the other on the spike of syncretism. Our brand is better than your brand. And, that is the problem when procedure trumps conviction. We are after the hearts of the already convinced rather than looking for ways to talk about our God in, as Jeff Cook puts it, desirable ways.
And, that is what happens when you present a motion that will call attention to our convictions. It will lose out to procedure every time.