In 2006 I told every blogger-friend who would listen to me, “Of course you realize, by blogging today we are guaranteeing that we’ll never work as or be elected to anything in Southern Baptist life, and it might even be very difficult to move from one church to another.” Some of us chose to blog anyway, for a number of reasons. Foremost among them would have to be (a) we thought what we were doing was important, and (b) we weren’t sure any church, denominational entity, or voting body would ever be terribly interested in using us whether we blogged or not!
That’s one of the reasons why Dave Miller’s election as Second Vice-President of the SBC surprised me so much. I had supported Eric Hankins. I don’t feel bad about that: Eric is a great guy and gives good leadership to the SBC without having been elected to anything. During the timeframe of that election he released the “Traditional Statement” and entered something of a firestorm. In the months since then, Eric’s behavior has been exemplary (consider, for example, his recent visit to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). I’m hoping that even some of you who might have considered Eric to be your enemy on the day of that election have come to see the Eric whom I have known since we sat together in Ph.D. seminars at SWBTS.
But that’s neither here nor there.
Dave won and served Southern Baptists very well. I don’t regret supporting Eric; I don’t regret that Dave won. OK…I only regret that Dave won in this sense: He doubly proved me wrong when he did so, and I dislike being proven wrong. He proved me wrong because I was supporting a worthy leader who was a Mississippian and who had a lot of friends attending the convention. My (foolish) thoughts about the election were that Dave could have the 20 messengers from Iowa and we’d take all of Louisiana and Mississippi along with a goodly share of Texas, Alabama, and Georgia. Boy, did he prove me wrong! And he also proved me wrong on the subject of whether SBC bloggers could ever be elected as anything.
And then, a year later, I decided to prove myself wrong, too.
A day after he was elected, Dave sought me out for advice. My advice to him was simply that he should be very, very careful about his blogging during his term of office. Prior to his election, he was blogging simply for himself. After his term of service was over, he could return to simply blogging for himself. But for the duration of his term of office, Dave would be blogging on behalf of millions of Southern Baptists.
I think that Dave scored pretty well on that particular test. And for the past six months, I’ve faced it myself. For two consecutive years the SBC has elected bloggers to convention office. I doubt that I’ll be the last one to be elected. Someday, we’ll probably even elect a blogging president, completely destroying my early predictions about the future of SBC bloggers.
When that day comes, what advice would I give to a blogging SBC president? Yes, I’ve told him to be careful, but be careful how?
Try to constrain your blogging mostly to the consideration of larger, weightier matters that befit the dignity of your office. I say “mostly” here because it is probably worthwhile to put up the occasional frivolous post predicting the outcome of the NCAA Final Four or celebrating the moment, say, if some particularly obnoxious football team were to lose in dramatic fashion to an historic rival. Such posts humanize the author and they probably don’t stir people up very much.
But if you are going to write something that stirs people up, expend that capital and energy stirring people up to inspire them toward something of grandeur or significance. The people of the SBC have entrusted you with something. Use it for things that last and are eternally meaningful, to the best of your ability. Walk in a manner worthy of your calling! Really, that applies to every Christian. But Christ also spoke of the greater expectations that come from those who have received more, and having received elected office in our convention is something rare and extraordinary.
Avoid petty controversy. The President of the United States may not like his daughter’s math teacher. The country doesn’t care to know about it. Really, it’s more than that—the country doesn’t want to be represented by someone who is pugnacious. If he were to chew out the math teacher, it would necessarily become public knowledge, simply because of who he is. And when it did become public knowledge, the nation would be embarrassed by the President’s actions.
Now keep in mind, this would be absolutely true even if a reasonable person might conclude that the math teacher had graded a test unfairly. Who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong only barely enters into this. It’s just that no matter who is right or who is wrong, the nation is embarrassed to have a President making the news over something so petty and so far beneath his office.
I think the people of the SBC would feel the same way about a blogging SBC president. And so, I would advise him that he should be prepared simply to let some things go, at least until he leaves office.
And he can, especially if he believes in the sovereignty of God. In my hypothetical case of the bad math teacher, if he’s a bad teacher, that’s going to show up in his interaction with OTHER students and OTHER parents as well, right? He can simply allow someone ELSE, who doesn’t reside at the White House, to take up the fight against bad math instruction. All the more for Christians, we can trust in the hand of God to deal out justice in areas where the duties of office preclude us from acting, can’t we?
Not everything that needs to be said is something that needs to be said by YOU.
Remember to serve the broader constituency of the SBC and not only (or even primarily) the people who read your blog, quote your blog, or otherwise demonstrate their affinity to your blog. Ask yourself this question: If the ministries of the SBC had to survive on the support of your blogging allies alone, how well would it fare? Elected officers of the convention have a fiduciary responsibility to the people of the SBC to serve the interests of the convention at large.
While in office don’t put anything in your blog that you didn’t or wouldn’t have put in your nominating speech. Of course, the future SBC president would not have written his own nomination speech, probably. But the fact remains that the nominating speech is the basis upon which the messengers elected you. If while in office you encounter a topic and you think to yourself, “Man, I wouldn’t have posted this on my blog the day before the election, and I certainly would not have had my nominator read this from the platform as a part of my nominating speech,” then I don’t think you have any business posting it the day AFTER the election, either. To do so is to subject the people of the SBC to a bait-and-switch.
Will that future blogger-president come back to this post and read it? If I’m alive at that time to give him this advice face-to-face, would he receive it from me and follow it? I do not know. But I am convinced of this: Even though sometimes my predictions turn out to be wrong, I’m confident that he will live to regret it should he completely disregard these principles in managing his blogging and his office.