After much intensive research, discussion, and prayer, an SBC committee, whose members included a who’s who of Southern Baptist leaders, issued its historic report and recommendations to the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention assembled in their Annual Meeting. After a move on the Convention floor to amend the Committee’s report and recommendations, the messengers defeated the proposed amendments and overwhelmingly approved the final report and recommendations. On this day, the messengers from cooperating churches of the SBC spoke clearly about the future direction of the Convention and her churches.
For those with a poor memory (like me) or just plain no memory at all, the year was 2006 and the committee in question was not the GCRTF, but rather the Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee. Appointed by the Executive Committee, these ten men – Anthony Jordan (OK — Chairman), Steve Bass (AZ), Morris Chapman (EC), Frank Cox (GA), Carlisle Driggers (SC), Jim Futral (MS), David Hankins (LA), Bob Rodgers (EC), John Sullivan (FL), and Bob White (GA) – spent over two years in research, discussion, and prayer before issuing their final report on March 22, 2006 (read full report here). In the Preface to their report, the Ad Hoc Committee presented the following challenge to Southern Baptists:
It is vitally important that we also cast a new vision to Southern Baptists, a compelling vision that challenges them to use the immense resources God has placed in our hands to literally fulfill Acts 1:8 in our generation. We must place before our people, our pastors, and our churches a challenge that is so big that it will require us to give sacrificially, pray passionately and become personally involved in reaching the world for Christ.
In addition to the detailed challenges contained within the body of the report, the CP Committee also asked Southern Baptists to approve nine specific recommendations. Among those recommendations that were presented to the full Executive Committee and which were approved by the EC in February 2006, were Recommendations #3 and #4, which originally read as follows:
#3 – That we strongly encourage each believer to tithe of his financial resources to his local church and encourage all Southern Baptist churches to adopt a missional mindset as they contribute at least 10 percent of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.
#4 – That we encourage the election of state and national convention officers whose churches give at least 10 percent of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.
Sounds good to me. However, these two recommendations were changed by the Executive Committee before the final (really final) report was presented to the messengers at the Greensboro Convention. What changes were made to these two recommendations? Instead of encouraging churches to give 10 percent to CP, the final report would simply encourage churches “to give an increasing percentage of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.” Recommendation #4 would encourage the election of leaders whose churches “systematically and enthusiastically lead by example in giving sacrificially and proportionally through the Cooperative Program.”
Why were these recommendations changed? A press release dated May 26, 2006, issued by the President and Officers of the Executive Committee, might give us a clue:
The president and officers of the SBC Executive Committee, in a conference call Thursday afternoon, May 25, 2006, concluded that the convention’s environment has changed dramatically since the February meeting of the Executive Committee when it received the Ad Hoc CP Committee Report and approved its nine recommendations. Therefore, revisions to two of those recommendations, #3 and #4, will be presented to the Executive Committee prior to the convention in Greensboro.
Why had the environment changed so dramatically following the EC’s approval of the original recommendations? Rob Zinn, then Chairman of the Executive Committee, issued a statement on May 26, 2006 that, in hindsight, perhaps answered this question too clearly:
When we voted on this in February, there was no intention that we’re telling any church what to give. We as officers of the Executive Committee have been listening to pastors around us – it is coming from large churches, mega churches and even small churches (emphasis added) – the feeling was that we’re telling people what to give. That’s not true. So, we’re simply changing the wording to make sure our churches understood that what we’re pushing is an enthusiastic response to the Cooperative Program.
My, isn’t that interesting. After the EC approved specific language ENCOURAGING churches to give 10 percent to CP, they began hearing from pastors of churches. What kind of churches? Large churches and mega churches! Oh, and even small churches. But, who’s kidding who? The voices of the pastors of many of our “leading” large and mega churches throughout the SBC were telling the EC exactly what? Whatever it was, it was apparently enough for the entire Executive Committee to excise the 10 percent language before it reached the floor of the Convention for a final vote. And, despite Frank Page’s historic election, affirming a strong CP, and despite motions made to re-insert the 10 percent language, the messengers were not inclined to reject the Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee’s final recommendations.
Fast forward four years. In 2010, the messengers to the SBC’s Annual Meeting in Orlando overwhelmingly approved the GCRTF Report which, in some key areas, is seemingly at odds with the 2006 CP report that was also overwhelmingly approved by messengers from our churches. However, the GCRTF Report did not explicitly (nor perhaps even implicitly) rescind or overturn the will of the Convention when it approved the Cooperative Program Committee’s nine recommendations just four years prior.
If that is the case, and I would submit that it is, then Recommendation #4 is still operative, although obviously, as with all recommendations, not binding upon autonomous churches, local Associations, or State Conventions. That being said, do you believe that elected leaders at the Association, State, and National levels of the SBC should be from churches that “systematically and enthusiastically lead by example in giving sacrificially and proportionally through the Cooperative Program?” If yes, what would characterize “enthustistically leading by example” and, how would you interpret “sacrificial and proportional giving” to CP? If no, then what criteria would you use when electing leaders within the SBC? While I may have a different interpretation than you, there is no right or wrong answer to these questions. As we discuss, we might find just how close – or how far apart – Southern Baptists are on some key issues that will shape the future of our great Convention of churches in the days ahead.
PostScript: I want to thank Dave Miller for inviting me to be a contributing writer here at SBC Voices. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts and to add my voice to the ongoing discussions among Southern Baptists. While you may not always agree with what I write, I look forward to the dialogue. I hope to contribute at least one blog post per week. Please know that all opinions are mine and that Bro. Dave has not told me what topics that I could or could not write about nor has he limited my freedom of expression in any way. For that, I am truly thankful.