In our discussion of state convention meetings, we devoted quite a bit of time to the South Carolina resolution of copper theft. While some explained the context and import of that resolution, it is fair to say that many of us saw this as another in a long line of vapid resolutions at state conventions and the SBC annual meeting.
Toward the end 0f the discussion, Dr. Nathan Finn responded to a series of comments related to a post he made at “Between the Times” and some subsequent events. After addressing Aaron Weaver, he asked this question to me, and to all of us in the discussion.
Why all this hating on resolutions? I understand that some aren’t as, ahem, substantive as others, but I’m curious as to why you are opposed to them in principle? I think it’s a helpful exercise for conventions (and associations, and churches) to go “on the record” about important issues. Do you disagree? You ought to consider posting on this topic and giving an anti-resolution rationale, then turning everyone loose in the comments stream.
I answered him by passing the buck to him, suggesting that he write a post explaining the rationale behind resolutions and why he thinks they are important. But Dr. Finn’s challenge is a reasonable one.
- Are resolutions a worthwhile use of a convention’s time?
- Is there value to a convention to go “on the record” about theological, political and social matters?
- Would we lose anything if the practice was done away with?
Here’s what I think
1) There is some value to resolutions.
As Dr. Finn asserts, there are issues on which it is well for the SBC and state conventions to state their positions on important issues. I am glad that I am part of a convention that is willing to go on the record in support of key issues, even when they are politically or socially unpopular. We are against abortion, for the family (one man, one woman, one lifetime) and against the culture of immorality and perversion that dominates our society. I do not mind the fact that our convention is on the record on these issues.
2) Resolutions ultimately have little effect.
Have you ever changed your view on anything because the SBC passed a resolution? Have you ever changed your behavior because your state convention adopted a resolution? They are non-binding on any other Baptist entity because of our autonomy. So, they are simply expressions of opinion on issues and have all the authority of institutional opinions.
As we learned after the passage of the Garner motion, convention motions are not even binding on the entities. Our resolutions carry even less weight.
3) Resolutions can have unintended, detrimental effects.
This point may vary from state to state. While resolutions are not binding on entities, churches or individuals, they can be binding on the employees of the convention. When the convention adopts a resolution in the heat of the moment, the effects can be damaging.
A major state convention adopted a resolution condemning pornography on the TVs of hotels and motels, recommending a boycott of such hotels. Such a resolution would pass at many Baptist bodies. We are against pornography, and since the boycott is voluntary, we can state our opposition to pornography without consequence.
But there were consequences. The resolution was non-binding on the churches and individuals, but it was binding on employees of the state convention. They were not allowed to stay in any hotel or motel that had televised pornography available. Tried to find such a hotel recently? So, for a year, until the next state convention could repeal the action, the employees of the convention could not stay in hotels. It created a hardship on the convention personnel – unintended but detrimental.
This may not be true at every state convention, and I suspect it is not at the SBC level. But where the resolutions are binding, they can have some pretty seriously negative effects.
4) Resolutions are used by obsessed individuals to foist their personal agendas on everyone else.
The whole process tends to become the playground of those whose agenda is to make everyone else conform to their ideas. There are people who are not content with the doctrinal parameters of the BF&M and with following their own convictions. These people are compelled to force everyone to consent to their personal convictions. Resolutions are the vehicle by which they attempt to do this.
I have a lot of homeschoolers in my church and support them in their choices. But I resent resolutions that attempt to make homeschooling the preferred Christian choice for educating children. That is only one example of a common tendency. Read through the convention reports on Baptist Press and you will see numerous examples of people with axes to grind trying to force state conventions to help them.
The resolution process seems to appeal most to people who are obsessed with imposing their viewpoints on lesser issues on the entire convention.
5) Resolutions open the door to the ridiculous.
I have to admit that one of the fun moments of the convention is reading the resolutions that have been presented to (and rejected by) the resolutions committee. Lawmakers often pass silly laws for fun at the close of sessions. Baptists present wacky resolutions instead – sometimes they even rap them. Most of these resolutions die in the resolutions committee, but they waste convention time and effort in the meantime.
I’m not sure I’ve reached one yet. In Iowa, our convention is small. We are, perhaps, the smallest of all the state conventions. Our resolutions on political or social issues carry absolutely no weight. So, several years ago we simply decided that in Iowa, they serve no real purpose. We did away with the process and with the committee. You can attend the BCI, but you cannot present a resolution there.
Should the same process be followed at the SBC or in the larger state conventions? Is there a tipping point at which the convention’s desire to go on the record on certain issues outweighs the potential downsides? I’m not sure. I hope the discussion might help me form my opinion in more detail.
At the current time, here’s my stance. I see a little value in the resolution process, but not much. It is prone to silliness and to being co-opted by issue-obsessed individuals who waste all our time while they ride their hobby-horses. I guess at this point I do not see the benefits outweighing the risks.
I do not, as Dr. Finn suggested, oppose them on principle. My opposition now is more pragmatic. They tend to waste time and to become a vehicle for people with idealogical agendas and often devolve into silliness.
What say you?