It has been a long-standing tradition in the SBC that candidates for president of the SBC do not campaign for office. I don’t know the history attached to this tradition, but I suspect it comes from a place in which we believed that such campaigning was a sign that we were not being led by the Spirit. We were not like those crass politicians out in the secular world who engage in unseemly campaigns. We just gather and get on our knees until the Lord reveals his will as to who should be our next president.
Of course, reality has never met that sort of spiritual standard.
Could we dispense with something at the starting line? The Southern Baptist Convention is a political body. Our annual meeting is a political event. Hopefully, the politics are not dirty. I pray we are not involved in power politics in which people are manipulated, coerced, or played for fools. Backroom deals and underhanded alliances have no place. But none of that changes the basic truth. We are a political body engaging in politics. The dictionary defines politics as:
activities associated with governance.
That’s what we do. We engage in activities associated with the governance of the SBC. Hopefully, our politics are biblically-based, gospel-derived, Christ-honoring, and ethically-transparent. But they are still politics. We pray for the guidance and direction of the Spirit in what we do, but we still vote and debate and discuss. There are people out there who will enter St. Louis with a different agenda than mine. We will each seek to accomplish our agendas. That’s politics.
There are many lessons we can learn from the political activities of the Conservative Resurgence, but chief among them is the fact that the election of the president of the SBC is of primary importance. It matters whom we elect. There is no more important decision we face in St. Louis.
And still, we have this unwritten rule in the SBC that the candidates are not supposed to campaign. They may to present any kind of case for their candidacy. I have to decide to vote for J.D. Greear or Steve Gaines based on my knowledge of them, as limited as it might be. There is a better way. The tradition, which may have worked well for the SBC of 1874, is not effective in 2016. It is time for a new tradition.
The candidates for president should present a detailed, coherent and comprehensive case for their candidacy.
Here are my thoughts.
1. We need to move past the celebrity and personality decision toward an agenda and platform decision
Why should I choose J.D. or Steve? Because I know one or the other? Because I’m in awe of their church, their CP giving or their new building or I loved their most recent book? Guess what? NONE of that has anything to do with effectiveness as an SBC president. An SBC president
- Makes appointments to the Committee on Committees and other committees
- Runs the annual meeting
- Represents the convention
- Has certain other duties
I want to know what the candidate is going to do. Who is he going to appoint? Does he have any intent to engage in any kind of massive “task force” like the GCR, the GCB, or something else? If he does, he should let us know in advance. What is he going to do at the Annual Meeting to make it a better experience?
Why is this information not helpful?
2. This is already legal.
We need no change in bylaws or policy for this. The rule we are violating is an unwritten rule. This is a tradition formed long ago, and it probably worked well then, when the convention was a small body of Southerners gathering together in a church sanctuary. But the idea that a group of 5000 or more people from all over the country is going to be able to make a wise choice based on a 3-minute speech is foolish.
I am not suggesting anything that violates our bylaws. It’s an outdated and unhelpful tradition.
A brilliantly funny video was circulated a week or two ago, a rap video promoting the candidacy of J.D. Greear, made by the wife of one of his staff pastors. It has been viewed about a gazillion times on YouTube.
A friend told me that there was grousing in some quarters because J.D. was violating the “rules” about campaigning. Here’s my question. Where is the that rule written? Show it to me. Was this video in violation of some biblical principle? I am no fan of rap, and someone could argue as to whether a white girl should EVER rap, but I think we all have to admit that it was pretty funny. It was a joke. How was the SBC harmed by this?
3. This has always been happening. I’m just calling for bringing it into the sunshine.
But politicking has been a part of the SBC since John the Baptist founded our denomination (that’s a joke, too, folks). My dad told me of his shock when in his youth he was invited into a meeting of pastors that turned out to be a literally “smoke-filled room” in which political calculations were being made. I used to get tickled when I heard pastors talk about how suddenly the SBC was being run “from the top down” – as if that was something new. Yeah, in my early days the leaders of the convention used to phone us all regularly to ask us small church guys what we thought!
Actually, it is my theory, my assertion, that blogging and social media has given the grassroots of the SBC more of a voice than we’ve ever had before. Guys like you and me have a better chance to speak out and be heard than we’ve ever had because of the platform of social media. Why do you think the “powers that be” complain about blogging so much? We annoy them. We bring into the sunshine what used to be kept in the dark. (And, yes, sometimes we do it very badly.)
My point is that we need to bring what has always been going on behind the scenes into the light. Let J.D. and Steve speak out. Let them state their case.
I have respect for tradition and some of our traditions have a point. But this one’s time is done. It worked when the convention was a gathering of a few hundred folks – they could get together and select a president. But now, with social media and modern technology, we have the opportunity to hear from our candidates. The tradition is more of a hindrance than a help and it is time for it to be abandoned.
Both J.D. Greear and Steve Gaines (and any other candidate who might enter the race) should feel free to state their case. They should do it positively, focused on their agenda and their political platform. They should not feel bound by a tired tradition that no longer is helpful that says that it is unseemly to campaign for president. There is nothing wrong with giving Southern Baptists a reason to vote for you, gentlemen.