I have never met Ashley Unzicker, but she impresses me as intelligent, enthusiastic, and really funny. When her pastor’s candidacy for SBC president was announced, she put together the “It’s tricky” rap that was something of a viral sensation throughout social media. At the time most of us had a good laugh – most of us.
But then other candidates began to come forward to be nominated. At this point, there are three candidates – JD Greear, Steve Gaines, and David Crosby.
I have not decided for whom I will vote. This post is not about the election, but the process.
As the race turned to two candidates, then three, some began to raise objections to Ashley’s seemingly innocent video, because “that kind of campaigning is just not appropriate” in the SBC and because some entity heads, friends of JD’s, were asked to intone the words, “it’s tricky.” I’m guessing at this point, after some of the attacks, Ashley likely regrets her humor. She’s been caught in the crossfire as some heavy guns have been aimed at her pastor.
And I think it is silly.
When I arrived at my current church it was trying to recover from a devastating split. I had people in my office complaining about this violation or that. We had a discussion in deacons meeting about the horror that some were not wearing a coat and tie to serve the Lord’s Supper. One man asked a visitor to leave because he was wearing a hat in church. Finally, I made a pronouncement.
There is no such thing anymore in this church as an “unwritten rule.” If it is not in Bible or in our bylaws, don’t ask me to enforce it. If you want a rule to be universally adhered to, demonstrate that it is a biblical mandate or get it codified in our governing documents. NO UNWRITTEN RULES!
It caused a few problems and it solved more.
The election process in the SBC is governed by all sorts of unwritten rules that are old-fashioned, outdated, just plain silly, universally ignored except in public, and badly in need of change. Permit me to give two glaring, blaring examples.
First, the idea that “campaigning” is unseemly. There is a whole set of unwritten rules you have to follow about campaigning. Oh, you can campaign, you just can’t call it campaigning. The irony is that the candidate generally championed by the people who squawked loudest about Ashley’s video is the one who is campaigning the hardest. I hear on Facebook of regular “meet and greets” and “prayer meetings” and other engagements raising his profile since he announced as a candidate. He is campaigning hard for the presidency, but nothing is called campaigning. It’s all called something else.
Who are we kidding?
Let me be perfectly clear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with what this candidate is doing. The SBC is a political body and part of politics is seeking office and stating your case for one candidate over another. Each candidate should be free to make a reasonable case as to why he should be elected. But we need to stop the hypocrisy as well. Let’s not force candidates that campaigning isn’t campaigning. Let’s just be honest.
And that brings me to my second example. The whole mythology of the “I had no desire to be president, but my friends talked me into it.” I’m sure it happens, but there ought to be no reason every single candidate for president ought to feel the need to tell the same story. “I did not want to be president and I resisted faithfully, but finally gave in and have agreed to allow my name to be placed in nomination.”
The funny thing is, that’s exactly what happened to me when I ran for the meaningless office of 2nd VP. I was doing a garage sale to raise money for an upcoming mission trip when I got a call. It took me a couple of weeks to agree because I knew how politically charged that election would be and didn’t want to get involved. Eventually, I agreed to run.
But I know that story is not the normal story.
Contrary to the imaginings of the conspiracy theorists, there is no power elite in the SBC, but there are groups of powerful people who meet in small groups and plan strategy. And some of those groups discuss and decide whose turn it is to run for president. They don’t have dictatorial powers and sometimes people stray from the plan, but the mythology people are forced to present is not real – the decision to run for president seldom comes out of the blue.
Why do we have to do this tap dance? Is it required that the office of SBC president be occupied by someone who doesn’t want the job, who was forced into it? Is that what we want? Surely we do not want the kind of unchecked ambition and pride that is ruining our nation to find its way into our denomination. But can we not find a way to balance humility with a burden to do the job?
Let me try, before I get back to real life, to spell out clearly what I’m saying.
1. There is an unhealthy ambition, a pride and self-centeredness that is dangerous. But we do not combat that by forcing our candidates to pretend that they don’t want the job, didn’t seek the job, and tried hard to refuse nomination (unless that is the truth).
2. None of us wants to bring the campaigning we’ve seen in the national elections into the SBC presidential election, but there is a level of campaigning that is acceptable. Finding that level may be “tricky” (sorry) but we need to try.
3. We need to abandon these old-fashioned rules that force candidates to campaign without calling their campaigning campaigning. If the SBC wants to adopt some written rules about campaigning, then fine (I’m 99% sure it doesn’t). But if we don’t have rules then we cannot issue citations against violations of those rules. We cannot enforce rules that exist neither in the Bible or in the bylaws!
I think we benefit from knowing more and more about our candidates. That’s the best kind of campaigning – the kind that lets us know more about who someone is and what he’s all about. The right kind of campaigning for office is a GOOD thing. It puts the focus more on a candidates’ agenda and less on his celebrity and personality.
We need to change. The unwritten rules need to go.
And Ashley, I thought your video was brilliant. But when you enter into the world of Baptist politics, it’s…well…tricky.