Originally published at From Law to Grace on September 23, 2011
Its exact origin is uncertain, but spin doctor is often used to describe public relations experts as well as political or corporate representatives (emphasis added) whose job it is to put a ‘positive spin’ on events or situations. (“What is a Spin Doctor?”)
Before most grassroots Southern Baptists (including me) became aware of SBC President Bryant Wright’s un-constitutional end-run around the messengers and churches that he was elected to serve, Twitter was all abuzz Monday night with tweets about the “unofficial” Name Change Task Force that Dr. Wright unilaterally appointed. In the days following this unprecedented power play, there have been many articles — both pro and con — regarding the name change issue. One of the first was written by our own Dave Miller, editor of SBC Voices. In his article, Dave, in responding to Bart Barber’s initial article (here), tries to make the case that what “Bryant Wright is not doing anything wrong or unseemly” as it relates to his unilateral appointment of a Name Change Study Task Force. I will respectfully, but vehemently disagree, with Dave’s initial analysis, on the propriety and constitutionality of President Wright’s actions.
As I wrote earlier this week, silence is no longer an option for grassroots Southern Baptists who do not buy into the vision for a radical redefinition of the Southern Baptist Convention that establishment elites are trying to impose — from the top down — on the churches of the SBC. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all grassroots Southern Baptists to understand the language that is being used to spin the debate that has now started. (For the record, I do not believe that Dave Miller was trying to “spin” in his response to Dr. Barber. And, spin doctors are not “evil” or “immoral.” They are passionate advocates of their position. But, that does not mean that their spin is immune from challenge, no matter what position or title they may hold in the Convention. Same goes for me if you think that I am spinning.) In the information age, knowledge is power. Armed with knowledge of the tactics that were used effectively in the Great Commission Resurgence (which many of us saw too late) and which will continue to be used in the Great Name Change Debate, cooperating conservative Southern Baptists can more effectively stop the power plays that are about to be run up the gut of the Convention.
The name change
study proponents have already begun to spin what is clearly an unprecedented and un-constitutional action by the sitting President of the Southern Baptist Convention. The spin doctors want Southern Baptists to believe that President Wright either had the authority to do what he did or, in the alternative, that the Task Force is only “unofficial” and has no power to bind the Convention.
There are several problems with this particular spin. First, there is absolutely no language in the Constitution or ByLaws of the Convention which would remotely authorize the President to appoint an ad hoc committee. In fact, as I was re-reading the ByLaws on Thursday, I came across Section 19, Committee on Committees, which states:
This committee shall nominate all special committees authorized during the sessions of the Convention (emphasis added) not otherwise provided for. All special Convention committees shall transfer, upon their discharge, all official files to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. (SBC ByLaws, Section 19, Committee on Committees)
What does this mean exactly? First, that all special committees, which would include ad hoc committees or task forces, must be authorized during the sessions of the Convention. Secondly, unless the authorization also contains language which specifically provides for how the special committee members will be nominated or appointed (in the case of the GCRTF, by the President, which was entirely constitutional), then all such special committee members shall be nominated by the Committee on Committees and approved by the messengers in session. This was obviously not done. Therefore, any spin which says that what President Wright did was constitutional is wrong. There are some who have unknowingly bought into the line of thinking that President Wright was within his constitutional authority to appoint a special committee, even though he himself has referred to it as “unofficial.” Of course, there are most likely those who are spinning who know full well what the President did was not specifically authorized, but also a clear violation of the ByLaws of the SBC. As an aside, the GCRTF had no authority to seal their records. In fact, the ByLaws clearly state that all records of special committees shall be turned over to the Executive Committee, not the SBC Historical Library and Archives. The EC could decide if, and when, the records would be released. You would think that SBC parliamentarians would be aware of this, but given the parliamentary shenanigans that occurred in Orlando, we should not be surprised.
Someone on SBC Voices recently asked me whether or not I believed in a strict constructionist interpretation of the SBC Constitution and ByLaws and whether or not I believed that an SBC President was prohibited from doing anything not explicitly authorized in the language of our governing documents. My short answer was and is YES. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “anything,” because that is fairly broad. However, as to the appointment of special committees or task forces, there is no ambiguity, which is perhaps why President Wright is calling this an “unoffical” task force. I would say that I find it passing strange that some conservative Southern Baptists, who would otherwise be staunchly conservative in their judicial philosophy regarding strict construction, are taking what is a well-known liberal position when it comes to interpreting the Constitution and ByLaws of the SBC. Consistency no longer becomes such a high priority for some Baptists who appear to have abandoned historic Baptist principles in favor of an “ends justify the means” mentality.
As to the alternative spin which has been proffered to defend the un-constitutional process that was allowed to occur, this spin can be summarily dismissed. You can call a task force “unofficial” all you want, but this is the most official “unofficial” task force in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. What other “unofficial” task force will have the opportunity to present both an interim report and a final report to the Executive Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and possibly to the messengers assembled in New Orleans? What other “unofficial” task force would be given what amounts to official recognition by the Executive Committee by virtue of not one, but two official votes regarding an “unofficial” Presidential advisory council? Could any rank-and-file Southern Baptist establish their own “unofficial” task force to study changing the name of the SBC and be allowed to present an interim report to the EC in February 2012 or to the messengers next June? The answers to these questions are painfully obvious.
To make matters even worse, we have entity Presidents and the Trustee Chairman of the Executive Committee who have agreed to serve on this task force. A similar task force was rejected by the messengers in session in 2004 and would almost certainly (especially this close to the GCR fiasco) be rejected by the messengers just seven years later. What does this say about those who are willing to serve on such a task force? Maybe there are some members who were blissfully unaware of the constitutional problems with a task force unilaterally appointed by the President of the Convention. However, there are surely some members of the task force who know the SBC Constitution and Bylaws like the back of their hand and realize the un-constitutional nature of this special committee.
I wish I could tell you that the spin will stop, but it will only increase between now and next June in New Orleans. In the next week, I will continue to analyze the spin coming from name change proponents. The more information that the grassroots have, the more effective in preventing the radical redefinition of the SBC. If the CR taught us anything, it was the power of grassroots Southern Baptists to bring the Convention back to its conservative roots before it was too late. Too bad that some now in power have forgotten from whence they came. Maybe it’s time to stop the spin and remind them!