If you have followed our discussions here at SBC Voices, it will come as no surprise that I have a significantly different view of recent SBC events than my friends and fellow-contributors, Howell Scott and Rick Patrick. I thought the GCR, while certainly not perfect, was an important and necessary step in refocusing our convention on our real purpose – to bring the gospel to the world. Howell and Rick are (let’s just say) less enthusiastic about the GCR. Howell has consistently expressed concern about what he styles as a “radical redefinition” of the fabric of the SBC. Rick has been critical of the authority of a small group of powerful leaders. My point has consistently been that the things we are seeing now are not that much different than the way they have always been, in the CR and in the days since. So we’ve ended up arguing the finer points of SBC polity and convention politics here and elsewhere.
But this post is not about my disagreements with Howell and Rick. I comfort myself in the fact that when the end comes, they will see the error of their ways and agree fully with me! (See my “Humor” post from yesterday). But even among our disagreements, I found some very important points that they made, points on which we all agree. I would like to delineate a few of them.
1) Howell and the Trustee System.
In his post, The Proliferation of ‘Yes Men’ in the SBC , Howell said this:
There was a time in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention when the Trustees of the various entities ignored the will of the majority of churches. Instead of representing the majority constituency, these Trustees, particularly at our seminaries, acted on behalf of an elite minority of the churches. When this abuse of power continued unabated, the Conservative Resurgence was born and accountability was eventually restored via the grassroots churches of the Convention.
Howell makes a very important point.
Trustees are put in place to oversee the operation of SBC entities. They are elected by us at the Annual Meeting and they are to represent the interests of the SBC. They do not serve the leaders of the entity. They are given a trust (hence, Trustees) to oversee the entity on our behalf.
A family member of mine was an influential member of one of our Boards during the transition time of the CR. He was elected as a conservative but was working with the existing moderate leadership. It was a difficult time. Once, he told me that a great deal of the problem was the perception of the role of the Trustees. The president of the entity saw the board as “yes men” to his purposes. The Board of Trustees said no, we are here to set policy and determine the general direction of the entity, not just to assent to the president’s leadership. It was a sea change in mentality.
Howell is absolutely right that Trustees should never become yes men to the desires of the entity heads and staff. They should not be contentious and difficult, but their job is to oversee that entity on our behalf. They serve the convention, not the entity heads.
2) Rick is (mostly) right about transparency.
Rick wrote an article this week called, “Restoring Southern Baptist Polity” which delineated what he feels is current divergence from our established modus operandi as Baptists.
If I had a nickel for every time the sealing of the GCR records has been mentioned on this blog (by many, not just by Rick), I’d have a lot of nickels. It has been presented as conclusive evidence of a trend toward secrecy in the modern SBC.
Let me clarify my position here. First, I voted against the sealing of the records. I thought it was a mistake. But I would point out that the sealing was affirmed by the SBC. Say what you want, but the SBC Annual Meeting voted to uphold the sealing of the records. I voted in the negative, but my side lost At some point, we have to accept the will of the majority, even that majority that we don’t agree with.
Also, there is an argument to be made in favor of not (as Rick described it) “showing your work.” Some have argued that committees will deliberate best if those deliberations are kept confidential. They should be free to talk, share ideas, even argue, without fear that everything they say in the committee will be publicly released. The knowledge that all minutes and records will be made public may inhibit the free discussion of ideas. There is some value in this argument.
But I agree with Rick for the most part here. When we do things in secret, there is a natural tendency for people to think that the wool is being pulled over our eyes and important things are being hid. For good reason or not, there exists among many an atmosphere of suspicion and the best way to fuel that suspicion is to do a lot of things in secret.
There may be some need for secrecy (which some do not see). But we must only resort to hidden records and private meetings when they are necessary as a last resort.
3) Rick’s Five Principles of SBC leadership are well taken!
In that same article, Rick defined five principles for SBC leadership. I agree with these principles in the whole, while I differ from some of Rick’s application of the principles to current situations. I think as we face the future, the SBC would do well to take Rick’s principles seriously.
Basically, Rick is calling for greater openness, inclusiveness and honesty in all we do. I wholeheartedly agree.
We will probably never agree on the autopsy results of the GCR Task Force and their report. We might never find common ground on whether the current leadership is “radically redefining” the SBC or whether they are doing what has always been done.
But there are a wide range of things on which opponents and supporters of the GCR, on which Bryant Wright fans and detractors, on which name-change supporters and opponents can all agree.
- We can endorse the importance of the Trustee system and the accountability of Trustees to the SBC more than to the entity heads.
- We can endorse the importance of the Cooperative Program even if we don’t always see every aspect of the GCR’s recommendations the same way.
- We can endorse transparency and openness among our leaders, except in rare situations in which such would hinder efficiency and effectiveness.
- We can agree that the SBC leaders would do well to stop simply appointing those from megachurches to leadership positions. Smaller churches may add some balance and perspective to the megachurch mindset on our boards and committees.
I think there is a lot of common ground. So, Howell and Rick, what do you say?