I appreciate Dave Miller giving me the opportunity to weigh in on this topic for SBC Voices. This post is intended as a response to Dave’s interesting post “Be It Resolved: Resolutions Are a Waste of Time! Or Are they?” Dave concludes:
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.
Though I’m sympathetic to some of his concerns, I disagree with Dave’s assessment of resolutions. In my opinion, resolutions are quite helpful and the SBC, Baptist state conventions, associations, and even local churches should continue to adopt them. I’ll try to make this case via interaction with the five points Dave raised in his post.
1) There is some value to resolutions.
Dave and I are actually pretty close on this point, though we’d emphasize different points. He thinks there is some value to resolutions because some issues are worthy enough to deserve a resolution (e.g. abortion). I would say there is much value to resolutions in general, but not all resolutions are equal because some are admittedly mundane and some issues probably aren’t worthy of a resolution. But again, we’re fairly close.
2) Resolutions ultimately have little effect.
I would disagree with this assertion for at least two reasons. For starters, resolutions have exactly the effect they are intended to have—they put a group of Baptists “on the record” regarding an issue. That is the purpose of a resolution. But what Dave really means is that resolutions don’t have the “power” to change anything because of Baptist polity. But is all change related to power—can’t change also come via influence?
Two examples should suffice. The 2008 resolution “On Regenerate Church Membership and Church Member Restoration,” while admittedly lacking any power to change the actions of any church, has influenced several churches that I know of to make real changes to their membership. At least one state convention has officially adopted an anti-alcohol stance regarding state leadership because of the 2006 resolution “On Alcohol in America,” and another state convention is at least considering the same. Both of these are examples of changes coming through the influence of resolutions, even though those resolutions don’t have the power to change anything.
Now it is true that some resolution seemingly have little effect, but I’d counter that many of these resolutions aren’t mean to bring change. Rather, they are meant to communicate what we believe, regardless of the consequences. They are “here I stand” statements. Resolutions on matters such as abortion and homosexuality are examples of this type of resolution.
3) Resolutions can have unintended, detrimental effects.
Sure they can. But so can any action taken by a body of Baptists. In other words, this is not an issue unique to resolutions. In fact, because resolutions aren’t binding, this may be less of a problem for resolutions than for motions. Besides, what’s “detrimental” is in the eye of the beholder. The example Dave uses is of a state convention that will not allow its staff to stay in hotels that sell porn because of an anti-porn resolution. Sure, this is arguably inconvenient at times. But is it detrimental?
4). Resolutions are used by obsessed individuals to foist their personal agendas on everyone else.
Everyone has their hobby horses. And yes, some folks use resolutions to try and promote those pet agendas. But this is also not limited to resolutions. If someone is obsessed with some position or strategy or conviction, they’ll use any means they can to promote it. I actually think the resolutions committee does a pretty good job, in general, of rejecting wacky resolutions. And even if one does slide through the committee and is recommended, Baptists have every right to say, “we ain’t gonna vote for that one.”
If we have a good committee, I think we’ll avoid adopting too many weird resolutions. What weird people do with our resolutions (or motions, or agency reports, or convention sermons, or . . . ) is beyond our control.
5) Resolutions open the door to the ridiculous.
For the record, the rapped resolution wasn’t adopted by messengers.
Again, any of us might quibble with the occasional resolution—you might even think one is ridiculous. But I just don’t think this nullifies the usefulness of resolutions in general.
More importantly, I think this is a problematic line of reasoning. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that 70% of the resolutions adopted by the SBC in the last decade are ridiculous. (I don’t think they are—again, this is for the sake of argument.) This doesn’t necessarily mean resolving is a bad thing to do, it just means that either (1) the resolutions committee is comprised of imbeciles or (2) the SBC is a convention of doofuses. Of course Dave absolutely doesn’t believe this, but I do think he ought to be careful on this one. Remember that resolutions are recommended by a duly appointed committee and voted on by credentialed messengers from cooperating churches.
Everything we do “opens the door” to the ridiculous. Democracy is risky business. But I don’t think the occasionally silly resolution outweighs the many worthwhile resolutions we adopt.
It is a good thing for a group of Baptists to adopt resolutions. Of course we need to be discerning. Of course we need to be thoughtful. Of course we need to think through the ramifications. Of course we need to make sure the matter is weighty enough to merit comment. Let’s pray this is the case every time we recommend, debate, and adopt a resolution.
Again, I share some of Dave’s frustrations. But there’s no need to amputate when an aspirin will do. Let’s pray for more discernment. Let’s hope that future resolutions committees will be as thoughtful and helpful as the last two or three have been. Let’s hope that if a ridiculous one slips through, messengers will have the sense to vote it down.
And for the record, even though the resolution isn’t binding, I’ve decided to stop pilfering copper.