There are a lot of people who are very upset about the direction of the SBC – different people have different complaints and we’ve all got some, I’m sure.
I just had a long twitter exchange with a man who asked the question why LifeWay was still selling a book after there was resolution passed a few years back that it should not be sold. I tried to explain the whole thing to him. We had a pleasant exchange (unusual enough for twitter these days!), but I realized that 140 characters at a time is not the best way to explain that system.
Years ago, I was on my high horse after the Garner motion was passed and promptly ignored by several entities. I opined loudly that when the SBC Annual meeting passed a motion, it was binding upon the entities and they should fall in line. My friend, missionary Azagen Sagna, known to most of you as Bart Barber, explained to me that such is not the case. I sought and received expert confirmation elsewhere that Bart was absolutely right. I’m going to try to explain it, but my explanation will be an utter failure. Maybe Bart will step in and either edit my post or log a comment explaining the actual facts and correcting my misinterpretations. I think I am at least in the ballpark of accurate here, even if a lawyer might not give me high marks for linguistic precision.
How the SBC Entities Are Governed
But as simply as my simple mind can state it, based upon my simple understanding – the entities of the SBC are autonomous, independent entities governed by their trustees. Those trustees are elected by the members of the annual SBC and they operate a budget that is approved by the annual SBC, but they are the governing authority over that entity. The messengers of the annual meeting, by and large, do not have the authority to dictate to the trustees of the entities what they should do. They are bound by their constitution and bylaws and the SBC has legal controls to keep them from simply going off on their own, but the entities are self-governing. They are not governed by the messengers of the annual meetings, but by their trustees.
This is on purpose. The founders of the SBC did not want the entities to be blown about by the whims of one annual meeting or the next. Imagine if one annual meeting said one thing by a 51-49 vote, the next reversed that, the next reversed the reversal. Entity employees would have whiplash!
So, every year we elect a president who nominates a committee who nominates a committee (I think that is all) who nominates trustees who are elected by the SBC. It is actually the president’s most important task. If a president wants to impact the SBC for a long time to come, he ought to spend less time appointing task forces and study groups or promoting this cause or that, and he should give his time and effort to making sure he appoints qualified committee members and that they recommend trustees who will do a good job. When he has been out of office for nearly a decade, people who are trustees as a result of his appointment process will still be shaping the future of the SBC.
No amount of motions or resolutions passed at an SBC Annual Meeting have the import of the presidential trustee appointment process.
How to Change the SBC
So, you want to change the SBC? It can be done. It is very hard – intentionally so, like a giant ocean liner is hard to turn. Our convention was made difficult to change by our founders, on purpose I suspect. But it can be done. You want to get rid of the Shack from shelves at LifeWay? You want to change what is happening at the ERLC? (I don’t, but many do.) You want to change things at one of our seminaries? There is a way.
It’s not easy. Passing a resolution is relatively easy. Passing a motion is harder, but it can be done. Changing the SBC? that is WAY harder than either of those.
The story goes that an SBC employee named William Powell figured this out back in the 70s. Let’s call this the Powell system.
All you have to do is to elect a convention president who supports your cause for 10 straight years, and if he will appoint committees who will appoint trustees who support your cause, within 10 years you will have changed the Southern Baptist Convention.
Nothing to it, right?
The story continues, of course, at the Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, as young Paige Patterson and Judge Paul Pressler met in 1976 to discuss how they could implement the Powell strategy. In 1978, Patterson and Pressler met with WA Criswell, Adrian Rogers and several others pastors in a hotel near the Atlanta airport to discuss rolling out the strategy. My first convention was 1979 and I was thrilled to vote for Adrian Rogers as the first in an unbroken line of conservative presidents. The next few years were turbulent as conservative-loyal trustees were elected to boards and policies began to change. Few entities left the 80s with the same presidents who entered that decade in charge.
The convention changed. Like it or not, things changed. The Powell strategy worked. If you elect a president for 10 years who will appoint trustees who support your cause, the convention will change.
How NOT to Change the SBC
Frankly, most of the things we try just don’t work.
1) Blogging does little to change the SBC. We have, at times, mobilized votes at the SBC (the election of Frank Page comes to mind) and there are issues on which we have raised awareness (racial reconciliation perhaps), but you can battle blog till you turn blue in the face and nothing will change.
2) Twitter campaigns, especially insulting ones, to entity heads and leaders are not really effective. If you engage them, they will sometimes respond, though as you can imagine, they are pretty busy people. When you have a couple hundred thousand people following you, you don’t normally get to interact with all of them. But the twitter terror brigades (I use that term to refer to organized harassment campaigns led by groups or individuals designed to disrupt, intimidate or bully) are ineffective. Twitter has the block and mute feature and you will just end up on those lists.
3) Letters to the trustees and entities can have some effect, but they are taken as opinions. You can write a letter to the EC, or to LifeWay, or to one of the seminaries, etc, and express your opinion. They will get it, read it, and take note of it. Because of the volume of mail they get, you are not likely to get a personal response or interaction, but it will be read and taken into account. How seriously will they take your opinion? From what I’ve been told, it depends on how well you make your point – be concise, kind and clear. And for the love of all that is holy, edit the grammar and spelling!
4) Complaining at associational and state meetings, will not change things.
5) Hear me – passing resolutions and even motions at the annual meetings will not change the direction of the convention – with a few notable exceptions.
I considered making a motion to change the BF&M at the convention. I was surprised. But I could stand up at the convention and make a motion, and the convention could vote and we could actually change our doctrinal statement at a single SBC Annual meeting. I was surprised to be told that.
But when you pass a resolution at the convention, don’t think of it as an order to an entity, think of it as a suggestion. Motions are not necessarily binding. I don’t understand all the ins and outs of this process, but remember that entities are run by their trustees and not by the Annual Meetings of the SBC. Such is it now and such has it always been, since the days of John the Baptist.
So, I don’t mean to be Downer Dave. If you are satisfied to INFLUENCE the SBC, great. That is my goal. I suggest you write cogent, reasonable, biblical opinions in a meek and gentle spirit and try to convince people that the truth is on your side. That is what I try (and often fail) to do. If you are right, the Spirit of God is your ally and he is powerful. But if you want to CHANGE the SBC, really change it, there’s little you can do but adopt the Powell plan – start trying to elect presidents who share your view and will appoint trustees who share your view.
That’s the system folks.