After having a great week visiting with friends, making new ones and enduring rollercoaster air conditioning issues in the convention hall, I sat down to review the events of Tuesday and Wednesday of #SBC18 (I refused to use #SBCAM18. Let the trolls be trolls). I have put together a list of what this Louisianian thinks were the 5 most important things that happened in Dallas this past week. Feel free to agree, disagree, comment and/or share your own list.
1. The Election of J.D. Greear:
Clearly, the presidential election was the most anticipated/hyped part of our annual event this year. After the way things played out in St. Louis two years ago many thought Dr. Greear would be a lock for this year’s presidency. In fact, many hoped that Dr. Gaines would follow up on his offer to nominate Dr. Greear. Thankfully the sitting President did not nominate a candidate. I believe this would have set a bad precedent but I did appreciate the sentiment.
Some of us who have seen the underbelly of convention life knew there would be pushback. On October 21st of last year, I tweeted,
“I can’t stress enough the importance of young pastors getting as many messengers as possible to the SBC in Dallas in 18. #imhearingthings.”
I suppose I can say that tweet aged well. 😉 Some thought my post was a dig at older pastors. That was not my intention. When asked by many what I had heard, I offered that there were numerous rumors floating around. I was very concerned about an effort to thwart Greear’s candidacy. I knew that here in Louisiana a concerted effort was afoot to discredit Greear and that a growing distaste for him was being spread by misstatements and out-of-context quotations. Then an unprecedented campaign was unleashed upon the whole convention in order to discredit him and tout Dr. Hemphill’s candidacy. You can read about the brouhaha here, hereand here.
Ultimately, I think the effort to discredit Greear (headquartered in the LBC Baptist Building, printed in its newspaper and housed on its computer servers, in Alexandria) actually is the force that galvanized the very movement they were trying to disrupt. I might write more on that later but suffice it to say, when the exposure of the tactics of the anti-Greear crowd came to light, a number of folks who were otherwise on the fence about who to vote for appeared to see through the muck and obfuscation and landed on voting for the younger of the two candidates.
2. The Challenge to the Committee on Nominations:
The power of the full deliberative body was on display in a way rarely seen in one particular item of business. Not to rehash the debate but to sum up, as I understand it, Dan Anderson of Prairie Hills Baptist Church in Augusta, Kansas was eligible for a second term on the Board of Trustees of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission but was refused the opportunity to serve by the Committee on Nominations (or possibly the representatives from the Kansas-Nebraska convention who serve on that committee).
After the committee’s report was given a few concerned messengers spoke from the floor regarding their concern for leaving Pastor Anderson off the list of eligible members who were being considered for a second term. In fact, of the 73 members who were eligible to return for a second term, Pastor Anderson was the only name being replaced by another candidate. Not inconsequential, the replacement nominee, Richard Bott from Lenexa, Kansas is on record as openly expressing frustration with Dr. Russell Moore of the ERLC. Not sure how we are supposed to believe nothing “hinky” was going on here. The good news is that the problem was overwhelmingly rectified by the deliberative body from the floor of the convention. That was an important statement to the Committee on Nominations. Everyone is now on notice that such action by the Committee on Nominations will not be well received. I’m not sure the last time the body moved against a recommendation from the Committee on Nominations (if they ever have) but doing so as a full body of messengers was a powerful statement that parliamentary procedure works and should be respected by all messengers.
Derrick Lynch, current President of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, worked diligently behind the scenes to right this wrong and without going into detail, he sent us a thorough, well-worded letter explaining his concerns and his efforts in trying to fix this miscarriage of duty by those who found Pastor Anderson unacceptable for a second term. I am thankful there are men like Derrick Lynch who will stand up and speak up when they see such action. I am also thankful for men like Dan Anderson who are willing to faithfully serve our convention even after being mistreated. Finally, I’m thankful for a convention of messengers who will not allow this type of thing to be sneaked past us unchallenged.
3. Vote of Confidence in the Trustee System:
Notice I didn’t say a vote of affirmation of the removal of an entity head. The action taken of the Executive Committee of the trustees of SWBTS saddened everyone who witnessed it. What they had to do represents an embarrassing moment for us and the end of a portion of the ministry of an otherwise well-respected hero of the SBC. You can read about those events here, here, and here. I can’t imagine anyone who would express joy about what transpired. Rather, what we witnessed was heart-wrenching, compassion-driven, hand-forced interaction between those who had complete information of the events which had transpired and others who did not. The outcome was a firm statement of the confidence we have in our elected boards of trustees.
As most know, a motion was made to dismiss and replace the 12 members of the SWBTS Executive Committee after their actions of removing Dr. Paige Patterson from his role as President Emeritus and recalling the benefits that come with such a position. Most folks are not ambivalent about their view of Dr. Patterson. Some love him some loathe him. I, for one, have always looked up to him and have been appreciative of his help in correcting our convention’s bad turn many moons ago. However, I have also been concerned about the entrenchment that sets in when good men are left unchecked out of some strange deference we show our heroes. Long story short the motion failed, in large part to the statement of Bart Barber, a current member of the Executive Committee of the SWBTS Board of Trustees. His eloquence and boldness flavored with great compassion won the day and, I think, likely settled the matter for most of the messengers. You can hear his point of personal privilege here scrub to 28:30 to jump to Bart’s statement).
A few things about what transpired. First, Dr. Jeffery Bingham was an encouraging voice of reason who expressed great concern about recent events and articulated a way forward. His calming assurance brought much solace to a large room full of uncomfortable people. Second, we always need to remember that boards have more information than does the general public. This truth was clearly exposed in Pastor Barber’s remarks. Third, my heart broke for Pastor Barber as he was speaking. I turned to my friend Todd and remarked that his speech will likely bring closure to the question but the man will have to live for the rest of his life with having said these hard things. Fact is, he was forced to say what he did by the words of those seeking to remove the EC. I was moved to tears and again, I am deeply thankful for men like Bart who will vote while setting aside his own emotions and then endure the coming hardship for the greater benefit of the convention at large. I pray his example will stir others to be as bold and compassionate when those times come.
As a former trustee of another Baptist institution of higher learning I deeply appreciate the role of the trustee in SBC life I also have a particular interest in the trusteeships of our schools. Let me take a moment to explain my statement (in the form of a question) on the floor during the SWBTS report wonderfully led by Interim President Dr. Bingham. During the question time, I posed what I hoped would be a thought-provoking question related to the possibility of the convention removing trustees and how accrediting agencies would interpret that action.
Dr. Bingham, I appreciate your presentation. I’m just wondering if you have any concern about how a vote to remove trustees might effect SACS accreditation related to, for instance, core standard 4.1, or if that is even on your radar at this point?
I am aware most people in the hall would not follow why I asked that question that way. Honestly, I was hoping to set him up so that were he familiar with that specific core standard he might offer his concerns in preparation for the trustee dismissal issues set for later in the day. However, following suit from his transparent and kind SWBTS presentation he offered that he was not familiar with the specific SACS core requirement. Once again I appreciated his honesty and transparency. Later in the day, a professor friend of mine said, “Man, you really set him up to tee off. At least you tried.” Let me explain.
One of the great misunderstandings of Baptist life has to do with the interplay between convention (such as the SBC and state conventions) and Academic accrediting agencies. Baptists are right to say, “We can do whatever we want! Those schools belong to us!” This is true and we could have voted to remove trustees. But what is equally true is that accrediting agencies do not have to grant any institution accreditation. The convention indeed does have authority but so does the accrediting agencies. I have had dealings with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS) on a few occasions and have become quite familiar with certain aspects of the concerns SACS sometimes have with Christian institutions related to Baptist entities. (As a side note SACS is the premier accrediting agency that has the responsibility to certify the academic standards of schools from the University of Alabama to Baylor to our Seminaries to Community Colleges).
Many of us were concerned about how the action of the convention in removing board trustees would look to SACS. Had the need presented itself I was prepared to offer the following argument against the motion which was penned by some friends who regularly deal with SACS issues and who shared my concern for the possible action of removing trustees:
SACSCOC Core Requirement 4.1 subparagraph (d) states, “The institution has a governing board of at least five members that is not controlled by a minority of board members or by organizations or institutions separate from it..” In addition, SACSCOC standard 4.2.c requires that, “The governing board has appropriate and fair processes for the dismissal of a board member.” Finally, the accreditor requires that, “The governing board protects the institution from undue influence by external persons or bodies.” (4.2.f). If approved, the motion that is before this body will, in my opinion, cause Southwestern to be found in non-compliance with a variety of Board of Trustee related accreditation requirements. While it is true that the Southern Baptist Convention is the Sole Member of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Trustees elected by the convention to administer the Theological Education arm of the SBC must be left to autonomously exercise their fiduciary oversight of the institution. The trustees must be left to self-police within the parameters established by their charge from the Convention, and those parameters include the choosing and possible removal of a seminary president. The Committee on Boards selects seminary trustees, and if the convention is unhappy with outcomes generated by the existing trustees, then the Convention can replace trustees, over time, through its established processes. Doing otherwise jeopardizes the accreditation status of the institution at best and at worst calls into question the possibility of undue influence exerted upon the other Southern Baptist Seminaries at the whim of the annual convention attendees.
Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Bart’s statement exhausted time for debate and the motion was overwhelmingly defeated. Another huge statement made that we as a convention of churches trust the trustee process.
4. Unity in Our Resolution:
I don’t have much to say here other than the unity expressed in the adoption of these 16 diverse resolutions brought joy to my heart. We spoke soundly and with authority on issues related to The Dignity and Worth of Women, Abuse, a Biblical View of Immigration, Renouncing the Curse of Ham doctrine, Decrying Gun Violence and Mass Shootings, Support for Arab Christians, and Concern for the Opioid Crisis.
The great resolutions submitted by messengers and the fantastic job done by The Committee on Resolutions (Jason Duesing, Ken Alford, Byron Day, Candi Finch, Willie McLaurin, Chris Metcalf, Jason Paredes, Adron Robinson, Alicia Wong and Curtis Woods) should be commended and celebrated. Another job well done!
5. Marvin Parker’s Ice Breaker (Literally):
In my opinion, the best floor response of the entire convention was the one filled with raucous laughter that left messengers smiling and nodding while also softening what was expected to be a tense time of introspection as we were about to hear from the Interim President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. During the Seminary Report time at the end of Dr. Akin’s presentation came Pastor Marvin Parker from the Broadview Missionary Baptist Church in Broadview, IL to the microphone. His statement was one for the ages.
“Ah, Mr. President, I know this is not a question for Dr. Akin, whom we appreciate along with all our seminary presidents, but IT’S COLD in here. Can y’all turn the heat up or turn the air off? Thank you.”
The laughter was of the belly-jiggling sort. I’m not sure how many people picked up on it but I’m thankful for that moment of levity. It broke the ice (see what I did there) of what was sure to be (and ultimately was) a difficult time of wrestling with our own thoughts related to the heartbreaking issues surrounding allegations of abuse at our beloved institutions. Plus, it WAS cold in that room. I rarely get chilled but my fingers were numb. Maybe I’m at fault. On Tuesday morning I walked into the convention hall at 7:30 to grab some seats before the meeting commenced and tweeted the following,
Ok #sbc18 we’ve got to have some air conditioning in the big hall. Seriously, it’s REALLY warm in here. Gonna have some grouchy Baptists and we don’t need any more encouragement.
The stuffiness was almost unbearable. Then came the big chill. I repent in sackcloth and ashes for any part I might have played in the deep freeze. But honestly, I’d always rather be cold than hot.
You might wonder why I’d place this as one of the most important things that happened in Dallas this year but it’s simple really. Fact is, it is refreshing when we are reminded not to take ourselves too seriously. It also reminds us that everyone’s voice is important and as the largest deliberative body in the United States such a moment confirms the opportunity we have to stand and be heard. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the issue was ever resolved. I was cold the rest of the day but I am thankful for Pastor Parker for standing up and speaking out for all of us. Wonder if he’s willing to move here to Louisiana. We need some more men who are willing to stand up and point out the obvious. 😉
Do you agree with my 5 most important things? What are your 5?
Just as lagniappe here is a list of places and dates of the next 8 conventions… (* = likely places we will be electing new presidents). Also, I wish they’d choose NOLA again soon. By the end of this list it will have been 15 years since New Orleans in 2012.
2019 – Birmingham, AL (11-12)
2020 – * Orlando, FL (9-10)
2021 – Nashville, TN (15-16)
2022 – * Anaheim, CA (14-15)
2023 – Charlotte, NC (13-14)
2024 – * Indianapolis, IN (11-12)
2025 – Salt Lake City, UT (24-25)
2026 – * Orlando, FL (12-13)