The Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is a business meeting.
That’s a simple, indisputable, “duh” sort of statement, but it is sometimes easy to forget in the midst of all of the other things that accompany the Annual Meeting. Sometimes people allege that the business aspect of the meeting is entirely “in the can,” being tightly controlled by “those people.”
Here’s some data for you.
In the past 18 years:
- People have made 409 motions from the floor, an average of nearly 23 per year.
- The trend is toward fewer motions each year. The average of the past five years is just 15 motions per year.
- The chair has ruled 120 of those motions out of order (Side note: I think that ruling is usually warranted).
- The convention has referred 263 of those motions to a committee, board, officer, or entity.
- Out of those 409 motions, 20 have received an up/down vote from the floor by the messengers. That’s about 5% of the motion total.
- The messengers have to vote to refer a motion, too, by the way. You can vote not to do that, you know. Thus, the messengers have actually voted on the disposition of a cumulative (up + down + refer) 70% (approximately) of the motions that messengers have made from the floor.
- Of those up/down votes, messengers tend to vote them down rather than up, but just barely (11 to 9). To engage in a little analysis, I think this represents a remarkable reluctance on the part of messengers to vote in favor of anything. I know, some of you would say that a nearly 50/50 record shouldn’t be construed as reluctance, but I think those 1 in 20 motions that actually make it to the floor represent an elite group. These are motions that are framed so carefully as not to run afoul of the rules of order. That does not often happen by accident, so these motions come from people who have thought carefully about what they are trying to do. For most of this elite group of motions to be lost at the ballot is, in my analysis, remarkable.
So, I would conclude from this a few things. First, hearkening back to my earlier post (What Drives SBC Attendance?), I’d say that it is difficult to conclude that the officers and employees of the convention are preventing the messengers from participating in the convention’s process of making decisions. More than a dozen motions will come to the messengers for some sort of a voting disposition each year.
Second, referral is a popular option for motions, and it is true that our Bylaws push us as messengers to consider strongly that outcome for motions. That’s probably a good thing, so long as the entities, committees, or officers conduct the referral process in good faith. The maker of the motion has been thinking about this idea for a long time. The people affected by it deserve some time to consider it and report to the convention before we take action.
Third, if you’re frustrated because you can’t get your agenda to move forward at the annual meeting, you probably have to conclude that you don’t have the support of the messengers, not that you merely haven’t been able to earn the support of the platform leadership. Messengers tend to vote against your proposal unless you do a bang-up job of convincing them otherwise. The default vote is “Nay!”
Fourth, if we need to boost attendance by spurring more participation among messengers, the bottleneck is probably not the platform. Rather, you and I, the messengers, probably need to be bringing better ideas to the convention floor to engage the imagination of the messenger body. Running more candidates and bringing forward more ideas will vitalize our process and our meeting. That doesn’t mean that you have to go all Wiley. It just means that the quality of the meeting is largely dependent upon what the messengers put into it, I think.
A great example of that is this year’s presidential election. Having multiple candidates has led to an attendance surge for SBC 2016. I think it could be a good thing to have more, not fewer, candidates in future elections.
Fifth, if you choose to engage the SBC business process, you need to bring a thick skin. You’re going to lose a lot more often than you are going to win. Seeing your idea become the approved idea of the Southern Baptist Convention is going to require a lot of patience and persuasion on your part, and even then you may not succeed. Don’t let that embitter you. Be thankful that this multi-million-dollar Baptist Great Commission enterprise isn’t whipped around by every stray idea that comes along. Roll with the punches and keep on working.
Together, I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit uses us to make this whole effort work better.