That would be the moment in our annual session when messenger and trustee of Southwestern Seminary, Bart Barber, said the following:
I am an old-time Baptist congregationalist. My church has business meetings every month because I want us to have business meetings every month. I believe in our polity. And it is a part of our polity that our entity heads do not get to remove trustees when they become an inconvenience to them, that entity heads have to answer to their boards both when they want to do so and when they don’t want to do so, that seminary employees have to abide by board decisions.
Paige Patterson is a human being made in the image of God. He is a man who has promoted some of the finest women scholars in our convention. He is a master exegete and the consummate preacher. Even today I’d vote for him for any of those things, and I’m thankful for the Conservative Resurgence and all that it accomplished. I was not out to get him; I was out to help him. But I cannot vote for him to occupy any monarchy. We are Baptists. We have no popes. We are all accountable to someone. Whatever divides us, I hope that we are all in agreement about that.
For my part, I’m accountable to you. I’m a tell-the-people-and-trust-the-Lord Baptist. Whatever you decide, I will abide by it. It has been a great honor to serve you in this way. Thank you for the trust you have placed in me. I have tried to defend your rights at SWBTS. I would urge you as you vote to consider this: Please do not rob the trustees throughout our convention of their spine. They keep our entities accountable to you. Think of the precedent this will set if we start voting out trustees every time they face a difficult decision. Will any board have the courage to hold entity heads accountable again? And if they are unaccountable to their trustees, they are unaccountable to you. If you rob the trustees of their spine, you rob the messengers of their voice.
We Southern Baptists have “moments” and we have “movements.” Sometimes a “moment” becomes a “movement.” Barber’s short time at the mic in Dallas qualifies as an authentic “moment,” easily excelling beyond other important statements, votes, and actions around the SBC during 2018. Here are a few reasons why I think this to be so:
- If not spontaneous, it was not one of those planned and plotted grandstand moments. Any SBCer who has been around for a while learns to recognize these. Some celeb or celeb-wannabe rises for his moment in the sun. He may or may not have prayed about it but he certainly planned it, discussed it with others, and rehearsed it. He gets all the backslaps, atta boys, and maybe gets some visibility and a greater entree into the SBC oligarchy. Bart Barber’s moment was, best I can understand and best I could see from across the cavernous convention hall, an occasion that wasn’t hatched in a back room and carefully orchestrated. While as a SWBTS trustee he certainly would have had more information than the rest of us, it looked to me like one Baptist having his say and saying it well.
- We Southern Baptists say we don’t have popes but until we show it, the saying doesn’t count. Paige Patterson and a few others in the CR curia had been given enormous power in the SBC and accomplished great things with them. Had this gotten out of hand? Looks like it from a distance. Ordinary messengers finally acted (the vote looked like something in the 95/5 percent range) to deny Hatley and Patterson and in doing so affirm Barber and the pastors and others who scraped up enough shekels to make it to Dallas for the meeting.
- The trustee system is both our salvation and our weakest point. How and why Barber ended up addressing this and not others, I don’t know. There is no more spineless group in SBC life than trustees who have declared fealty to a Southern Baptist Lord and find some satisfaction in the role of sychophant. I’ve heard all the excuses over the years (“We handle things in private…just trust us,” etc.) but trustee failures are regular though thankfully infrequent in SBC life.
- We all can repeat the mantra “tell the people and trust the Lord” Baptist. Finally, though, someone who shows it.
- So, here we are with the SBC having dramatically, decisively declared that they will not rob the trustees of their spine. So, how about trustees not giving their spine away. No need to go through all this again but I’m hopeful that we will if we need to. If this moment continued as a movement, that would be great for all of us.
It would be a millenial stretch to say that Bart Barber and I are friends. We have met, just for a brief few seconds, although we have swapped some comments here for a few years. I haven’t liked all of his stuff but almost all of it. I’d guess that he is not that thrilled about this article but, I’m a free agent in SBC life…so here it is, like it or not.
The link above is to an SBC Voices piece by Dave Miller. I think it is a transcription of a text of prepared remarks. It may vary a word or so from his actual statement from the floor. Emphases are mine.
I like Bart’s new, smiling photo. In the old one he was using I thought he looked like Luca Brasi. Check it out.