There has been an interesting phenomenon in these recent years of upheaval in the SBC. Group after group has laid claim to one form or another of the “Majority Baptists” or “grassroots Baptists” moniker. That is not a surprise. Every one of us wants to believe that not only are our views correct, biblical and beneficial, but that a majority of people see things the same way. That is especially true of Baptists who practice majority rule. To lay claim to “majority” or “grassroots” is to give your viewpoint or organization credibility and authority.
But there is a problem with these self-identified grassroots and majority Baptists. They have failed at SBC Annual Meetings to produce the one majority that truly matters – a voting majority of messengers. The SBC is guided by a majority of messengers who travel to the SBC Annual Meeting and vote. Hopefully those messengers both seek God’s will and represent the views of Southern Baptists as a whole. That, of course, is debatable. But the only real majority in the SBC is voting majority at the SBC Annual Meeting.
This has, of course, upset many self-styled majority or grassroots Baptist no end. Since they believe that they represent the majority of Baptist sentiment, the assumption follows that there must be something going on behind the scenes to prevent them from producing a voting majority. The power elites are running things. The Calvinists are taking over. It is obvious that the process is broken and must be fixed, because if the process showed integrity, they would win every vote! Someone must be pulling the wool over our eyes!
I’ve been a Southern Baptist since nine months before I was born. My first SBC Annual Meeting was 1979 – that was quite an eye-opener. At that meeting, a majority of Baptists told those in power that we wanted a new direction. Of course, the “power elites” at the time (entrenched moderates) cried foul. They were convinced that the majority of Baptists supported them. Year after year they claimed that conservatives were involved in shenanigans to thwart the will of the majority. Year after year the conservative side produced the one majority that mattered – a majority of messengers. And the rest is history.
As power transitioned from moderates (and a few liberals sprinkled in) to more conservative leadership, there were two definite groups of “power elites” that were involved. There is a common myth on the moderate side that only the conservative side was politically organized, but that is about as accurate as 9/11 Truther propaganda. Two groups of powerful men organized to try to gain or maintain control. One side produced a voting majority and that side now populates the SBC.
This all sounds so mercenary, so unspiritual, I know that. But as long as we are a convention, then we have to believe that God works through the majority of messengers to lead us. Can that be manipulated? Of course. Can the majority be wrong? Undoubtedly. Any decision by the majority can be reconsidered in the future. But the bedrock of Baptist polity is that people seeking God’s will come to the convention, deliberate and render a majority decision.
Of course, there is one thing that can improve this whole situation. That is for messengers to inform themselves and come to the annual meeting ready to prayerfully and carefully consider what is recommended. There are two attitudes that are, I believe, damaging to the future of the SBC.
- Mindless obedience to the will of the powers-that-be is detrimental. We have leaders who lead, who suggest the direction of the convention, who bring reports and make motions toward the future. We should give them respect and honor as leaders. But that does not mean we should mindlessly obey them. They hold no authority over us. In fact, to just go along with the leadership because “they are our leaders” is, well, dumb. They are human beings. Respect them and listen to them, then decide for yourself what is right, under the Lordship of Christ. Frankly, it is healthy for the convention to say no to our leaders now and again.
- Knee-jerk opposition to our leaders is just as detrimental. To assume that there is some kind of elite that is running things without our consent simply defies reality. The majority of the messengers affirmed the CR and it happened. The strong majority of messengers affirmed the GCR and it was enacted. The name of the SBC will be changed only if and when the messengers to the SBC vote to support the recommendation. We are not ruled by an elite. We are “ruled” by the majority of messengers at the SBC.
If there is a problem in the SBC, I think it is more with the messengers than with the leaders. At times, I think our leaders have done the wrong thing. But it is the job of the messengers to inform themselves and vote their conscience. If we simply go along with the leaders because they are leaders, we are failing in our duty. We must inform ourselves, attend and consider our votes carefully.
So, we need to give our leaders enough respect to listen to and prayerfully consider their proposals. But then we need to exercise our duty to vote our convictions and advocate the positions we support. Then, when the majority speaks, we move on.
If we truly believe in both congregational government and the convention principles of the SBC, then we have to realize and accept this fact. Sometimes, the majority will not see the wisdom of my position.
As hard as that is, that’s the reality when the majority prevails.