I’m the one guy who contributes here who sits on the board at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I’m the one guy who contributes here who has had nothing whatsoever to say about recent controversies at the seminary.
At the end of this post, those two things will still be true.
But I aspire someday to be a full-fledged SBC polity wonk, and it seems to me that this is an opportune moment for us to think together about the way that our polity works. Why haven’t I put to writing my thoughts about these important matters? A superficial answer would be this: I wish to end my term as a trustee with integrity. When I began to serve, I affirmed a code of conduct for trustees that required me to refrain from public discussion about matters before the board. I’m just keeping my word. And yet, even though this answer is sufficiently dispositive, let’s scratch a little deeper. I adhere to some policies that I think are unwarranted. This is not one of them. I think it is a GOOD thing for trustees to refrain from public comment about matters pending before their board. I’d briefly like to suggest some reasons why.
First, refraining from public discussion preserves a trustee’s freedom to be persuaded. Boards of trustees are deliberative bodies. When they meet, the trustees air their opinions and present evidence. They attempt to persuade one another. I believe that every trustee ought to participate in this process in good faith and with an open mind. Having previously taken a public stand makes it harder for a trustee to do that. In addition to weighing the evidence and considering the arguments on all sides, now the trustee also has to consider how to unsay what has already been said if a contrary case proves to be persuasive.
Second, refraining from public discussion helps to minimize conflict among trustees. This is particularly true if more than one trustee is articulating more than one point of view. Will one blogger-trustee misrepresent another blogger-trustee’s views? Will they get caught up in a contest for traffic or likes? Any of these scenarios can undermine one of the most important possibilities in trustee governance—the possibility of discovering collaborative solutions.
Finally, refraining from public discussion helps to clarify who governs the institution. I am a trustee at SWBTS. I do not govern the institution. A TRUSTEE does not govern SWBTS; THE TRUSTEES govern SWBTS. Not until twenty-one trustees have cast a ballot in one direction or another has a decision been made. It is best and least confusing if the first and loudest proclamation that people hear about institutional decisions is the proclamation that actually matters.
For all of these reasons, trustees should be very averse to public discussion about matters before their board. They should be slow to speak. This does not mean, however, that they shouldn’t be quick to listen. I’m thankful for everyone who emails or messages me about SWBTS. That these conversations are one-sided, with you talking while I listen, does not mean that they are not valuable. I’m thankful that you are engaging in rather than disengaging from our polity as a convention. It matters when you speak. I hope you’ll understand that it also matters when I don’t.