During the Tuesday afternoon business session of the 2015 SBC Annual Meeting, I offered an amendment to the Committee on Nominations Report. I asked the convention to approve a change on the IMB trustee list from Thom Polvogt from FBC Katy, Texas (original nominee) to a church member of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas with significant international missions experience.
Several people have questioned my reasoning and judgment for making an amendment like this. I have no problem letting everyone know why I thought this was important enough to bring to a floor vote and why I stand by my decision. The next paragraph is a summary of my position. I’ll take the rest of the article to defend and explain what I mean.
Summary of Issues at Stake
The nomination of a trustee from a church that has been one of the most prominent and vocal critics of an SBC entity is a bad idea in the first place. Add to that the last-minute, apparently backroom, political nature of this particular trustee nomination (which I’ve seen as a pattern going back to at least last year) and we have a situation that I think most Southern Baptists would say is the kind of action we don’t want happening in the SBC. If most messengers had been allowed to hear the whole story, they would have supported my amendment.
Prominent & Vocal Critic of SBC Entities
FBC Katy, through the leadership of Pastor Randy White, has been the center of some very vocal criticism of some of our SBC entities. We are a diverse convention and we all realize people will not always agree. There are times when public criticism is warranted and necessary—and that is part of what it means to have strong convictions and to stand by them. But (and I told Randy this in person) there’s a difference between working positively for the change you want to see happen and being a constant voice always ready to find fault and criticize.
Just during this year, Randy White has been openly critical of NAMB, LifeWay, Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin, ERLC President Russell Moore, and IMB President David Platt. You can see examples throughout his Twitter feed, one such example below:
Please note that my purpose here is not to evaluate the merits of his criticisms. They’ve all been discussed plenty of times in other places. What I do mean to show is a pattern of vocal criticism against those in leadership that I think should be expressed in more helpful ways.
The one comment that become very relevant to our discussion today is below. Keep in mind the trustee nomination was from Randy White’s church to be a trustee for the International Mission Board.
It’s hard for me to believe that a trustee coming from this perspective is going to come in to trustee meetings with an open mind ready to work productively for the organization. Now, it’s possible (but doubtful) he doesn’t even agree with White’s views on Platt and the IMB. But I consider it much more likely that he intends to be a kind of roadblock and voice of faithful opposition among the board. I heard nothing from White in our conversation later that would suggest I am wrong about that.
I am not saying that our trustee board need to be filled with “yes!” men/women. We need people who are thoughtful supporters, who are willing to ask hard questions but do it in a helpful way, working to build up and not tear down.
Here’s the analogy I would like to propose to make this specific situation come to life. Wade Burleson (sorry, Wade!) has been a vocal critic of Paige Patterson and Southwestern Seminary. Again, I am not here to debate the merits of those criticisms or Wade’s actions. But how would it look for the nominations committee to put someone from Wade’s church on the SWBTS board of trustees? That would be in extremely bad taste. Could Wade or someone from his church serve well on other boards or committees? Absolutely. But there is something wrong with the idea (and anyone familiar with SBC history over the last 10 years knows this) of someone with strong connections to Wade being placed on Southwestern’s trustee board.
Likewise, after White called David Platt’s election a “disaster”, placing him or one of his church members on the IMB trustee board was a bad decision. From what I’ve been told, most of the nominations committee wasn’t aware of this background and was not happy when they found out “the rest of the story.”
But that’s only part of the reason this appointment needed to be challenged.
Last-Minute Change to Nominations Slate
The Committee on Nominations is supposed to publish, over a month in advance, the list of names who will be appointed to the various trustee boards. Baptist Press releases that information and you can see this year’s report here, from a May 1 article.
Below is the pertinent paragraph from May 1.
Compare this to the convention bulletin we received Tuesday morning, June 16 (vote take place on Tuesday afternoon).
Now the nominations slate is long, tortuous document to read (much less put together – God bless the people that take on that project!) so it would be almost impossible to catch that change. You would have to have both documents together and search with a fine-toothed comb. The only thing that alerted my attention in the document was “First, Katy” which, because I was aware of all the information above, prompted a little more research.
One of the trustees, had resigned approximately a week or two before the convention, prompting the need for a replacement. [Paragraph edited for content, see footnote 1]
Now there’s no doubt a nominee has to be replaced at times (illness, church transition, personal, all kinds of possibilities—and I certainly hope nothing bad caused this trustee  to resign). I have no idea how often they need to be replaced. Necessity demands it. A lot can change in the time between when the original report is released through Baptist Press and the start of the convention. But here’s the thing: The release of the initial report is there for a reason. For people who care enough about it to read the names and find out some information (there are not many) this is a great opportunity to make sure no red flags are missed, that no one slips through the cracks who shouldn’t. It’s an important step of accountability. And it appears to me that accountability was flaunted in this instance by people who knew exactly how to game the system.
Here’s the way I imagine the thought process working out:
Trustee from Randy White’s church on the IMB slate? Might see some opposition if we give people enough time to figure out what’s going on… Maybe if nobody sees it until Tuesday morning of the convention it’ll be too late to ask questions or alert people to what’s going on… It’ll be too late to do anything unless someone’s crazy enough to figure this out and oppose the nomination from the floor. And who’s crazy enough to do that? It would never pass anyway.
On this particular issue, my plan is to get in touch with some folks at the Executive Committee, the Committee on Committees, and the Committee on Nominations and try to work with them in a positive manner for change so we don’t see this kind of thing happening again.
Who knows how often this tactic has been used before? Since I was made aware of it last year, we’re two for two. Last year I stood at a microphone ready to amend the nominations report for another IMB trustee. A very similar thing had happened. Name wasn’t on list released well ahead of convention. Everybody’s shocked Tuesday morning, Twitter is blowing up: “How did such-and-such get on the trustee list?!”
Fortunately last year the committee themselves took action to make sure that particular name was withdrawn. So as I stood at the mic ready to make a very similar amendment, the committee chair (if memory serves) announced that particular trustee had “withdrawn” his name from consideration. Huge relief—as contrary to what it may appear, I don’t like having to make amendments like this, either last year or this year. Another much more qualified trustee was named who is and will continue to be a great asset to the IMB trustee board.
[Not only this, but partial term trustees are eligible for reappointment, which means they can actually serve longer than a regular trustee. That’s why people who argue that Tim Rogers was only up for a one year term are either wrong or purposefully misleading.]
Another element that should’t be overlooked—both instances I’m aware of have resulted in the nominations of people who have been from a caustic wing of the traditionalist segment of SBC life. That’s one of the reasons this whole situation looks so political to me. You have loud, vocal, even divisive people from virtually the same theological camp both being nominated in the same way. [Edited: see footnote 1]
The Motion Itself
There were several things about substitute nominations I knew ahead of time. First, this is an incredibly difficult amendment to get passed. People assume the committee has done their homework and are inclined to trust the slate of nominees presented in their book. After all, who am I, one messenger, to stand up to the wisdom of the entire committee? And I agree with that logic. Most of the time. But not here.
So I knew the amendment had very little chance of passing. I also knew that convention rules do not allow you to speak negatively about the nominee you’re replacing, only positively about your substitute nomination. Now this rule has been questioned before, and with good reason. How can the messengers make an informed decision if they aren’t aware of al the facts? But on the other hand you can imagine how this kind of thing could get really ugly really fast. Does the rule need to change? I’m not sure. I understand the reasoning.
So in my amendment, I spoke very positively about the work of our IMB, about the candidate I was offering as replacement, and also had one sentence in the speech trying to vaguely & generally summarize the concerns I shared in the first half of this article. I said that my candidate “would be a better candidate than someone whose pastor has publicly described the election of David Platt as a ‘disaster.’” SBC President Ronnie Floyd stopped me somewhere in the last couple words of the sentence. I completed the sentence as he was speaking. After which he allowed me to continue and I picked up exactly where I left off.
A couple words here. I think my statement would have been within the rules. I wasn’t speaking negatively about the candidate himself in any way. I’m not even sure how you would call quoting Randy White’s public statement about Platt a negative statement about him. That is nothing more than making people aware of positions someone has publicly advocated. But I also realize with the reason for the rule about “no negative statements” Ronnie Floyd wanted to be very cautious and make sure I wasn’t going to say anything divisive. So I think he was being a little overly careful, but understandably so. He didn’t know what or how much I planned to say along those lines. We all know the microphones are primarily the region of crazy uncles. 🙂 (Yes, I’m aware I may have put myself in that category by speaking at one!) So I have no criticism or bad feeling toward Floyd. He was doing what he thought best and I understand.
Meeting with Randy White Afterwards
After the motion failed overwhelmingly (like I said, I knew from the outset it had very little chance of passing) Randy White graciously contacted me on Twitter and offered to buy dinner or coffee so we could talk. I want to thank Randy for reaching out like that. He and I do have some strong disagreements about the SBC and theological perspective, but I really appreciate his willingness to talk afterward. I honestly wouldn’t have blamed him if he had been angry with me, but I’m glad he understood I was doing what I thought was right and needed to be done.
Randy and I talked for a few minutes as we walked down the halls to our respective dinner meetings and then met again after the incredible Tuesday evening prayer session. We sat down at a table out in the foyer area and talked for about 90 minutes. We agreed on some things and disagreed on others, but we left the table as friends. My encouragement to him was to be more gracious with those he disagreed with and to try and work in more positive ways for the changes he wants to see. He said he would consider that but that he also felt like his voice wasn’t taken seriously when he had tried to work positively before in the past. I told him I understood how that could be frustrating.
After talking I invited him to the SBC of Virginia dessert fellowship. I told him I’d get him in to have some cake even though he’s not from Virginia. I introduced him to several friends who had stayed until almost the end of the fellowship. We left on great terms and as friends, and I hope I can continue to live up to that in the future. Randy and I have very different visions for what the future of the SBC should look like, but I hope we can work together in areas where we agree and disagree agreeably on those other issues.
I never meant for this post to get so long, and I apologize. Thanks to those who stuck through to the end. I stand by the amendment I made, and would do it again. We need to fix the nominations process so we’re not in this situation again, scrambling, and finding out Tuesday morning who we’ll be voting for very same day. We need a diverse group of trustees, but they need to be people who can work productively together, regardless of theological viewpoint.
Footnote  Edit: After talking with Dave this morning, I decided to edit out several sentences of this post because (1) they were admittedly speculation, even though the timing does raise questions in my mind and (2) they were distracting from the main points I want to convey. I don’t know if or how much Jim & June Richards were aware of this. Several people have assured me they don’t think Jim or June would be involved knowingly in a scheme like this so that’s why I’m editing, no desire to hide my original comments, but I want to be fair to the Richards. If I unfairly speculated about their involvement/knowledge, I apologize to both of them for doing so. I tried to contact Jim yesterday 4 hours before the article was published but didn’t receive a response. My point in the post is not affected by their involvement or lack thereof. My two points are that this particular nominee was a bad choice for the IMB board and that the replacement nomination process lacks the transparency & accountability it ought to have. You can see my original comments in the two screenshots below.