Signed, sealed, unsent, undelivered
“We have nothing to hide.”
That’s what then Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt said in June 2009 about the not yet formed Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. He made the statement to editors from four state Baptist newspapers, according to Baptist Press.
Hunt said the group would be as open and transparent as possible.
“I would be real open to say that we look forward to every meeting that there will be a state editor there to be able to document the meeting,” he said.
Not only did the task force close its meetings to editors and everyone else, it decided to seal the records of its meetings for 15 years.
So, what do they have to hide?
An article by Biblical Recorder editor Norman Jameson offers a few hints. He mentions the timing of the task force announcement to seal the records.
“It came as word was leaking out just how nebulous the task force’s ‘unanimous’ agreement on their recommendations was. It came as we further learned of the need for task force members to be educated about the autonomous nature of Baptist state conventions before they realized their recommendations could be only that – recommendations and not mandates.”
So perhaps the task force hopes to preserve the appearance of unity. Or maybe SBC leaders would be embarrassed that members of the task force were unfamiliar with Baptist polity.
Southern Baptists will have to wait until 2025 to find out. After approving the task force report June 15, messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting easily defeated the next day a motion to unseal the records immediately.
The task force move is hardly surprising given its members aversion to straight answers and use of confusing and frustrating language during the process. At one point there was a lot of fog about the North American Mission Board and much conjecture about its possible merger with the International Mission Board.
Defeat of the motion to unseal the records further enhances the notion that passage of the GCR will not change the SBC.
During debate on the motion on June 16, task force members said they promised confidentiality to those with whom they talked.
“This motion would require the task force to break its word,” said Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of the task force.
Baptist blogger Wade Burleson said that’s a promise the task force should not have made.
“When the Convention authorized the Great Commission Task Force to do their work, the Convention never said it should be done in secret. The Great Commission Task Force did not have the authority to seal the records, only the Convention did.”
Jameson takes issue with another rationale for sealing the records. Task force chairman Ronnie Floyd told Baptist Press that the task force was following the precedent of the “Peace Committee,” a group that tried to work out reconciliation between conservatives and moderates at the height of controversy in the SBC.
“The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force operates in an environment entirely unlike that of the Peace Committee era,” Jameson said.
Jameson said the task force’s decision runs counter to the group’s own report, which has a component about making values transparent. He points out that one of the values it lists is trust: “We tell each other the truth in love and do what we say we will do.”
The report also talks about working toward “the creation of a new and healthy culture within the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“If we are to grow together and work together in faithfulness to the command of Christ, we must establish a culture of trust, transparency, and truth among all Southern Baptists,” the report says.
Sealing the records of the task force’s own deliberations was a march in the opposite direction. A good start would have had the task force showing openness like that required of state and federal governments.
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