Norman Jameson, editor of North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder, gets right to the point:
Being a denominational journalist or any Baptist with a contrary opinion in the current era of Southern Baptist Convention upheaval sometimes feels a bit like a tick picker atop a rhino. It’s an important role, but the rhino is going to go where he will.
And nowadays, he gets there in secret.
His immediate concern is the closed-door session in which the SBC North American Mission Board on Sept. 14 “interviewed, discussed and voted on their new president behind closed doors.”
The 37-12 vote hiring Kevin Ezell for that job was ferreted out, but not announced.
As Jameson argues, secrecy is the longtime, continuously destructive rule at the Southern Baptist Convention.
- Ezell’s two predecessors were forced to resign in closed deliberations.
- An entire book, Misspending God’s money, deals with otherwise secret expenditures under former NAMB president Bob Reccord.
- Baptist Salaries, known and unknown deals with how little is known to the public about compensation to executives like Ezell.
- Great Commission Resergence Task Force meetings were closed and recordings of the deliberations sealed for 15 years.
- The powerful SBC Executive Committee meets primarily behind closed doors.
We agree with Jameson that the result is destructive:
Baptists want to believe in the work of our institutions. We want to continue supporting them. Closed doors indicate a lack of trust in us. It is hard to support an organization that doesn’t trust you.
Do Southern Baptists who refuse to put up with it have to leave the denomination?
Pope Benedict XVI announced he is establishing a pontifical council for new evangelization to find ways “to re-propose the perennial truth of the Gospel” in regions where secularism is smothering church practice.
. . .
“I have decided to create a new organism, in the form of a pontifical council, with the principal task of promoting a renewed evangelization in the countries where the first proclamation of faith has already resounded and where there are churches of ancient foundation present, but which are living through a progressive secularization of society and a kind of ‘eclipse of the sense of God,'” he said.
No church planting required, reversing secularization is only in part of matter of reversing or at least slowing the decline in church membership and attendance in countries like Austria, Belgium and Germany. Yet as Philip Jenkins recently pointed out in The Christian Century, it is a battle with many fronts, including replenishing the depleting ranks of the priesthood:
Particularly in Western Europe, Catholic countries have been becoming steadily more secular for at least a generation, quite independent of any claims of priestly deviance. In no sense is European religion dying — just witness the continuing popularity of pilgrimage and other popular devotions — but loyalty to the institutional church has weakened disastrously. Rates of mass attendance have declined steeply, as have the numbers of those admitting even notional adherence to the church. Today, fewer than half of French people claim a Catholic identity. The number of priestly vocations has been in free fall since the 1960s, leaving many seminaries perhaps a quarter as full as they were in the time of Pope John XXIII.
Failure of atavistic movements like the SBC’s GCR and the pope’s pontifical council for new evangelization is probably foreordained by the degree to which the secularization they attack is embedded in the cultures to which they speak. Again, as Jenkins observes regarding secularization and the Roman Catholic Church:
One gauge of transformed Catholic attitudes has been the sharp drop in fertility rates and family size. Since the 1970s women increasingly pursued careers and higher education, and the use of contraception spread rapidly, despite stern church disapproval. Fertility rates plummeted, such that Spain and Italy today have among the lowest fertility rates in the world, far below the level needed for population replacement. Catholic Germany stands about the same level. German sociologist Ulrich Beck notes wryly that in Western Europe today, the closer a woman lives to the pope, the fewer children she has. Ireland’s fertility rate today is less than half what it was in 1970.
There is no reason a couple with few or no children should not be fervently pious. But the trend away from large families reflects broader social changes. A society in which women have more economic autonomy is less likely to accept traditional church teachings on moral and sexual issues. The resulting conflicts have steadily pushed back the scope of church involvement in public life. Abortion became legal in Italy in 1978 and in Spain in 1985. The Irish church suffered a historic defeat in 1997 when a referendum narrowly allowed the possibility of divorce. Today, across Catholic Europe, same-sex marriage is the main moral battlefield—with Spain in the vanguard of radical secularism and sexual liberation. The Catholic Church struggles to present its views to a society suspicious of institutional and traditional authority of any kind and quite accustomed to ideas of gender equality, sexual freedom and sexual difference.
“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.
Twice during Southern Baptist Commission (SBC) adoption of the “Great Commission Resurgence” Task Force report, messengers demonstrated that it was more an SBC throwback than a bold change of direction.
First, toward the end of debate on the report when discussion had dragged on for hours and the outcome seemed in doubt, former SBC president James Merritt rose to rally support. Merritt argued that the vote offered messengers an old, often-replayed choice.
“If you think we are headed in the right direction, if you think doing the same thing, getting the same results is enough, then vote against this report,” Merritt said. “But if you think we can do better, and if you think we can do what we did in 1979 when we said no to liberalism, then I encourage you to vote for this report.”
That settled the report’s fate, Enid, OK., pastor Wade Burleson blogged just a few minutes before the final vote: “Anytime you threaten Southern Baptists that if you vote against a particular motion you are a liberal, then the SBC most likely will pass the motion.”
The overarching tone of the debate was reminiscent of SBC floor fights between conservatives and moderates in the 1980s during the “conservative resurgence.” Time and again, SBC president Johnny Hunt had to consult with parliamentarians for guidance on how to handle particular issues.
Most of the more than 10,000 registered messengers were in the hall for the GCR vote, which passed a little after 5 p.m. by an estimated three or four to one. And that brings us to the second demonstration that adoption of the GCR task force report was more a throwback than a bold, new thrust. Only a few thousand messengers returned later for a report from the International Mission Board. Even though the GCR report they had just struggled to adopt is entitled “Penetrating the Lostness,” and talks of the need to “reach the nations.”
So many messengers were more interested in voting for the report than in how the SBC is actually reaching those in other nations.
How many would have returned if Merritt had plugged the IMB report as “fighting liberals on their soil so we don’t have to fight them here”?
David Tolliver, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, plans to ask messengers at the SBC annual meeting in June to receive the GCR Task Force report, but put off action until until 2011 so all SBC entities can do a “spiritual/financial impact study,” Baptist Press reported. The Missouri convention’s executive board unanimously passed a resolution favoring the delay.
Tolliver had earlier said the proposals in the task force’s preliminary report would devastate the Missiouri convention. That report has also been debated by others (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10).
The task force is scheduled to release its final report May 3.
It remains to be seen how GCR supporters will respond to the suggestion that action be put off for a year. They will fear another year of scrutiny could kill the effort, but must also realize that a nasty fight on the convention floor will make a GCR practically impossible, even if the proposals pass.
Ouch? Regarding African-American Baptist pastor Dwight McKissic’s April 7 excoriation of the Southern Baptist Convention for failure to live up to its 1995 renunciation of racism and slavery, Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press wrote:
McKissic, once a rising star in denominational life until he disagreed publicly with influential leaders over a decision to stop appointing missionaries that use a “private prayer language,” said most systemic, institutional and individual racism in SBC life is “passive, not intentional.”
Well, he didn’t call McKissic a “has been,” even if the summation was lame. That disagreement was a full-bore, denominational uproar in which McKissic’s stand played an important role. Most spectacularly, in August of 2006, McKissic gave a sermon at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel in which he discussed his use of private prayer languages. Seminary president Paige Patterson did not have the sermon posted on the school website. Debate & turmoil. In June of 2007, McKissic resigned from the seminary board of trustees.
Ok. Was Enid, Oklahoma, pastor Wade Burleson also “once a rising star” until he disagreed publicly with influential leaders over private prayer languages (and other matters)? Specifically associated with his role as a member of the International Mission Board, from which he resigned in 2008 — an experience he documents in “Hardball Religion: Feeling the Fury of Fundamentalism.”
Maybe not the right characterization, but the official SBC reaction to McKissic is still dismissive. Allen writes that “Sing Oldham, vice president for convention relations at the SBC Executive Committee” said that “a motion referred by the convention in 2009 to study ways to more actively involve ethnic churches and ethnic leaders in serving the needs of the SBC.” And McKissic’s blog post “will certainly be a resource.”
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) actions toward women “fall short of Biblical standards (Acts 2:17-18)” and require public apology, prominent Southern Baptist and African-American pastor Dwight McKissic argues on April 1 — an apology like the SBC’s 1995 renunciation of racism and slavery.
There are good historic and modern reasons for such an apology:
The SBC was formed in 1845 when women were not allowed to vote in the vast majority of SBC churches. Consequently, women by and large did not attempt to register as delegates/messengers to the annual SBC meetings. In 1885 women were excluded by the vote of the convention from being seated as delegates. The convention voted to only accept “brethren” as representatives from churches to the annual meetings. Josiah Lawrence made a motion to seat women as “messengers” in 1917 and the vote actually occurred in 1918 with overwhelming approval.
McKissic also cites well-known examples of modern Southern Baptist mistreatment of women [1, 2, 3], finally weaving mistreatment of Southern Baptist women, SBC racism and the sexual abuse of SBC women together around the case of now-imprisoned former pastor Daryl Gilyard.
Results of the earlier renunciation suggest that apology to SBC women, while clearly merited, would accomplish little of measurable value. For as McKissic demonstrates via damning examples in his April 7 blog, there are still serious problems:
- There was no black representation on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. McKissic brought that to the attention of Frank Page at the Louisville Airport in June ’09. Page called SBC President Johnny Hunt, who corrected the oversight, which McKissic calls “symptomatic of the problem.”
- “Ten years after the ’95 racial reconciliation and apology statement, there has not been one African American appointed to a position as the Chief Executive Officer of a SBC entity,” although there are three vacant spots.
- At the Southern Baptists of Texas Evangelism Conference in February, SBC Evangelist Jimmy Davis “communicated that President Obama was not a Christian” and “encouraged the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention to ‘pray that God providentially remove President Obama from office.'” Yes, something about the image of all of those Anglo Southern Baptists kneeling in prayer against Obama does seem racist.
- Baptist Deacon Bill Fortner in a blog entry described President Obama as “the Tragic Negro,” a characterization which McKissic accurately characterized as “clearly racist and beyond the pale.”
- An Anglo SBC church in Louisiana refused to let Anglo missionaries who had adopted children of color speak in their church because of the color of their children.
- “A Black Baptist Arkansas Pastor who disassociated himself from the SBC in recent years” explained to McKissic that during a missions trip to Mexico with an Anglo Southern Baptist congregation, “one of the Anglo mission team members use racial slurs” for which, when confronted, he did not apologize.
- Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, preached a sermon at First Baptist of Jacksonville, FL., in which he said to “approving laughter” that Black churches take up “twelve offerings.” Caner went on to relate:
“… you go to a Black church gentlemen, you are not going to have on a blue suit, you are going to have blue shoes to match, and your handkerchief is going to match your tie, and your whole outfit is going to match your car. It’s BEAUTIFUL. And ladies: when we talk about black church, we’re talkin’ about hats. And I’m not just talkin’ Easter hats as some of you may wear, I’m talkin’ ’bout satellite dish hats. [laughter]. Big enough to receive a signal, with a curtain rod goin’ down the front that you can just pull the curtain across.”
How the SBC can accomplish a resurgence while driving away people of color and, woman by woman as well as church by church, spiritually inspired women, is unclear. Thus McKissic suggests changing the name of the organization to “The International Baptist Convention” to create the opportunity for “a new start in a new millennium.” Which might work almost as well as the 1995 renunciation of racism and slavery (the one he dissects by recent example).
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) repentance of “systemic, institutionalized, and historic negative attitudes toward women, races, and dissenters” called for by prominent African-American pastor SBC pastor Dwight McKissic was to involve electing a black SBC president this summer. That was to be Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, who doesn’t plan to run [Associated Baptist Press]:
Luter said in an e-mail April 3 that McKissic isn’t the only person who has suggested that he seek office, but he has not agreed to be nominated. “There are a lot of guys throughout the convention who would like to see that happen,” Luter said. “I truly appreciate their trust and confidence in me, however that will not happen this year.”
Before the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) can experience a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR), it must repent “systemic, institutionalized, and historic negative attitudes toward women, races, and dissenters,” argued prominent African-American pastor SBC pastor Dwight McKissic. And elect pastor Fred Luter of Franklin Ave. Baptist Church in New Orleans the first African American President of the SBC.
In a March 30 blog entry, McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Tex., also recommended Troy Gramlin, Pastor of the Flamingo Road Baptist Church in South Florida, is to be nominated for president of the SBC Pastor’s Conference.
McKissic said some have erred in treating Gramlin’s view of women in the ministry as unbiblical. He challenged “Peter Lumpkins, Gramlin’s most vocal critic,” to debate Gramlin.
Founded in 1845 amid national debate over slavery and the role of slaveholders in the church, only after first undergoing a “Great Repentance Resurgence” can the SBC hope to undergo a Great Commission Resurgence, McKissic argued. It is a repentance McKissic clearly intends to sweep past the 1995 renunciation of racism and apology for past defense of slavery to deal more constructively with the role of women and others.
McKissic pointedly addressed the SBC leadership. He said:
The primary reason I’m addressing this subject is because I want to appeal to the patriarchs of our convention (Johnny Hunt, Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, Danny Akin, Ronnie Floyd, Frank Page, and others) to call a solemn assembly and invite Southern Baptists to pray, seek God’s face, repent and turn from our wicked ways.
And quoted Joel 1:13-15 to illuminate his point.
These are interesting times for current and would-be SBC leadership. And are destined to become progressively more so.
Feb. 22’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) interim report shocked Southern Baptist Conventioneers (SBC) with news that two-thirds of their missions money is spent in the old south. That meant they were spending the most money to spread the faith where they’re already strongest. Bad.
Those dismal numbers were wrong, North Carolina Biblical Recorder Editor Norman Jameson explained in his blog today.
Actually, “53 percent of NAMB missionaries serve outside the old south states,” according to Jameson's parsing of numbers in a correction issued by the SBC's North American Mission Board, from whence those numbers come.
Re-reconsideration (it has already been considered and reconsidered by the Southern Baptist Blogosphere (SBB)) of the GCR may begin.
GCRTF chairman Ronnie Floyd sought to minimize the importance of the error. GCR documents have been revised to correct for the error, but Cooperative Programs funds were the major concern of the task force, he told Baptist Press. Specifically:
“[W]e spend 2/3 of the Cooperative Program dollars on 1/3 of the population and conversely spend only 1/3 of the Cooperative Program dollars on 2/3 of the population in the United States,” Floyd said.