Baltimore Oracles: Math makes a difference

Meredith Flynn —  May 28, 2014

COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

Editor’s note: Leading up to the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore June 10-11, the staff of the Illinois Baptist will preview the annual meeting in “Baltimore Oracles,” a series of columns about SBC elections and key issues.

Leaders of smaller Southern Baptist churches will be watching closely in June as the SBC Executive Committee considers a change to the denomination’s constitution. The article in question (Article III) governs how many voters – known as messengers – individual churches may send to the Convention’s annual meeting.

Here’s how Article III stands now:

  • Churches in friendly cooperation with the SBC can send one messenger to the annual meeting, as long as the church contributed any amount to SBC causes the previous year.
  • Additional messengers may be sent for every 250 members, or for each $250 given to Convention causes.

Under the proposed changes:

  • Churches may send a minimum of two messengers, provided they meetthe guidelines for friendly cooperation (including undesignated, financial contributions either through the Cooperative Program, toward Convention causes, or to Convention entities).
  • Additional messengers are based on contributions (one for every $6,000 or full percent of the church’s undesignated receipts, whichever results in more messengers).

Whew. What does all that math actually mean for churches? In the March issue of SBC Life, Executive Committee Chairman Ernest Easley explained the thinking behind the changes: The new version adjusts for inflation. The $250 figure was adopted 126 years ago. And the proposed wording is an opportunity to “lift up Cooperative Program as the preferred model of giving to Convention work.”

But what about smaller churches, some asked. Won’t the new giving standards make it more difficult for them to send additional messengers?

“…If the perception is that it will hurt small churches, this is DOA,” Executive Committee President Frank Page told EC members at their February meeting. “My heart is with small churches, and I don’t want anything that even seems to be in some way pejorative toward their involvement.”

The EC meets just prior to the Convention and will decide whether to bring the amendment to messengers for a vote during the meeting June 10-11.

Any debate surrounding the proposal, especially if it makes it to the convention floor, could have some bearing on the race for SBC president. Ronnie Floyd pastors a megachurch, while Jared Moore is from a smaller, rural congregation. Dennis Kim’s Maryland congregation of around 1,700 is somewhere in between.

If the conversation about messenger representation swings the momentum in favor of smaller churches or those in regions with fewer Baptists, Moore or Kim could gain some extra visibility at the Convention. If the measure doesn’t come up for a vote or passes without much debate, Floyd would remain the better known candidate with the most SBC leadership experience.

Math may make a difference when Baptists meet in Baltimore.

Previous Baltimore Oracles columns:
The Southern Baptist Convention’s new ‘traditionalists’
What a single-candidate election could mean for the SBC
Why geography matters


Meredith Flynn


Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.