Archives For Messengers

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There was one point during the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix when three thoughts of mine collided:

• How can this many people make a well-informed and well-reasoned decision?

• In the social media era, how can we make it possible for even more people to participate on a level that young adults have come to expect?

• And, then, how can we continue this very expensive system of having fewer and fewer people travel halfway or more across the country to attend?

The collision came late on Tuesday, when young messengers were pleading for the crowd in the hall to consider the weight of public opinion (read: Twitter) in their debate over alt-right racism. (“What will the people out there think of us?”) In my head, I could hear old people saying, “Who cares? This is not their decision, it’s ours—Southern Baptists—and in particular the ones who paid to travel to Phoenix to speak up and to vote.” (Maybe it was just me, speaking on behalf of old people.)

But to the young messengers pleading on behalf of the masses, it was important, because they are used to the hearing from the masses on every issue: like, heart, thumbs up, smiley face, colon/capital P tongue-sticking-out. (Yes, my emoticon reference is dated.)

Executive Committee President Frank Page told the messengers, proudly, that the Convention is an anomaly: “This is a deliberative body, the largest openly deliberative body that still exists,” Page said. “But know that the Executive Committee also deliberates carefully at multiple levels dealing with each of the issues before they’re ever presented to you, from small groups to medium-size [groups] to the large plenary sessions. Our Executive Committee members are not rubber-stampers. They ask questions, they deliberate, they discuss and sometimes disagree. So know that we hold your trust carefully and we count it to be precious.”

That’s an uneasy balance for Baptists whose theology makes us accustomed to voting on almost everything—even changing the light bulbs.

The first national Baptist body in the U.S. was the Triennial Convention, founded in Philadelphia in 1814. They met every three years. When Southern Baptists broke off in 1845, they chose to meet every year, and to include as many people as possible by sending messengers rather than electing representatives. (It is a small but important distinction.)

But technology and airline costs are pressing on our expectations: Remembering conventions with 15,000 and more regularly in attendance, we want more participants than the 5,000 who flew to Phoenix. And technology would make that possible. Yet, we do not want our denomination making knee-jerk statements at every cultural twist and turn. Theology doesn’t demand an annual meeting cycle or populist group-think.

I know these impulses seem to be in conflict: more participation, and more-reasoned debate. But watching the clock tick as debate on an unexpected resolution took time from discussion on the decline in baptisms and a renewed call to evangelism, it became clear that a relatively few people in a distant city can make reactionary decisions. Next time, the outcome might not be so positive.

(Editor’s Note: Modest Proposal 1 on merging the mission boards can be read here.)

-Eric Reed

A sunset in the rearview mirror of car as a races down the road

I recall researching an article a few years back on the actions messengers took at certain conventions. Some years were marked by insightful and course-altering votes; others had no discernable effect. With the advantage of hindsight, we ask, What actions from the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention will have lasting impact on our denomination and the effectiveness of our work in the world?

The vote on alt-right racism will be remembered; and the appointment of a task force on evangelism has the potential to change our direction. But there was one motion that could produce even greater, meaningful change—if it makes it past the Executive Committee. And there’s a second that I want to suggest.

Modest proposal 1: Shall we merge the mission boards?

A couple of years ago, a messenger moved that a merger of the North American and International Mission Boards be studied. When his motion was ruled out of order for parliamentary reasons, the messenger pleaded that exploration of the issue not be delayed because of procedural rules. He cited the emerging financial crisis of the IMB and cuts in missionaries on the field that had just been announced as motivating factors. At the time, it was clear that NAMB had plenty of reserves, and a merger could fix the money crunch. But rules are rules, and the motion was dead.

Until this year.

A similar motion was made at the 2017 meeting in Phoenix. Here’s how Baptist Press reported it, in a list of motions that were referred to the Executive Committee:

“A motion by Harvey Brown of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., requesting the president appoint a study committee to consider the feasibility of merging IMB and NAMB.”

There was no discussion this time around, or emotional pleading for the sake of missionaries on the field. And frankly, it seems some of steam has escaped on this topic.

IMB reported it is on firm financial footing. IMB President David Platt has weathered a couple of storms, and with the honeymoon over, he appears to be settling in for a long ministry focused on global missions. Platt still partners with NAMB, speaking at conferences about church planting in North America. But his heart beats for the peoples of the world.

And NAMB President Kevin Ezell has stopped making the offer, publically at least, for IMB to relocate from Richmond to Alpharetta. During Platt’s first year, Ezell said there was plenty of room at NAMB’s Georgia headquarters since his administrative staff had been radically downsized. Ezell still cheers for Platt’s presidency, but the pair aren’t making as many joint appearances. Maybe both have found their footing.

The question arises every decade or two: Is the distinction between “home” missions and “foreign” missions outdated (just as those terms are)? Should missions today be focused more on people groups and languages than geography—including in the United States? As the “nations” (translating ethnos as “nations” or “peoples”) have come to North America, should missionaries here share the gospel with them in the same ways they would back in their home countries?

And this: Should state conventions (again) lead church planting in their states, as the missions personnel most familiar with the nearby mission field and with the partner churches who can facilitate evangelistic church planting ministry?

Will one mission board focused on people groups, and state conventions focused on their own neighborhoods better achieve the evangelization of the world and the U.S.?

I can’t say for certain, but it’s a good time to explore the issue.

Modest proposal 2: Virtual messengers? In the next issue.

– Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Messengers adopt statements on moral leaders, gambling

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix adopted nine resolutions on Tuesday afternoon, but they chose not to reverse the decision of the resolutions committee in order to bring a controversial statement about “alt-right” to the floor for a vote.

The usual motions on appreciation for the host city, prayer, the Reformation, and such were approved without comment, but a statement that wasn’t brought out of committee produced lengthy discussion between its author and the team that refused to bring it for a vote.

Arlington, Texas pastor Dwight McKissic submitted a resolution asking messengers to condemn the “alt-right” political movement as racist and inciting ethnic cleansing. The committee was not comfortable with some of the language in McKissic’s draft.

Chairman Barrett Duke, former vice president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission who now serves as executive director of the Montana state convention, said the committee spent hours discussing McKissic’s proposed resolution. “There are elements in that resolution that we agreed with, concern about racism and those who foment racism,” Duke said in a news conference following the afternoon business session. But, “it was difficult to look at that resolution and not see that someone might misunderstand.”

One concern was how the resolution was written, Duke said. “We didn’t see that there was a way we could speak to the number of issues in that resolution.” Another was the possibility that the statement would raise questions about the SBC’s biblical position on race. “You can look at the convention and see that we’re reaching out to other races,” Duke said. “About 20 percent of our churches are non-Anglo churches.”

Messengers did not see the text of McKissic’s proposed resolution. A motion to bring it the floor failed to get a required two-thirds majority. Later, a messenger asked that McKissic’s motion be brought to the floor. That would require additional time for a report from the Resolutions Committee, again requiring a two-thirds majority.

A ballot vote to allow more time to deal with the matter on Wednesday is being counted.

Motions about morals

Messengers approved two resolutions about moral issues. One of them called for higher moral standards among leaders. It was based on a resolution adopted during the Clinton administration’s Lewinsky scandal. The 2017 version mentions no leaders by name, but says all “leaders should set a positive example for every American citizen by living and serving according to the highest moral and ethical standards.”

“There was no need to single out president Trump or anyone else,” Duke said. “We believe the resolution stands on its own without bringing any other characters into it.”

Without naming Vice President Mike Pence, the resolution commends “those leaders who choose not to meet privately with members of the opposite sex who are not their spouses in order to ensure that they leave no room for temptation to lead them astray…” Pence was criticized in March when it was reported that he followed Billy Graham’s example never to meet alone with female staff members, or dine with women without his wife present.

And a new statement on gambling seems important at this time, as gambling expands and several states are considering expanding gaming venues. “The resolution on gambling calls it the ‘sin of gambling,” Duke said. “We looked back and we noticed that we had never in the past actually labeled gambling sin in that explicit way.”

The resolution speaks to the culture at large, but it also addresses Southern Baptists, whose opposition to gambling may be wavering as forms and venues for gaming proliferate.

— Eric Reed in Phoenix

 

Messengers, exhibitors, and guests to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis must be registered and properly badged for entrance into the general sessions June 14-15. Messengers and guests can register online by clicking on the Messengers/Guest tab at
sbcannualmeeting.net.

The SBC constitution and bylaws were amended last year to broaden messenger representation. Each cooperating church that contributes to convention causes during the preceding fiscal year now automatically qualifies for two messengers; previous rules allowed for one messenger.

Additionally, the convention will recognize 10 additional messengers from a cooperating church under one of the following options:

  • One additional messenger for each full percent of the church’s undesignated receipts contributed during the fiscal year preceding through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Executive Committee for convention causes, and/or to any convention entity.
  • One additional messenger for each $6,000 the church contributes in the preceding year through the normative combination of the Cooperative Program, designated gifts through the Executive Committee for convention causes, or to any SBC entity.