Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: The Confusion from San Antonio

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Confusion from San Antonio

Since a large number of The Beast's Lair readers are not Southern Baptist or simply do not follow SBC happenings, I am going to give a quick summary of what happened last week in San Antonio, TX and then briefly comment.

Every year there is an annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in a different city. SBC churches send interested "messengers" or delegates to the meeting in order to support and vote for their particular issues of interest. The meeting is also an opportunity for wonderful worship, preaching, and fellowship. However, it is usually the business at hand that tends to dominate the post-convention discussion. This year the meeting was in San Antonio, TX and there seems to be one major issue that has people talking, blogging, name calling, and all sorts of crazy things. It concerns a motion about the Baptist Faith & Message.

A little more background. The SBC is not a creedal institution. In other words, there is not a single creed or statement that completely defines who we are as Southern Baptists, and we have tried to prevent any statement of belief from having the same authority as Scripture. However, the SBC does have statements of belief which are revisable and reversible in light of Scripture. These statements are called the Baptist Faith & Message. The latest revision of the BF&M occurred in the year 2000. Now, before we get to the concern at this years annual meeting, there is a little confusion in the BF&M itself. In the preamble written to the 2000 BF&M, the committee wrote these words:

"That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time."

That seems to go right along with what I have already written, but then later in the preamble, the committee says this:

"Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability. We are not embarrassed to state before the world that these are doctrines we hold precious and as essentialto the Baptist tradition of faith and practice."
(emphasis mine)
So, already in the preamble there seems to be a sort of contradiction. On the one hand, the statements are not complete or final, and on the other they are essential to Baptist faith.

With that in mind, on to San Antonio. This motion was raised concerning the BF&M:

"I move this Convention adopts the statement of the Executive Committee … found in the 2007 Book of Reports … which reads: ‘The Baptist Faith and Message is neither a creed nor a complete statement of our faith nor final or infallible. Nevertheless we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention."

The motion passed in what the AP called a "victory for moderate Baptists." For many SBC leaders, the motion seemed to be a method by which the convention could limit the theological and doctrinal restrictions that any board of trustee or SBC leader could place upon any SBC employee apart from what is in the BF&M. The passing of the motion sent immediate shockwaves through the convention and many of the SBC leaders were alarmed by the vote, while others were rejoicing. Dr. Mohler gave his "Southern Seminary report" the following day and instead of giving the usual seminary report of numbers and figures, he went into a sermon on why this motion was detrimental to the education of the next generation of pastors being taught at Southern and the other 5 SBC seminaries.

The primary reason for the disturbance is not what the BF&M says, but what it doesn't say. The statement does not address the increasingly debated issues such as "private prayer languages," "moderate drinking," or being "slain in the Spirit." So, if you are talking to Dr. Mohler, the BF&M is a great statement of guidance, but does not go far enough in clearly establishing what seminary professors believe before they are hired. But if you are talking to other leaders in the convention, such as Wade Burleson, then this is a great step for the SBC to stop nit-picking on issues that are not doctrinally essential. The aftermath of the vote and annual meeting has elicited some fascinating blogs about exactly how the motion was raised and ultimately won. This quote from "Baptist Blogger" Ben Cole is rather lengthy, but worth the read to see just how involved this whole process was.

"Late Monday afternoon, Wade Burleson and I discussed the reality that the motion could suffer defeat if either of us made or spoke to the motion. Wade approached Rick Garner, whom we had both come to know, and Rick agreed to make the motion.

On Monday evening, Wade and I hosted over 40 people in our suite for a time of briefing about the motion. I explained the parliamentary rule, fielded questions, and highlighted the times in the convention schedule when these messengers would need to be prepared at a microphone. I anticipated the arguments that could be used against the motion, and together we all formed a series of responses to diffuse the certain objections of Patterson, Mohler, Land, Yarnell, York, Kelley and their students.

Right out of the shoots Tuesday morning, Rick Garner made his way to microphone number nine and read the motion into the minutes. Late Tuesday afternoon, I met with Boyd Luter, Rick Garner, and a few others to craft the three-minute speech that Rick would have to give when the motion made it to the floor. Just before going into the Tuesday evening session, Rick and I went over his final draft of the speech — I think I offered one phrase and two words — behind an escalator and then went into the convention hall.

On the front row behind microphone number nine, Wade Burleson, Dwight McKissic, and I sat to watch the debate flesh out. Rick spoke clearly and calmly, then the fireworks started to go off. Back and forth for a few minutes, messengers spoke in favor and opposition to the motion. There were four moments that I knew the motion would pass, and only one that I thought it would fail.

First, when the microphone lit up and a young woman spoke against the motion, but for reasons that actually helped our cause. Rather than speaking against the main motion to affirm the BFM2000, she actually stated that she supported the old 1963 statement. Similarly, a man got to a microphone to speak about soul competency and the priesthood of the believer. He may as well have denied the virgin birth in front of that crowd.

Then there was Robin Hadaway, who with his mumbled, incoherent opposition did little to help his cause. In fact, Professor Hershael York has already observed that no “articulate and passionate antagonist” to the motion ever spoke during the debate. I certain hope — with authentic sincerity — that Hadaway’s articulate passion for teaching missions is greater than the inadequate measure noted so appropriately by York concerning Hadaway’s feeble foray into the convention fray. I also hope that Frank Page will regard incoherence alongside unsweetness as disqualifying characteristics for next year’s appointees to the Resolutions Committee.

When the camera switched to a microphone to speak against, I saw Art Rogers standing there. He said, politely, “No, Mr. President. I am speaking for the motion.”

Standing behind Art, and barely visible except for his pompadour of strangely red hair plugs, was Richard Land. Next to him was Hershael York. With these men warming up in the bullpen, I knew we had to have a vote fast. The question was called, and after a near 2/3 majority vote to end debate, Frank Page allowed the messengers to continue. The moment that he was shouted down by Southwestern Seminary professors and students was the lowest, basest few seconds of the annual session.

At one point, the microphone in front of us was empty. Wade ran up and pushed the “for” button. When the number was called, Wade pointed to Dwight and said, “you’re up.” Without fair warning and completely extemporaneous, Dwight moved quickly to the microphone and spoke – the only black pastor to do so from the convention floor this year.

Bob Cleveland spoke, wearing a t-shirt; and Jeremy Green spoke, looking like Fred Rogers. After the vote was over, I spoke with a retired convention executive and asked him what he thought.

“I didn’t recognize anybody at the microphones,” he said.

“That’s a good sign that things are changing,” I responded.

Knowing that Richard Land or Hershael York was next up, I went to a switchbox and pushed “Point of Order.” My question was going to be about whether or not the time had expired, and then I was going to move the question again.

Before I had the chance, Frank Page informed the messengers that the time for debate had expired and asked for a 2/3 vote to extend debate. After a raised vote that looked a clear majority from the back of the room, Page ordered a ballot, and the messengers calmed from what was the most vigorous and tense debate in the last few years."


What is really incredible is that no one really seems to know what it all means. First of all, the motion does not read in a way that says no other statement can be used by trustees in the hiring process, but that is clearly how most involved in the issue are interpreting it. When Frank Page, president of the SBC, was interviewed concerning the controversial vote, he said "in doctrinal parameters I think they need to be very careful in moving past them. We do respect the trustee system and if they do, they do have that right. I simply said I urge them not to go beyond doctrinal parameters. There are multitudes of issues that trustees have to deal with as regarding personnel, regarding issues of all kinds that may not be directly doctrinal at all." So, here is the president of the SBC saying that the trustees still have the power to "move past" the BF&M, just so long as they are "very careful" and he "urges" them to not go beyond doctrinal parameters.

In my opinion, all of this means a big fat zero right now. Nothing is going to change due to this convention vote and within the year it will be forgotten. Southern Seminary will continue to hire Calvinist professors and Southwestern will continue to hire free will guys. What is most incredible about the entire ordeal is how much attention and effort has gone into this one issue, most of which is negative, without much interest in the positive things of the annual convention. For the most part, we tend to bring our own opinions and desires to the table and, based on how the voting goes, conclude that the SBC is a narrow-minded group of fundamentalists who are closing the door on any real chance of doing good or that the SBC is continuing to be the best organization for defending Scripture and preaching the Gospel to the world. And both sides will praise the greener grass, either pointing to the CBF or other Baptist organizations as the real deal, or maintaining that the SBC best identifies who Baptists are and what we are about. For better or for worse, that is the way it will be.

4 Comments:

Blogger Mike Ruffin said...

Philip,

That is an excellent summary of the situation. Welcome to the world of SBC wrangling! Young ministers like you are unfortunately going to have to decide how much time and energy you are willing to give to stuff like this. I'll be praying for you all.

June 23, 2007 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so thankful that, finally, some level heads, such as you and Mike Ruffin are speaking out. In the early 70's, I was ranting and raving that Southern Baptists were sitting around with their heads in the sand and in danger of losing what they had stood for all these years: priesthood of the believer, soul competency, autonomy of the local churh, no hierarchy in Baptist churches. We have sat back and let a group of independents and Pentecostals take over our convention. Where are the real Southern Baptists?

June 28, 2007 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so thankful that, finally, some level heads, such as you and Mike Ruffin are speaking out. In the early 70's, I was ranting and raving that Southern Baptists were sitting around with their heads in the sand and in danger of losing what they had stood for all these years: priesthood of the believer, soul competency, autonomy of the local churh, no hierarchy in Baptist churches. We have sat back and let a group of independents and Pentecostals take over our convention. Where are the real Southern Baptists?

June 28, 2007 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so thankful that, finally, some level heads, such as you and Mike Ruffin are speaking out. In the early 70's, I was ranting and raving that Southern Baptists were sitting around with their heads in the sand and in danger of losing what they had stood for all these years: priesthood of the believer, soul competency, autonomy of the local churh, no hierarchy in Baptist churches. We have sat back and let a group of independents and Pentecostals take over our convention. Where are the real Southern Baptists?

June 28, 2007 2:25 PM  

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