Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Southern Baptist Convention Part 3

We're moving through the business side of the Southern Baptist Convention. At the SBC, we have a time for motions from the floor, which any messenger may give. These motions are automatically referred to the "Committee on Order of Business," but we'll deal with them separately from committee reports.

Motions can be made, as I said, by anyone elected as a messenger by their church and registered with the Credentials Committee. So, you can imagine, it can lead to a wide array of motions.

First motion to discuss: There's been much about the Great Commission and whether or not we're really doing it as Southern Baptists. There was a motion to appoint a "task force" (read: committee) to examine how Southern Baptist churches interrelate bring recommendations next year. This motion was not unexpected. It was approved by roughly 95% of those voting. This was a show of hands vote, and wasn't counted but estimated. Still, I'd guess it about there.

There were 2 people who spoke against this motion. One had a point. One had an axe to grind. The one with a point raised the question why we need an additional committee, given that we have Mission Boards directed to lead in presenting the Gospel to the unchurched around the world. His point was a good one, but I think he was up against too much momentum. The idea behind this committee is too study and recommend structural changes, including recommendations regarding associations, states, and the relationships of all agencies. NAMB and IMB are funded through the current system, the idea was to create something that could examine the whole thing.

The other speaker feels that Calvinists are the problem, and if we get rid of them, we'll be fine. My first reaction to him is found in its own blog post, here. Calvinists are not really the problem. If Calvinists believed the caricature of Calvinism that is often presented, we would be the problem. Does it matter whether you share the Gospel in hopes God uses you to draw someone to Himself or whether you share the Gospel in hopes you will persuade them to follow Jesus? Quick hint: Calvinists do it for the first reason. Does some of this bleed into methodology? Yes, but it's not an anti-evangelistic methodology. That's bad stuff that even Calvinists don't like. And, yes, Calvinism is the main label, though "Doctrines of Grace" is also legitimate. And Calvinists don't worship Calvin, anymore than Baptists worship John the Baptist. I think this speaker actually pushed a few more people to the "for" side of this motion.

All in all, this motion seemed as more of a litmus test about whether we were willing as Southern Baptists to put aside bickering over Calvinism/Arminianism and other things and focus on the task. Funny, many pastors have been preaching that for years. I think it's a reason for the decline in SBC annual meeting attendance. Maybe we'll see some pick up.

Several other motions addressed a pastor named Mark Driscoll, who is not a Southern Baptist. Driscoll pastors Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which is loosely affiliated with some groups that some Southern Baptists are loosely affiliated with. In family terms, think of that person who you've been told is a cousin, but nobody's exactly sure how. If you are Southern Baptist, Mark Driscoll is a friend of organizations that cousin stands for. He has been a speaker at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, and is good friends with Ed Stetzer at Lifeway. Well, Driscoll has some beliefs about alcohol that aren't in line with traditional Baptist understanding. He also tends to preach very directly on issues such as sex and marriage, in a manner that many find controversial. Some go so far as to say he preaches and jokes in manners inappropriate to a preacher of the Gospel. (I have never heard him personally. Press me to take a stand, based on sources I read, and he goes too far.) So, there were some motions trying to force a distance between Southern Baptist life and Mark Driscoll. These motions, however, were generally out of order. First of all, he has no relationship with the SBC. He has spoken at one seminary, so a question about that should be addressed first with that seminary. He has written many books, and Lifeway carries those books, that question needs to go to Lifeway.

The whole Mark Driscoll issue reflects a growing tension in SBC life. The question becomes "Just how different from us can you be and we still work togeher?" Some Baptists are definitely certain Driscoll is too different. Some are certain he's fine. This issue was not resolved, although some aspects were referred out to appropriate entities to consider and report. Expect more on this over the next year.

It supports my belief that one of our problems in SBC life is that we are overly personality driven. There was a definite uncomfortableness from the platform with the Driscoll criticism, and I think it came from a fear that too many young SB leaders will leave the convention if we attack Driscoll. My question is, why do we need him? We have the Bible, and generally feel that no one person carries the importance of Paul anymore. If Southern Baptists and Mark Driscoll decide they don't want to talk anymore, will that stop our fulfilling the Great Commission? If it does, we've got serious issues. He's a man, and has some insight to offer. He also has some shortcomings as a pastor. Fortunately, he won't use his blog to detail my shortcomings, so I won't hit his. There are other blogs that do a good job explaining his and others that defend him. I won't be inviting him to preach here, but he wouldn't come if I did, so why does it matter? The people I'm trying to teach here are more influenced by some other preachers that I think have deeper flaws in their theology than Driscoll, so I'll worry about them. Same thing with other personalities.

So, we had, I think, 8 motions related to Mark Driscoll. They dovetailed with a motion to have Lifeway pull books the messenger deemed heretical, including The Shack. Now, I've read enough to know that if you read The Shack for theology, you'll be in trouble. Get your theology from the Bible. However, it's a relevant book for how people are considering Christianity these days. While we need to exercise appropriate discretion, complete book bans are rarely the answer. Now, if Lifeway was selling Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I'd be exceedingly concerned that we were blending too much culture in. Motion was out of order. You want Lifeway to stop selling something, you have to take that to Lifeway's board. If they won't do it, you move to replace the board. Then, you nominate people to the board that will remove it. It's harder to do all that, but there's a reason for it.

Another motion called for the SBC to only use in materials and to only allow used by speakers at the annual meeting a Bible translation that does not question the validity of Bible passages. To those of you who just said "what?" certain Bible translations are made after using a scholarly discipline called textual criticism to determine what the best original language text is. While we hold to a completely accurate original text, there is about a 5% divergence in extant (known available original language) texts. They differ on things like the height of Goliath: 6 cubits and a span or 4 cubits and span; where does Mark end, how do you spell Zechariah, stuff like that. It's a normal practice, and generally accepted. The only generally available Bible translation that doesn't do that is....the King James Version. So, essentially the motion was to require all materials of the SBC and all preachers at the Convention to only use the KJV. It was ruled out of order, based on the idea that a motion cannot require a committee or entity (Lifeway) to do something. As with the Driscoll motion, take it to the appropriate board, get their action, then, if you don't like it, move to change the board. Plus it's silly, at least to me, and quite a few others. The KJV is not the only Bible translation worth reading, neither is it specifically inspired or protected by God. (For KJV advocates, do you prefer the original 1611 or the more common 1769 update that most people with KJV's have?)

There was a motion about the end of the world. We decided we were for it. Just kidding. The motion was to form a committee to examine some of the teachings going about that the world will end sometime in the next few years. It was determined that this was a theological issue best addressed by individual churches, rather than the SBC. However, you could appreciate the man's concern that people would be swept up in end-times hysteria as they have before for false alarms.

There was a motion that we tell President Obama what we think about him. It was determined that the motion was worded like a resolution, and so was too late, as resolutions were due two weeks ago.

The same fate befell a motion to express support for those struggling for freedom in Iran. Unfortunately, the crisis in Iran cropped up after the 15 day deadline for resolutions, so no resolution was submitted. The motion was ruled out of order, but the convention paused and prayed for freedom in Iran, both earthly and spiritual. I think we need to consider allowing a loophole in the 15-day window, but this was handled as best we could within our bylaws. Proud of the guy that brought it up. Convincing staunch conservatives to give a few moments to people who, even if they succeed in their protesting, will remain extremely committed Muslims was a tall order. Good job.

Motion was made that we adopt a specific type of Christian flag as an official banner. It was referred out. I don't think we need an official banner.

Motion was made that we not use secular music in presentations at the SBC. This, I think, was last minute prompted by a messenger hearing The Who's "Baba O'reilly" as backing music on one of the presentation videos. Don't know that one? It's the theme from CSI:NY. The motion was made by a younger messenger, causing me to wonder if any of the thoroughly gray heads realized it was secular music. Motion was ruled out of order, as it was directing entities again. I sympathized with the motion. Do we lack for creative talent in the SBC? Can we not use either new music written by our people or Christ-centered music? Although, better yet, we could forgo videos except in case of definite need, like the videos featuring military chaplains on the field or honoring Pastor Fred Winters, who was killed while preaching this spring.

A motion was made to make sure the seminary funds allocation counts distance learning students. I'm all for this one. A portion of our CP funds are given to the six Southern Baptist seminaries to use for ministerial education. How it is divided is partially dependent on school size. As someone who hopes to soon be a distance student at one of those seminaries, I agree that all students need to count, not just those who are able to relocate to a campus. Referred to the Executive Committee that makes those recommendations, report next year.

Motion was made to join AFA's boycott of Pepsi. It was referred to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. (Which, to me, is further evidence of the redundancy of the ERLC. Another Christian culture influencing group has a recommendation, so we send it to our culture influencing group to consider. Both groups are conservative, evangelical Christian groups. AFA draws more than just Southern Baptists, but many Southern Baptists listen to AFA suggestions. Why do we need both?)

Motion made to adjust trustee boards from allowing 2 3-year terms to allowing only 1 6-year term. I don't get the need. In the mobile society we live in, with boards trying to maintain representation from all states we have Southern Baptists in, a 6 year term system, I think, would be clumsy. Referred to by-laws group.

Motions to research cost-effective Christian school methods and to use American-made products for VBS both referred to Lifeway, as well as the suggestion to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James translation. It's not the only translation, but its impact is definite, and we'll probably do something there.

Motion was remade to have the pictures of people nominated for officer positions shown on the screen. That's still being studied. Translation: we don't want to be in a position where somebody doesn't get the projection guys a picture, and so we're all screwed up in our order of business, but we understand you want to know who the people are you're voting for.

Those are the highlights of motions. The key to it all? Most motions are referred out to committees to consider. If your motion is more about opinion, it's really a resolution, and should be submitted that way. If your motion is just nuts, well, it'll show.

We'll do resolutions in another post.

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