Policy and the Southern Baptist Convention: Two Troubling Case Studies

element-of-confusion-teeI have never wanted this blog to be a criticism blog.  Overall, I think I have kept it from becoming one.  By and large, this site is simply the idiosyncratic theatre for my own largely banal meanderings.  But it is a creative outlet nonetheless and, though I am blogging less and less these days, I do enjoy using it as a tool for expressing thoughts as they come.

However, I would like to share some thoughts on an issue that is becoming increasingly troubling to me.  I do not claim to have exhaustive or authoritative information on either case study, so I offer these thoughts with this caveat:  they arise from my own impressions of what is going on, impressions that, while not authoritative or omniscient, are at least born out of some degree of close observation of the Southern Baptist family.  I would be happy to be corrected on these impressions if they are in error.

I am a Southern Baptist.  I attended a Southern Baptist school my first two years of college and received a Master of Divinity degree from a Southern Baptist seminary.  I have pastored four Southern Baptist churches in three different states.  I have served on the Executive Committees of two state conventions and have served in numerous Associational capacities.  I have attended the annual gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention for a number of years running now.  I vote.  I try to stay informed.  I care.  So when I offer these comments I offer them as a son of the Convention and not as a detractor.  I wish the Convention well.  This strange family is my family and I contribute to its strangeness in my own ways.  I have no doubt that I contribute to the weaknesses of the Convention and I pray that by God’s grace I have at times contributed to its strengths as well.  Which is simply to say that I see myself as a flawed human being who is part of the Southern Baptist family with all that that entails.

Two items this year have captured my attention.  They seem quite different but are, in fact, quite similar.

Item #1:  The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention will be proposing a change in the SBC Constitution stating that only those churches that are in agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 are “in friendly cooperation” with the SBC. (I posted earlier about this here.)

Item #2:  Paige Patterson, President of my alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX, has (apparently) admitted a practicing Muslim as a student in the PhD program of Southwestern Seminary against the stated admissions policies of the seminary. (Wade Burleson has written about this herehere, and here.)

What is the connection between these two items?  The connection is that in both cases there is a flawed and dangerous lapse in policy integrity on the parts of Convention leadership.  

Concerning the Executive Committee’s proposal to change the Convention Constitution, the flaw comes in the fact that passage of this proposal will declare over 50% of SBC churches to be not in good standing because Article VII of the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) 2000 calls for close/d communion and most Southern Baptists are not in compliance with this article.  Even so, overtures have been made that churches need not worry about this fact since, of course, the Convention would never actually enforce the policy on this particular issue as it would essentially destroy the Convention.  No, we are told that we need this change to put teeth into those aspects of the BF&M 2000 that we need to wield against the possible encroachment of things like gay marriage into Convention churches.  Note the example given in the proposal itself:

1. The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a “cooperating” church as that descriptive term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which:

(1) Has not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith. (By way of example, churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.) [emphasis added]

The problem here is that the example could just as easily say this:  “By way of example, churches which practice open communion would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.”  But those proposing the new wording know that applying this in such a way would be disastrous.  In other words, we are being asked to implement a policy, the faithful and consistent application of which has been ruled out a priori since the faithful and consistent application of the policy would destroy the body that is being asked to approve it.  So we are being asked to approve a policy on the supposition that it will be selectively applied as a defense against pernicious forces and selectively ignored for the maintenance of peace in the Convention.

This is, by any reasonable standard, unwise, foolish, and simply not how policies should be approached.

In the case of Dr. Patterson and Southwestern Seminary, the sentiment seems to be that President Patterson’s violation of entity policy is justified because it opens the door for possible evangelization of non-Christians.  But no matter how commendable this is, who thinks that this is a good idea as a matter of precedence and of institutional management in one of the largest seminaries in the world?

In the former case, unenforceable policies are being proposed with an eye toward selective enforcement.  In the latter case, enforceable policies are being selectively ignored in the name of evangelization.  In both cases, precedents are being established which, if taken in undesirable directions, could prove profoundly injurious to the Convention and her entities.

Which is simply to say:  I am concerned.

One hopes that we are better than this kind of muddled thinking.


6 thoughts on “Policy and the Southern Baptist Convention: Two Troubling Case Studies

  1. I have started a couple of different draft comments on this post. In each I spiraled into a frustrated diatribe that I eventually deleted. Let me just say, I too am concerned.

  2. I also share your concern. After nearly sixty years in the denomination I have no plans to panic. Neither do I plan to ignore this sad display of poor judgement on the part of our leadership. Do we dare endorse rules which can be applied purely at the discretion of entrenched authorities?

    • I have heard that they are receiving quite a negative reaction to this idea. I very much hope that is true. We shall see.

  3. Wyman, thank you for clearly articulating your concerns. I share them with you. I hope to see you at the convention. Blessings

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