By now Iâ€™m sure you have some idea of how the last session of the 07 TBC annual meeting went. Sorry about that. I got home late last night and had to get up early this morning to go to work. This post will serve as my last report and concluding thoughts on the annual meeting.
As already stated, Iâ€™m sure you know how the final session played out. Basically, for a conservative like myself, it couldnâ€™t have gone much worse. Each of the alternative nominees failed. The motion to grant the TBC President nominating powers failed. Considering that my motion failed (to make it out of committee) Iâ€™m left wondering whether my bad fortune resulted in my not actually being elected to the Committee on Resolutions. Iâ€™d normally think it was a formality but considering how my luck is running â€“ and that I left before the Committee on Boards report was voted in â€“I very well might not have been.
The walk out to the parking lot after the last session was down right depressing. I donâ€™t know the best word to describe it. Maybe â€œslimy.â€ There was also a profound sense of loss. As one of the gentleman I shuffled out alongside said, â€œIt sure seems like all the good accomplished last year was worth nothing.â€
I realize that Iâ€™m writing from a conservative perspective. I make no apology for that. I believe itâ€™s the objectively right position. With that up front, I do feel an intense pain over the events of this yearâ€™s convention. Regardless of the rhetoric being tossed about regarding a â€œwide circleâ€ of opportunity for both conservatives and moderates that simply is not the reality we conservatives experience. There is no sense in being naÃ¯ve, the Executive Committees appointments are the most significant because they carry the most opportunity for influence. I realize everyone (myself included) who serves on other committees do so for the good of the Kingdom. However, to pretend the ExCom positions donâ€™t carry more weight in the course of TBC life is to deny the obvious. With that in mind, look at the ExCom nominees this year. More of the candidates who donâ€™t affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message were nominated to this committee than any other. I havenâ€™t done the math but I have a good suspicion that it was also the committee to have the highest percentage of non-BF&M 2k nominees as well. The message to conservatives is loud and clear: there is a seat at a table for everyone in the TBCâ€¦but the big folks table is reserved for the moderates. The conservatives can sit at the kidâ€™s table.
So what does one do? Iâ€™m a SBC/TBC guy. My friends tease me about this. I want to be a part of both the state and national conventions but Iâ€™m feeling pretty well marginalized. The intra- and post-TBC conversations I participated in indicate Iâ€™m not alone in that perspective. What should, or can, be done? Iâ€™ve heard many options discussed.
Do you just give around the TBC? Conservatives have been doing this for years in regards to a Tennessee Baptist Convention they didnâ€™t feel comfortable with. Sure, thatâ€™s an option. Still, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Being that Iâ€™m vocal about being a Baptist and, since I live in Tennessee, anything the TBC does affects me on the level of public perception. Thus itâ€™s hard to say sayonara to the TBC because many in the community and society around me wonâ€™t know Iâ€™m not part of that group.
Does one begin to explore the possibility of starting another state convention? This idea most likely already has some traction amongst a number of Tennessee Conservative, considering that it was brought up in conversation so regularly. Thatâ€™s a fine idea. Baptists are a uniting people, joining in ministry with those of like faith and practice throughout history and the idea has worked in other states. Doesnâ€™t it seem like it would be a lot of work though? Itâ€™s hard to launch on a new work, needed as it may be, when you see established systems already in place in the neighborhood you are leaving. I wonder whether or not the young conservatives I know would even care enough to launch such a project. Most have established ministry partnerships with churches of like faith and mind in their immediate area. Considering that one can find other networks (â€œotherâ€ meaning â€œother than a state conventionâ€) in which to join others in ministry, especially with the option of giving directly to the Cooperative Program through the SBC, I seriously question whether there will be enough energy available to birth a new state convention. Speaking of alternative networksâ€¦
The other option is to simply find other ways to participate in cooperative ministry. I hate this idea (because I love the SBC/TBC so much) but it seems to be the way of the future. Many of the purposes served by local associations, state conventions, and even national denominations are simply no longer needed. The average church can conduct and execute its own community outreach events, mission trips, etc. The average church (not mine necessarily) also doesnâ€™t have such a great need for the training and resources these older institutions offered. In a climate where ministry means money and information moves faster than ever there are myriads of options for ministry materials and training available. So why bother trying to reform or heal an existing organization that is largely easily replaceable? I think that is a question many conservatives have to be asking themselves. Now, as I said, I hate it. I like the Cooperative Program. I still think itâ€™s the best mechanism for supporting missions on a broad scale. Furthermore, the state convention still serves as a resource that wouldnâ€™t be available to pastors of small congregations if the bigger structure were to cease existing. Finally, I hate the thought of the damage done to annuitants who depend on monies given by a bigger group as the numbers of that group dwindle. But, as this convention has made plainly clear, what Iâ€™d hope wouldnâ€™t happen very often does.
In the midst of these considerations I feel a profound sense of irony. Much sound was given to reaching out to â€œyounger pastorsâ€ at this yearâ€™s convention. Every pastor I know under 40 is a conservative. Yet we are continually assaulted by a very real sense of something being radically wrong when we gather for the annual meeting of the state convention. We must sit and listen as the head of the most powerful committee in TBC life preaches a sermon while never deviating from Bultmannian categories when discussing the issues most dear to us: â€œDo you believe in a literal resurrection? I believe in a â€˜living Christ.â€™ Do you believe the Bible is inerrant? I love the Bible; it contains the word of God.â€ Look â€“ even if you think conservatives arenâ€™t the brightest bulbs in the box please know that weâ€™ve read enough Neo-orthodoxy and been sold enough used cars to recognize double speak when we hear it. So not only do we hear heresy but we have to receive it from a condescending attitude that thinks no one is bright enough to pick up on what is actually going on. Even more, we see our nominees disappear into the netherworld while seven nominees from the same association â€“ who also, surprisingly, have a hard time affirming the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message â€“ are nominated to the most powerful committee in TBC life.
Ultimately, as bad as this is, the blame falls on the shoulders of conservatives. As one messenger said in discussing the abysmal course of the last sessionâ€™s activities, â€œThe votes were there Tuesday morning.â€ Each tabulated vote declined in number of total votes cast from its high point on Tuesday morning. By the end of Wednesday there were approximately half of the messengers left. Again, you canâ€™t convince me (but I would love to see someone try) that the majority of Southern Baptist clergy and laity in Tennessee arenâ€™t theologically conservative. And yet at the annual meeting we donâ€™t see a ratio of conservative to moderate messengers that reflect the numbers of the same categories across the state. Basically the moderates care enough to show up and defend their entrenched positions. Conservatives, apparently, lack the courage of their convictions â€“ choosing to stay at home rather than try to take the hill.
You know what? Shame on you if you werenâ€™t at the TBC this year and there wasnâ€™t some major family or ministry issue keeping you there. Shame on you if you stayed home for some reason other than a funeral, church crisis, or family emergency. Shame on you if you did come but left early because it was boring or required some thought to sort through the various issues. Shame on you if you didnâ€™t encourage your church people to come with you as voting messengers. Shame on you if you didnâ€™t try to find someone to do a good job filling in for you teaching and preaching on Wednesday night. Think you can find someone when itâ€™s time to take the family vacation? Shame on you and shame on conservatives for failing to do what is necessary to have a state convention we can be proud to participate in.
The saddest part of this whole thing is what it very well could mean for the future of the TBC. From my perspective, the moderates represent the old guard of the TBC. As Iâ€™ve mentioned before, they are entrenched in crucial leadership positions and refuse to allow those posts to leave their control. Through controlling the nominations process they ensure that their type of leaders stay in power, thinking that throwing a bone (by way of a meaningless appointment) to conservatives is more than enough to placate those who disagree with their position. On the other side is the younger crowd of conservatives, trying to elbow their way into a party they are quite obviously not invited to. Will their energy persist long enough to bring change or will other opportunities and apathy steal the impetus for reform? If so youâ€™ll have a future where the old guard expend the last days of a significant TBC fiddling while Rome burns around them. Ultimately, when their generation passes from this mortal coil what will remain?
From where we stand today I donâ€™t think any of us can be sure.