NASHVILLE, Tenn.–The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, meeting Sept. 20-21 in Nashville, Tenn., rejected two notable motions from last June’s annual meeting in Orlando: one that would have made Baptist Press news service a separate entity and another that would have disallowed the seating of messengers from churches perceived as racist.
The latter is expected to be addressed in a 2009 motion the committee plans to report on at the 2011 convention in Phoenix, committee members said.
The committee also celebrated the tenure of retiring Executive Committee president and former Texas pastor Morris H. Chapman, who began his service leading the SBC administrative entity in 1991 after serving 12 years as pastor of First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls.
BAPTIST PRESS MOTION
An effort by the editor of the Illinois Baptist to separate Baptist Press from direct supervision by the SBC Executive Committee president was rejected after it was added late to the agenda.
EC members affirmed earlier findings of a 1981 public relations advisory committee study during the tenure of Wilmer C. Fields, who led BP at that time. The earlier study examined a similar proposal by Tennessee messenger Jimmy Stroud, who appealed to the 1981 SBC meeting in Los Angeles to distance the Southern Baptist news agency from “control and intimidation.”
Affirming the reasoning of the 1981 panel, which was comprised of editors, communications professionals and SBC entity employees, the current EC communications workgroup concluded that it is best to keep Baptist Press under the accountability of the Executive Committee through the supervision of the EC president.
While the maker of this year’s motion, Marty King, said he had been assured by EC staff and its chairman that his proposal would not be considered until February 2011, Chapman added it for consideration at the fall meeting about 10 days after the proposed agenda was mailed out, according to numerous sources.
King’s original motion asked the Executive Committee to consider establishing Baptist Press as an entity of the SBC, with a board of directors elected by the SBC, utilizing currently allocated funds. In a subsequent defense, King suggested the foundation model using EC members as overseers who would meet in the same time frame, requiring “a very small financial footprint, overhead and bureaucracy while broadening and strengthening BP’s accountability.”
Workgroup members rejected King’s argument, stating that the cost of any change was prohibitive at a time when the EC is being asked to cut its budget in order to shift more Cooperative Program dollars to missions.
Several EC members praised Chapman’s desire to see the matter handled before Frank Page succeeded him as EC president, calling it “a gracious act.” Another member concluded that the matter had received “a good, thorough and open debate.”
Much of the half-hour discussion by the communications workgroup centered on whether BP had shown bias rather than King’s contention of undue pressure by Chapman, an allegation publicly denied by EC Convention News Vice President Will Hall.
Missouri Baptist Pathway Editor Don Hinkle offered unqualified support of Hall and the entire BP staff and challenged the conclusions of an editorial published in the June 12 Florida Baptist Witness in which King, James A. Smith Sr. of Florida, and Gary Ledbetter of Texas noted concern over “perceived lopsided coverage of the GCR Task Force.”
“Have this debate as to whether Baptist Press ought to be moved,” Hinkle told EC members, “but don’t use bias as the reasoning for having it.” Hinkle told both the workgroup and administrative committee that he had no opinion about whether BP ought to be under Executive Committee supervision or some other board. That decision, he said, was up to EC members who ultimately report their action to Southern Baptists at next year’s annual meeting in Phoenix.
In a letter included in materials prepared by EC staff, Baptist Life Editor Bob Simpson of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware shared a similar concern that tens of thousands of Southern Baptists had been given the impression that Hall and his staff acted with a lack of integrity. His Aug. 17 letter, written with the anticipation that the matter would be considered in September, included an offer by 11 other editors to appear to speak to the workgroup.
The editorial published by the Witness stated, “So long as Baptist Press is under a particular SBC entity, it will not consistently present just and balanced coverage of contentious issues. Its coverage will represent the biases of its own publisher, the EC president.” While noting that Chapman was entitled to his views, the editors stated, “He should not be allowed to use a new service that is supposed to serve all Southern Baptists as a personal megaphone.
In a subsequent June 20 editorial in the Southern Baptist TEXAN, Ledbetter made it clear that BP’s staff is comprised of world-class journalist Christians. “Alterations to their chain of command could very well give them advantages in the conduct of their important work,” he recommended, in support of further study by EC members.
The study conducted 19 years earlier was summarized to workgroup members, citing conclusions that “freedom for responsible reporting depends more on the openness, integrity and skill of the individuals involved in news handling than on whether the news service is sponsored by the SBC through its Executive Committee or through a separate agency.”
Other points noted the tendency of a small board increasing the danger of a special interest group capturing control, the risk of isolation from sources of information and income as well as increased costs at the expense of missions, and a history of objectivity, organizational effectiveness, and freedom since the founding of Baptist Press in 1947.
Workgroup members relied upon an audit by an EC member who consulted with staff to conclude that the proposal would entail a $3 million added cost per year, an assertion that alluded only to a cost of $1,500 per meeting for attendance by each member of a 10-member board. Staff also noted that King’s letter provided an incomplete understanding of how the foundation was governed, noting the inclusion of additional at-large members.
After the workgroup vote, EC member John Yeats of Alexandria, La., cautioned members to maintain the agenda that is mailed out in advance. “Our smaller church and convention people don’t have the luxury of modifying schedules to accommodate late changes,” he later explained to the TEXAN.
In response to Phil Harper of Murfreesboro, Tenn., during plenary session after EC members affirmed the recommendation of the administrative committee, EC chairman Roger Spradlin pledged to keep future motion-makers informed of when deliberation would occur.
The only other issues given lengthy consideration in subcommittees involved the effort to disallow messengers by churches perceived to be racist, and another guaranteeing representation of smaller churches in Southern Baptist board deliberations.
Dwight McKissic Sr., pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, sought last June to add “racial discrimination” as a disqualifier alongside the existing prohibition of churches that act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior. He motion to amend Article II of the SBC Constitution was discussed at length by the by-laws workgroup, which voted against it, with the understanding that a related motion from 2009 was being handled simultaneously in a thorough study of “greater SBC involvement for ethnic churches and leaders.”
That effort was advanced by Massachusetts messenger Paul Kim, leading to an EC study that is in its second year involving all SBC entities and state conventions. A report is expected at next year’s meeting in Phoenix, Administrative Committee chairman Darrel P. Orman of Florida later told the TEXAN.
Orman cited 21 pages of staff-prepared materials that identified prior motions and resolutions, including a reference in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which states, “In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism….” EC members concluded there was no need to add a means of challenging the seating of messengers since that is already possible.
North Carolinian Les Puryear appealed in person to a bylaws workgroup to approve his amendment to the SBC Constitution Article VI to specify that those appointed to boards, institutions and commissions be drawn from churches with three ranges of membership (40 percent from churches with less than 200 attending, 35 percent from churches with attendance ranging from 200 to 1000; and 25 percent from churches with more than 1,000 attending).
The administrative committee rejected Puryear’s motion, drawing on a long history of resisting efforts to impose restrictions on the qualifications for Southern Baptists nominated to serve on SBC entities boards as reflected in the 24 pages of material prepared by EC staff.
EC members offered a tribute to the outgoing Chapman on Sept. 20 and welcomed new EC President Frank Page with a reception on Sept. 21.
Richards lauded Chapman in a letter for his commitment to the Cooperative Program and his dedication as a longtime pastor, adding: “Morris, it was my privilege to hear you for the first time when you preached the convention sermon almost thirty years ago. You staked out an uncompromising position on the Word of God. You never wavered through the years. Thank you for your faithfulness to the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. Your contribution in the early days of the Conservative Resurgence was invaluable.”
In other business, EC members:
>declined a request by Mike Stewart of California for church information about trustees and committee members in the Book of Reports, including giving to the Cooperative Program;
>expressed sympathy for a motion by Mitchell Minson of Louisiana requesting that parking passes be made available for SBC meetings and pledged further effort;
>declined a motion from Harold Phillips of Massachusetts to adopt the U.S. Christian flag for display at meetings.
Resolutions of appreciation were approved for David Baldwin, executive director-treasurer of the Alaska Baptist Convention and Michael R. Collins, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan, both of whom are retiring.