Ever so often our Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting is especially significant. Our 2000 meeting, also in Orlando. was one of those, it was the occasion of the passage of our revised faith statement. Since then we’ve done important things?elected presidents, approved budgets, etc.?but this most recent meeting garnered more attention than normal and will prove more significant than any since 2000. Here are some highlights.
The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report?You’d have to be completely disengaged from denominational discussions to have heard nothing of this. The 22 men and women appointed last summer to bring recommendations related to the effectiveness of Southern Baptist ministries brought a report that was as far-reaching as had any chance of approval. It was thoroughly discussed over the course of 12 months and the result of the task force’s deliberations was greatly impacted by the SBC-wide discussion. The debate in Orlando lasted nearly two hours and was pretty lively. In the course of this Tuesday afternoon deliberation we saw the report amended yet again and at one point we saw our moderator and parliamentarians scratching their heads over how to best do the will of the messengers. In the end, the report was overwhelmingly approved and most participants in the discussion went home happy with that part of our business. The task force, and especially chairman Ronnie Floyd of Arkansas, should be commended for their hard work and flexibility throughout the process. I can’t think of how they could have tried harder to produce a constructive report.
Now, the implementation of these recommendations will be in the hands of our SBC entities?especially the North American Mission Board and the Executive Committee. More about the EC later but I do think it is important for us, and them, to note that the approval of the messengers in Orlando was not grudging. It was a mandate. The convention does not direct the work of our agencies except in the election of the boards that do direct them. The boards and committee will decide what to do with recommendations. That said, for an agency head or an agency board to disregard the clear will of the convention in favor of the status quo at his own agency would be a discouraging and possibly destructive form of insubordination. I encourage the three most prominently named agencies, the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, and the Executive Committee to implement the will of the convention messengers to the best of their abilities.
The Executive Committee?Our most influential SBC entity was very prominent during the discussion of a renewed focus for our convention’s work. Although I have no doubt that the EC staff favors renewal and refocus, they were clear in their rejection of the task force recommendations. Executive Committee President Morris Chapman made his opposition clear in his annual report only an hour or so before the task force presentation. This was Dr. Chapman’s final report in that role. He is scheduled to retire in September and his successor was elected by the Executive Committee Monday afternoon, the day before the first day of the convention meeting. Now, what will they do with the recommendations that will be forwarded to them for consideration? The debate is over and everyone who wanted to have his say did have his say. The convention voted in favor of the report and the messengers did so with the full expectation that all convention employees will consider their answer the end of that debate. Whether the messengers are right in that expectation will be first revealed in the deliberations of the EC.
Which brings us to the election of Frank Page as Morris Chapman’s successor. This election by itself is a significant event in the life of the convention, as will be the eventual election of presidents for the IMB and NAMB. These presidents are three of the most influential Southern Baptists. The EC was divided on Dr. Page’s election. They went into executive session (improperly, I think) and debated for almost two hours on the report of the presidential search committee. At the end of it they voted to approve the nomination of their search committee. Although chairman Randall James (improperly, I believe) declined to share the results of that vote, only its outcome, at least two committee members did report that the nomination was approved by only 60 percent of the members present, a seven-vote margin. As newly elected president of the EC, Frank Page has a big job ahead of him in working with a committee that very nearly rejected his candidacy. In his press conference, Dr. Page said that the vote indicated that the convention was divided. I’m not sure he’s right. Without a doubt the EC was divided regarding his election.
The election of Frank Page is more interesting because he was a member of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. In one of its most prominent recommendations, the task force urged the reduction of the EC budget (and its staff, indirectly) by a third. That money, 1 percent of the CP budget, would go to the IMB. Since the report came from the committee unanimously, Frank Page must have voted for it. Perhaps the most unifying thing he could do now would be to work toward implementing the convention’s recommendations that relate to the SBC agency he now directs.
A new SBC president?We do this every two years but in our current context, the president is potentially a game changer. In a field of four candidates, Georgian Bryant Wright was elected on a second ballot over Ted Traylor of Florida. In Texas, Pastor Wright is largely unknown. He is obviously better known on the East Coast. For me, I wa