Messenger registration for this year’s Southern Baptist Convention was dismal. Some 8,500 messengers registered, which was probably the lowest since the conservative resurgence began. I have an insight that might help us understand why.
The annual meeting has become a collage of preaching, music, information and business; with progressively less attention being given to business, which is after all, why “messengers” are there in the first place. “Attenders” can listen to the preaching and music, hear the reports, and watch the videos. They just can’t participate in the business of the convention.
In fact, only 55 minutes were allocated for “previously scheduled business” along with an equal amount of time (55 minutes) for disposition of resolutions. That alone should wake someone up. Resolutions are suppose to be “non-binding” and only express the mind of a particular gathered convention. Yet, convention leaders are scheduling as equal time for “business” and for “resolutions”. Excluding nominations and voting for officers and asking questions of entity heads, only 1 hour and 50 was scheduled for business during the approximately 16 hour meeting.
And no wonder. With all the “automatic referrals” and the “long-standing practice” messengers do virtually no business. The Wednesday evening agenda had “business” scheduled for 7:00-7:15 which wasn’t even used because there was no “business” to discuss. In fact, (someone help me with this since my memory is woefully short), wasn’t the Rick Garner BFM motion the ONLY motion that originated from the floor? And it in no way changed anything.
With the lock down of tight egalitarian control, we commoners can do very little to impact the direction of the SBC. So why bother trying? And if the convention isn’t about doing the business of the SBC but more about information and inspiration, most Southern Baptists will find cheaper and more alluring alternatives and will stop attending (as obviously they already are). We can attend preaching conferences of our choice, whether the preference is Founders or Emergent. And getting info about the institutions and agencies is usually a couple or key-clicks away. And CDs of the latest recording artist are a lot cheaper to purchase than plane tickets to the host city.
Many of the ruling intelligentsia may welcome the silence (or squashing) of the plebes. But it will come at a long-term price. This growing disconnect will translate into lower CP contributions over time. American colonists grew weary of shipping their taxes overseas and eventually embraced a “no taxation without representation” philosophy. It won’t be long before the SBC experiences the same.
I wish “the establishment” wouldn’t fear us so much. We’re not all of the Ben Cole type radicals, (though I’m not sure just how radical Ben really is). Last year, I presented two motions that would have allowed greater messenger participation (allowing a simple majority to override the Resolutions Committee or Committee on Order of Business rather than the current 2/3 majority). It is the only hope folks like Tom Ascol has for his resolution on church membership to be considered. The Resolutions Committee should allow it to be considered on the floor. For two years, they have refused to report it out. In my mind, this actually serves to benefit Tom’s position. It probably would have been voted down last year or even this year and the matter would have been put to rest (at least, to some degree); however, the committee’s refusal to allow a messenger from a cooperating church to have a moment of deliberative persuasion further alienates many from attending. And I can guarantee that 1/3 of the gathered messengers will always uphold a committee ruling anytime night or day—thwarting the will of the majority who have collectively paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to affect SBC life.
Anyway, convention leaders had better relax control and allow greater messenger participation or boost their exhibit hall budgets to give out more than just pens and mints; otherwise, they’ll soon be meeting in a church fellowship hall.
PS: The mints were stale and the pens were lousy. Thankfully, Olan Mills is still snapping free pictures...now that's worth the trip!