Ruled Out of Order or, A Pusillanimous SBC Part 1

We Southern Baptists really do prefer our words over our deeds. Alan Cross submitted a resolution to the Southern Baptist Convention on Holistic Ministry and Community Involvement. His third resolved read as follows,

RESOLVED, That we encourage every local church to engage the needs of their community with a strong gospel witness in both word and deed as God uniquely gifts, directs, and enables; and be it further

Wednesday morning, June 20, Alan began reading the form of his resolution that made its way out of committee. Resolutions often carry a new title as filtered through the committee process and generally reflects the way that particular committee seeks to parse the content. Under the new title, Affirming Human Needs Ministry and Local Church Involvement, the phrase, “with a strong gospel witness in both word and deed,” had been shuttered for,

supremely with a strong Gospel witness in words, and as often as possible, accompanied by a corresponding witness of deeds; and be it further.”

We agreed the committee gutted his original intent. Upon further consideration, the change in wording actually muted the title of the Resolution as it came to the floor from the Committee. Alan intended to call attention to the seamless connection between word and deed. The Committee sought to emphasize words and relegated deeds to the arena of, “as often as possible.” Alan intended to call us to serve in Jesus’ manner – word and deed. The Committee appeared fearful to give deeds that same footing.

Alan submitted an amendment to his own resolution and it passed. The final form of that third resolved read,

RESOLVED, That we encourage every local church to engage the needs of its community, supremely with a strong Gospel witness in words, accompanied by a corresponding witness of deeds; and be it further (bold text notes approved amendment)

Action Not Opinion

Resolutions in Southern Baptists life express opinion. That was the Committee On Order of Business’s position leading to the ruling a motion I made was out of order. The Committee interpreted my motion as a resolution masquerading as a motion and therefore ruled as they did. Here is how the Southern Baptist Convention Bulletin from Day 2 reported the motion,

12.           Todd A. Littleton (OK) made a motion requesting the Convention to speak to recent events involving Richard Land.

Clearly the publishers of the Bulletin described the motion as a request for action. Speaking to the events involving Richard Land is an action. I did not ask for an opinion. I requested that we act. Here is the motion again,

I move the Southern Baptist Convention publicly agree with Dr. Richard Land when on May 9, 2012 he acknowledged his words regarding the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman incident were harmful thereby repudiating the notion Dr. Land initially expressed when he suggested most Southern Baptists feel the same way. And, further that the Southern Baptist Convention publicly affirm the reprimands issued by the Trustees of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in their review of the issues thereby publicly exhibiting our willingness to own our mistakes and reestablish our public commitment to racial reconciliation.

The truth is, the opinions had already come in. Dr. Land agreed his words were harmful. We, whose opinion he said he represented, needed to agree they were harmful and repudiate the notion Southern Baptists are closet racists hiding behind another person’s apology. That is an action. It is not an opinion. Unless of course it is not true then it becomes only my opinion that we are not closet racists. The Trustees of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission gave their opinion. Reprimands were handed down for those harmful words as well as  Land’s plagiarism. That we still have not seen anything more on the plagairism is alarming. That is my opinion.

We should have agreed to those reprimands as a show of solidarity – action, not opinion. Unless of course, it was our opinion the Trustees over-reached. A possibility we will never know since the motion did not come to the floor. We needed to take an action requiring a motion. We did not need to offer an opinion, one had already been formed.

Wednesday morning, June 20, Soledad O’Brien interviewed our newly elected President, Dr. Fred Luter, Jr. Here is a clip.

Dr. Luter judges his election, as do I, a historical moment for the Southern Baptist Convention. He believes this is not a token action. “It is not a one and done.” A new day, he believes, has dawned in Southern Baptist life. He hopes for a day where the SBC is as diverse as our Country. Me too.

I believed that morning and have since that the SBC stood at a place where we could put force behind the election. Right out of the gate we could have privileged our President and we could have solidified our position for racial reconciliation by approving the motion. We are not closet racists. We own our mistakes. We want the ground back that we lost with Land’s statements. Alas, the Resolutions Committee thought that was just my opinion. It was not worthy of action.

We Southern Baptists love to parse words. It is in our post-CR DNA. So, when Kathy Finn, of Reuters, asked for my reactions to the declined motion I told her we had no courage. We stood before a watching world and exhibited a pusillanimous faith. Finn asked if I thought we left Luter standing by himself. I agreed we did just that. My opinion.

The Resolutions Committee, regarding Alan’s resolution,  could have exhibited courage in the face of those who believe our only call is to “preach the word.” I imagine they were hoping to avoid those who would construe the resolution steering the opinion of the SBC toward a “social gospel.” They could have pointed to our history of deeds in communities around the Country as Rick did in a recent comment thread over at SBC Voices,

Your arguments against . . . “social gospel” approach are moot to an organization that funds orphanages, hospitals, schools, and relief agencie, . . .. Besides, if we are so worried about the “social gospel” why do we openly support the Republican party? Isn’t the goal of the Religious Right to transform society through political activism rather than the gospel alone? Not judging, just sayin’

Or, the Resolutions Committee could have found the resolution commensurate with the North American Mission Board’s LoveLoud material which states,

LoveLoud is a movement of churches demonstrating God’s love by meeting significant human needs while sharing Christ.

Start your church on the journey of impacting lives and transforming communities through the power of the gospel now!

Courage. Shun the vocabulary police who only know how to practice logical fallacies. Watch out for the slippery slope. Beware of leftward drift. There is no trust in thinking people by the powers. We are simply dolts. Courage, that is what we need.

In the same way, the Committee On Order of Business could have presented the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention an opportunity to courageously stand with our new President. We could have given him an action that he could point to as a signal his election is not a “one and done.” We could have stood against the recently released Lifeway poll indicating a small 14% disagreed or strongly disagreed that it was a good thing to elect an African-American President of the Southern Baptist Convention. As it stands our lack of courage to act may lead some to form an opinion the 14% polled is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We could have subverted those potential opinions with an action.

Courage. That is what it would take.

Maybe the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention possesses the will to act between Annual Meetings? I am not sure what would be within their purview to do. But, were I sitting among that group, I would want some action. That is my opinion.

Part 2 – Prophesy Not Protect

Image Credit – Words and Deeds Logo

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.