Please Pass the Transparency | Part Two
Dr. Rick Patrick | Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL
Click HERE for Part One.
3. Our Scripted Conventions
I have attended every SBC Annual Meeting in this century—sixteen straight from 2000 through 2015. The process of decision making used to fascinate me, as ours is a much larger deliberative body than Congress. Any messenger can go to a microphone, identify himself and pretty much say anything as he makes a motion, proposes a resolution or asks a question to an Entity President, leaving the false impression of spontaneity. Unfortunately, in almost Hunger Games fashion, the emperor and puppet master is controlling the entire game, and the outcome has already been predetermined—if not by God, at least by those on the platform. In the case of motions, anything of substance is simply referred to a board of trustees. (See item two above.) In the case of resolutions, they are neatly numbered and presented to a committee in which nearly all of them will be declined without coming to the floor of the convention for any discussion. In the case of questions to Entity Presidents, these leaders are all well versed in extemporaneous speaking, dispatching even the most probing questions by transitioning to their talking points, blustering and filibustering until the allotted time has expired.
Communication experts talk about meta-communication and the fact that most of one’s message is actually imparted visually. In this theater of the convention, one sees a lowly peasant at microphone number seven, dressed in nice but casual clothes, lurking in poor lighting, whose shadowy image is magnified on the full screen for all to see. Like Oliver asking for more porridge, he dares to ask for the permission to speak. When granted, he must first introduce himself, in contrast to the glowing introductions received by those on the platform wearing their finest clothes and standing under the brightest lights, often coming to their microphones to the sound of the crowd’s grateful applause. At the floor microphone level, there is an annoying sound system delay creating a measure of mental confusion causing the speaker to pause and interrupt their cadence. This results in the stilted and slow speech pattern of a Southern Baptist at their first Catholic Communion service.
In other words, the theater of the convention does not really permit the opportunity for a fair and dignified exchange of ideas. Even if a superb communicator does manage to overcome the obstacles mentioned above, there is a three-minute time limit for sharing concerns from the floor, but no time limit for the initiatives being presented by our committees. Nearly everyone in the hall is ready to approve what the leaders on the platform have cooked up so we can finish our business on time and hit the buffet line. Finally, should the impossibly rare scenario come to pass in which a resolution that has been declined or a motion that has been referred is challenged successfully so that the matter does come to the floor for deliberation, and under the further unlikely scenario that the motion or resolution passes, it has sometimes been the case that the executives and trustees of an entity will simply ignore the vote of the Southern Baptist Convention, and do whatever it was that they wanted to do in the first place. In spite of the well-known adage, you just might be able to fight City Hall, but you definitely do not stand a chance against the Southern Baptist Convention—and that is not necessarily a good thing.
4. Our Dismissive Communications
It has been my privilege to correspond in writing and to communicate by telephone with communications officers from several of our Southern Baptist organizations. When responding to my questions, each person conducted themselves in a Christ-like and professional manner while proceeding to provide me with absolutely no useful information whatsoever about my concerns. In some cases, I was told the information was simply not available. In other cases, my questions were referred to others and then ignored. In still other cases, I was simply assured that the trustees were handling the situation. Again, while everything on an interpersonal level was kind and polite, in each case it was clear to me that the goal of the information officer was primarily to handle the inquirer and not really to answer the inquiry.
Although the attitudes displayed were neither patronizing nor condescending, this practice of communicating with the public without ever really producing the goods is somehow intrinsically insulting. Skilled communications professionals can perfect the art of speaking and writing about a subject with great articulation while completely avoiding the direct consideration of all unpleasant subjects. Consider, for example, a hypothetical letter from King Herod’s Director of Communications as he writes a letter to Elizabeth who has inquired about her son John’s safety:
On behalf of King Herod, let me thank you for your interest in the well being of John the Baptist. I can assure you that we are monitoring this situation with great personal interest ourselves. I can indeed confirm that John recently spent quite some time here at the castle as a personal guest of the King, providing him with extensive marriage and family counseling. The last time anyone remembers seeing John was at a social engagement not long ago in which Herod’s daughter Salome was dancing for the King. Although we have no specific information to substantiate this claim, it is believed that during this great celebration, John did surprise everyone present by sticking his head in for just a moment. Sadly, since that time, no further reports concerning his whereabouts have been received in our office. Should we discover anything new, we will be sure to give you a heads up. Please be assured of our deep appreciation for your interest in this mutual concern.
King Herod’s Communications Director
In the blogging world, whenever I express some type of concern with a Christian individual or organization, I can always count on a few brothers to whip out Matthew 18 and ask if I have spoken with the individual or the board personally. (If every newspaper journalist or television broadcaster had to speak personally with their subject before ever reporting the news or sharing an opinion regarding a newsmaker, it would absolutely shut the media down!) One of the reasons I feel at peace presenting informed opinions on such matters without necessarily contacting the organization first is that every time I try, I just get this same run around, boilerplate, official sounding response that never, ever, answers the question.
5. Our Trusting Congregations
In recent years, churches have become more sophisticated in the measures being taken to improve child security and safety. The use of background checks and the installation of a two adult rule are employed to help keep children safe in a world containing child predators whose method of operation is to come to church to be close to children in an environment where everyone is trusting and the parents are often preoccupied with socializing or various other ministry-related tasks.
Unfortunately, we bring this same environment of naïve trust to our consideration of denominational matters. Are all of our boards balancing their budgets on the basis of the previous year’s giving pattern, without dipping into reserves? (No.) Are all of our Southern Baptist entities hiring current Southern Baptists for our top leadership posts? (No.) Do all our Southern Baptist churches require immersion baptism for membership? (No.) Are we sponsoring political forums to discuss social and moral issues to which we do not even invite legitimate and articulate Southern Baptist candidates? (Yes.) When we lay off workers during a financial shortfall, do we bother to implement the typical corresponding hiring freeze? (No.) Are we building bridges in our denomination to invite into our SBC fold the kind of charismatic churches and organizations represented by C.J. Mahaney and James MacDonald, who are already involved in SBC life, and the International House of Prayer churches, who may soon become involved? (Yes.) Do we plant churches through NAMB that have competing allegiances to other co-sponsoring groups and denominations? (Yes.) Are our leaders concerned that these groups might be using SBC dollars to establish churches actually more loyal to them? (No.) Are average Southern Baptists permitted to discover the salaries paid to our entity presidents through their donations? (No.) Are average Southern Baptists able to view the transcripts of the meetings informing our denomination’s long-range plan? (No.)
In the SBC today, those paying the bills are kept in the dark through a dependent press, secretive boards, scripted conventions, dismissive communications and trusting churches. May we please walk in the light and pass the transparency?