The prerequisite for unity in the Southern Baptist Convention is the restoration of trust and transparency between denominational leaders and the people in our pews paying the bills. Unity is the goal of this agenda. Those who squelch all dissent by branding questioners as divisive or disloyal are not helping. Unity will result only from an open and honest conversation about the issues and concerns we simply must address in our convention.
1. Unveil the Great Commission Task Force proceedings now.
In 2010, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted the Great Commission Task Force Report. The Task Force sealed for fifteen years the proceedings upon which our long range plan is based. In response, messengers at the convention attempted to overturn such secrecy, but the motion failed. Task force leaders insisted that testimony regarding personnel matters required confidentiality for a time. Six years later, there is no compelling reason to wait any longer. No matter the discovery, the important thing today is that Southern Baptists no longer harbor any secrets. In the interest of full transparency, we should open these records now and not wait until 2025.
2. Report fully our church planting progress and partnerships.
The North American Mission Board must begin reporting annually on the progress of all our church plants. This report must include a numbered list of the churches planted by year, the location, pastor, baptisms, average attendance, annual budget, and all co-sponsoring groups (or individuals / churches affiliated with such groups, especially non-SBC groups) and any other denominations with which the plant is dually aligned. The report must indicate if each church plant remains active or if it has closed. Church plant reporting compliance will be a condition of our support.
3. Disclose the compensation for our entity executives.
At all levels of Southern Baptist life, sacrifices have been made in the form of lost jobs, reduced pay and downsized ministry organizations to reallocate more money for the nations. It seems only fair for the executive salaries of our entities to face similar scrutiny. The President of the United States earns $569,000 a year in salary, benefits and expenses. It is believed that a few of our Southern Baptist executives may have compensation packages higher than the President’s. Perhaps this should not be the case. Regardless, such information should be made public to assure good stewardship.
4. Investigate the Southern Baptist trustee board selection process.
Regarding our entities and institutions, the only genuine source of accountability lies with those chosen as trustees. Because each autonomous organization answers only to its own trustee board, the selection of trustees is crucial to prevent insider loyalties that would undermine legitimate oversight. What happens to this system when trustees feel greater loyalty to entity leaders than to Southern Baptist messengers? Do leaders provide input in selecting their own trustees? An investigation designed to evaluate our trustee nomination and selection process can only improve our accountability.
5. Remove Non-Baptist churches from the Southern Baptist Convention.
Rather than hiding these matters or looking the other way, two specific criteria will result in a church being considered Non-Baptist. First, churches will be considered to be Non-Baptist if they do not practice some form of congregational polity as defined in the Baptist Faith and Message. This is simply to say that, in certain cases, the entire congregation votes on a matter, demonstrating a democratic process. Second, churches will be considered to be Non-Baptist if they do not require, as a condition of church membership, that a person has been scripturally baptized by immersion as defined in the Baptist Faith and Message. Southern Baptists must be baptized.
6. Fill Southern Baptist executive vacancies with Southern Baptists.
One might assume that leadership vacancies within our Southern Baptist entities would always be filled from the ranks of faithful Southern Baptists who have served our denomination well for a number of years, thereby proving their loyalty and commitment to our convention. Increasingly, however, those who identify merely as evangelicals are being hired in our entities to receive salaries paid by Southern Baptists. Let us now codify the previously unwritten rule that earlier generations never needed to state: “Hire leaders who are already Southern Baptist.”
7. Make the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting meaningful.
Southern Baptists offer a variety of conferences, seminars, rallies and revivals for spiritual inspiration throughout the year. Such events are wonderfully designed to instruct, refresh and edify Christians. However, Southern Baptists only meet once a year for a day and a half to conduct our business and address our problems. Unfortunately, these meetings are now so scripted, and the rules for discussion so limiting, that most matters of substance coming from the floor are simply referred or declined. The business that is accomplished is typically routine and initiated by those on the platform. Let us form a Messenger Participation Committee to recommend measures that will improve the level of meaningful messenger involvement at the Annual Meeting. Messengers deserve to play a genuine role in setting the agenda for the Southern Baptist Convention, rather than simply lifting their voting cards and rubber stamping the predetermined decisions of a small group, while having their own concerns referred or declined.
8. Create a funding source to allow a truly independent Baptist Press.
Although Baptist Press should not be free from the oversight of our convention messengers at the annual meeting, it should be free from any ties to our denominational organizations, entities or the Executive Committee, since Baptist Press is tasked with covering the news in these organizations, and any conflict of interest should be avoided. Let Baptist Press become an entity like the others, with a trustee board that understands it is accountable to the convention itself. The reporters at Baptist Press should be encouraged to ask the hard questions that Southern Baptists should be asking and would be asking if they only knew more of the details of the events taking place in our denomination.
9. Approve Southern Baptist financial stewardship standards.
Trustees at each entity are to keep expenditures in line with revenues within two budget cycles of any shortfall, meaning our operational budgets are to balance without dipping into reserves or applying asset liquidation. Whenever substantial liquidation takes place for any reason, even when operational budgets are in balance, entity leaders should make this liquidation a major point of emphasis in that year’s annual report. To protect donor intent, SBC dollars allocated to one entity should not be transferred to another entity. Any downsizing entity should institute a hiring freeze during the period of the downsizing. State conventions are urged to forward 50% of Cooperative Program receipts, churches are urged to forward 10% of undesignated receipts, and individuals are urged to tithe 10% of total income. These financial standards are simply goals and do not undermine any organization’s autonomy.
10. Require fairness in presenting all Southern Baptist views.
A committee should investigate whether our entities fairly represent the views of all Southern Baptists. Is the ERLC pushing an agenda to the left of most in the SBC? Does Southern Seminary push the minority view of salvation doctrine? Do many of our conference speakers oppose SBC ecclesiology? Are we publishing books that disproportionately represent certain doctrinal viewpoints? Do our church planters embrace proportionally the salvation doctrine of our sponsoring churches? Are we drafting new entity leadership from a cross-section of the SBC or systematically favoring a certain segment? Are we representing ethnic minorities, women, and those from smaller churches in a fair and balanced manner? In the interest of fairness, let us determine if our leadership is out of step with our membership by forming a Representation Committee to research the matter, report findings and propose solutions.
It is our prayer that the unity desired by every well intentioned Southern Baptist will result from a genuine effort to take a good hard look at our present practices. We need to wipe a clean slate, write a blank check and press a transparency reset button in Southern Baptist life. By doing so, we can move forward together in a genuine spirit of unity
UNITY THROUGH TRANSPARENCY AGENDA SURVEY: I invite Southern Baptists to register their agreement or disagreement with each of these agenda items by completing this very short survey. Thank you.