I think that protecting the rights of the messengers also involves the appointment of people to some key appointments for the president of the SBC. There are some of those that are constitutionally mandated. Sometimes some of those are added by the messengers. Ed Litton had to appoint the Sexual Abuse Task Force. That’s not a constitutional duty, but the messengers instructed him to do that. And so I believe he had a responsibility in naming the people on that committee to make sure that they were people who, to the degree that he could know this, were in tune with the intent of the messengers when they created that committee. I think it would be a failure to protect the rights of the convention messenger body, to say, “OK, well, you’re going to have your committee, but I’m going to make a committee comprised entirely of people who voted against what you voted in favor of and who have an adversarial view toward what you’re trying to do.” The president has the power to do that. He has the statutory authority to do that, but it would be wrong.
The last thing is to execute what it is the messengers tell him to do. That happens again, the Sex Abuse Task Force is a great example of that. Whether Ed Litton told people, “This is what we’re going to do,” the fact of the matter is the messengers spoke, and suddenly he’s got an assignment and—whatever he feels about it—it’s his job to exercise his authority on behalf of the messengers’ instructions. So I think there are details, but that I think is the job of the president of the SBC.
Are there any specific initiatives that you would like to introduce?
I intend to be intentionally restrained about doing things like that, to exhibit some self-control. I’ll tell you, I do have some things that if I were king of the SBC, things that I would do that I think would make us healthier. As a former trustee, I’ll just say, I think we need to do a better job of orienting and training our trustees for the work that they do. Maybe Southern Baptists assumed that I knew things that I didn’t know when I embarked upon that journey, but even simple things that I’ve learned since then at training for other events about: here are five questions you can ask about a financial statement that every board ought to know and every trustee ought to have the answers to this every time they leave a meeting. That was eye-opening for me. I think there are a lot of questions like that. People have called for that from the floor of the annual meeting, several years to call for trustee training, for improvement in our trustee-training process. I’m admittedly sympathetic to those.
But ultimately, it runs contrary to my views of Baptist polity for me to come in and say, “I’ve got the gavel. Now there’s a new sheriff in town. I’m going to advance all of my personal agendas at this point.” I mentioned the one that I did, because I think there is evidence that messengers are interested in that. That’s not interest I’m trying to stoke. It’s not interest that I’m trying to create. There’s some grassroots interest in that already. I think it would cost some money to do what would be a worthwhile response, but when you look at what it costs us when we have poor trustee oversight or poor trustee governance, I think it would be money well spent for us to try to make sure we’ve got the best trained and equipped overseers that we have over our entities.
You served on a board where, is it fair to say, that the trustees weren’t always informed best?
I’m not going to accuse anyone else. I’ll say I was on a board where I was not informed the way I ought to be. I was on a board where I should have asked questions that I didn’t ask. I was on a board where sometimes when I asked questions and got answers, I didn’t know what the right thing was for me to do about them. So, I think, ultimately, while they’re going to have to receive some training from the institutions they serve, they need to understand that institution, its mission, the way it’s organized, its governing documents. I think there also needs to be some training just in kind of industry standard basic board-function training that needs to be conducted by someone other than the entity that they’re serving. Just so they can have a basic orientation to what a healthy institution looks like, what a healthy board looks like.
Because there’s a fine line between just asking questions or getting information and being an overbearing trustee.
Sure, absolutely. We’re going to have some [who are overbearing] as trustees. That’s going to happen. You can get a majority of trustees [like that] and have unhealthy things happen, certainly. But in the long run, fideist as it sounds, I believe that the Holy Spirit is actually at work within the Southern Baptist Convention and within the people of the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe He protects the work of our entities. I don’t know any other plausible historical explanation for how, with all the mistakes we’ve made and all the things that we’ve done wrong, we’re still here and as healthy as we are, other than to choose to believe that God has favored us in spite of ourselves hundreds of times along the way. I’m willing to try to put healthy things in place that even allow for, by training trustees, by showing them things to do that, even allow maybe some misuse of that and knowing that some individuals along the way are going to try to make misuse of that. I’m going to believe in the ability of the Holy Spirit to work in the aggregate, to protect us through majorities. I think this circles us around to some things I’ve said from the beginning I think our discourse is horrible right now. I think what’s happening on social media is unchristian in so many ways right now, but look what the majority of our messengers do when you put them in a room and let them vote. They do the right thing. They do the right thing. That’s because the Holy Spirit is bigger than Twitter.
What makes you happy to be Southern Baptist?
These are the people who’ve loved me all my life. It’s a great family of people and churches. They’ve entrusted me with things that there was no good reason for them to entrust me with. They may be about to do that again.
You look at Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. If something horrible happens to your town, the odds that you make it OK through that are directly proportional to your —no, they’re inversely proportional from your distance from a Southern Baptist church and from other evangelicals. If there’s a Southern Baptist presence in your area, yellow shirts are going to show up, yellow caps are going to show up. We’re going to do good by you.
We’ve got missionaries all over the world.
Cooperative Program giving is up. People are leaning into this mission.
We have amazing, miraculous things that are happening every day. If I left the Southern Baptist Convention, I’d have to try to recreate it because it’s a joyful place to be. And beyond all of that, I have friends, I got friends all over this convention that I enjoy spending time with.
We talk about the family that I live in today and I tell you problems for all of them, but there’s love there and family there and joy there, and God’s in it. And I think the same’s true for the SBC.
This article originally appeared here.