I think the primary job of the president of the SBC is to protect the rights of the messengers in the meeting. I want to conduct the meeting in a way that’s fair to everyone, but also everyone needs to understand, because there were a lot of complaints made in recent meetings about “we had this person ready to speak to this at this microphone, and they didn’t get to do it.” I’ve been there, and it’s easy to say, “I’m gonna blame the guy wielding the gavel” or “I’m gonna blame the people that I really think pull the strings back there” or whatever else when the fact of the matter is the majority of people didn’t want to listen to me. They voted to end the debate. They voted to do that because they felt like they knew what they needed to know to make their choice to cast their ballot, and their voice is more important than my voice.
Would you say that that played out in a very real way with the formation of the Sexual Abuse Task Force in the way that came from the floor through the messengers?
One hundred percent. I would say that it’s hard to claim that elites rule the SBC when you just watched the messenger body of the SBC overwhelmingly, on multiple occasions in the same annual meeting, say, “No, actually we’re going to do that. We want to do this,” and carry the day with their ballots and to see the people on the platform go, “What just happened?”
I heard that at our last annual meeting, multiple times. I ran into people who would grab me and say, “What just happened?” I’ll tell you what just happened, our polity just happened. The messengers from the churches stood up and said, “This is what we want to do.” That’s happened in between the annual meeting since then. So, I think we’re really becoming more and more healthy in terms of the engagement of messengers. I think we’re less elitist than we’ve been in years right now.
Because the messenger voice is stronger than it’s been in years?
And because the messenger voice is stronger than it has been in years and because they’re thinking more independently now, and more messengers are showing up more churches are engaged.
There’s been a lot of discussion about possible remote voting changes in the constitution. Where do you stand on that?
I’m opposed to remote voting for this reason. A lot of people look at this from the perspective of, “Hey, I do a lot of things with my smart phone. I do a lot of things with my computer. I think we could set up a system where it would be possible for people to vote.” But I think what the president of the SBC has to worry about and what the Executive Committee and the Committee on Order of Business have to worry about is not, “Can we put a system in place where we think it’s possible that people would be able to vote?”
You have to put together a system in place where you can say we can guarantee that people will be able to vote, we can guarantee that people will be able to hear all of the deliberations, people will be able to operate on the same set of information and people will be able to cast a ballot that we will know for sure has been received and has been accounted for.
We live in a time where technology is advanced and makes a lot of things possible. We also live in the time in which the Iowa Democratic Caucus devolved into utter chaos because of technology failures and the level of division that would ensue and the accusations of elitism and the conspiracy theories that would ensue if we had technological problems pop up in the middle of an important vote for the Southern Baptist convention would be horrible.
The next president will lead us through the report of the Sexual Abuse Task Force. Are you prepared for that?
I have no idea what’s in the report. That means I ought to be circumspect about what I say. I have a demonstrated track record of being all in on doing the right thing with regard to sex abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. In fact, I’ve creatively come up with ideas nobody else came up with.
Alongside that, I also have a long-term demonstrated track record of being all in on Baptist polity and Baptist distinctives and Baptist beliefs. So if there are people who look at the response to sex abuse and say, “I’m worried that someone all in on the response to sex abuse won’t know about or care about the autonomy of the local church or won’t know about or care about the uniqueness of the way that Southern Baptist polity is structured or about the about the non-connectionalism that we have in an SBC family of conventions and entities and associations and whatever else.”
I do know about all of those things. I’ve written about those things. I’ve taught those things in seminary classes. I’m 100 percent committed to those things, too. I believe this is going to look different in the way it happens in the Southern Baptist Convention versus the Catholic church, for example, because our structure and our beliefs are different.
I also think that the response for prevention and for addressing sex abuse is going to look a little different in the Southern Baptists Convention than it’s going to look in other denominations because of the uniqueness of our structure and our polity and our distinctive beliefs.
I think this is a lot like the moment in the movie “Apollo 13,” where Gene Kranz is standing there, and they’re waiting on re-entry of Apollo 13. There are a couple of NASA officials who are back in the back with their arms folded, kind of worried. And one of them says to the other one: “I know the challenges we face. This could be the worst disaster in NASA’s history,” and Gene Kranz turns and looks at them and says, “I believe it’s going to be our finest hour.” I think that possibility is here. I think it’s possible that facing all of these challenges, if we’re committed to doing the right thing and we’re committed to our beliefs and our polity, but also committed to justice and righteousness, this could be our finest hour because finest hours arise out of darkest hours.