Ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, one of the biggest questions was to what extent the assembled messengers would trust the SBC executive committee.
If this morning’s business in Nashville was any indication, the messengers replied, “Not much. “
On June 11, just four days before the annual meeting began, the executive committee announced that it was hiring an outside company to investigate its handling of allegations of sexual abuse within the denomination. After weeks of back-and-forth hearsay and the publication of recorded conversations, an independent investigation is the right decision. The question is whether the convention considers that the investigation initiated by the Executive Committee is sufficient or whether a more independent investigation is necessary.
The executive committee exists to manage the affairs of the denomination between annual meetings. The SBC is ultimately led by the messengers assembled at the annual meeting. No hierarchical structure exists beyond the local church. The Executive Committee is accountable to the messengers, and all of its recommendations must be approved by the votes of the plenary convention.
The Executive Committee, aware of this procedure, usually only makes recommendations to the assembly that it knows will be adopted. He presented nine recommendations this year. The first sign that something was happening was on Recommendation 4. This recommendation included a review of the Executive Committee’s Mission Statement which said, in part, “The SBC Executive Committee seeks to empower churches to prioritize, uplift and accelerate the vision of reaching every person.” for Jesus Christ. A messenger, Spence Shelton of Mercy Church in Charlotte, introduced an amendment to change the wording of this part of the proposed mission statement to read: “The SBC Executive Committee seeks to to serve churches as they prioritize, uplift and accelerate the vision of reaching each person for Jesus Christ.
It might sound like puns, but the messengers took it very seriously. Shelton argued, “We are an ascending and non-descending convention of churches. . . . Churches empower the executive committee to serve us, they do not empower local churches to accomplish this mission. Shelton was greeted with applause. The amendment was adopted without objection before the adoption of the recommendation.
It was a slap on the wrist. The answer to Recommendation 7 was a complete rebuke. This recommendation included proposals to increase the Executive Committee’s oversight of the finances of SBC Entities. The entities enjoy significant independence in the governance of SBC, and the entity has its own board of directors to oversee its operations.
Brian Sandifer, a courier from Indian Head, Md., Initially spoke out against the recommendation. He pointed to a disposition the recommendation that would give the Executive Committee the power to seize funds for an entity if the entity does not comply with the procedure of the Executive Committee. Sandifer argued that this provision would ultimately transfer “stock market power” from the entity’s trustees to the executive committee. Vance Pitman, a messenger from Las Vegas, added that an organization under investigation for mismanaging sexual abuse should not be given more power: “With so many unanswered questions right now, I think it seems obvious to me that this is not the right time to grant broad powers to the executive committee and give it the privilege of sequestering funds. Both Sandifer and Pitman were greeted with heavy applause from the convention.
The six SBC seminars are each entity. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke on behalf of the six seminary chairs against the recommendation. It was greeted with the loudest applause to date. When the time came to vote and the President called for the votes in favor, there was audible laughter in the convention hall as hardly anyone lifted their ballot in favor of Recommendation 7.
Voting on Recommendation 8 was too close to be called from the chair. The messengers vote on paper and the results will be announced later. The use of ballots on a recommendation of the Executive Committee would have been remarkable in itself if it had not been overshadowed by the almost unanimous rejection of recommendation 7.
The confidence of the messengers in the Executive Committee appears to be low. Pastor Grant Gaines presented a movement which specified a very large-scale sexual abuse investigation to be overseen by a task force appointed by the president of the SBC, which is constitutionally separate from the executive committee. It remains to be seen whether this motion will be approved by convention, but if the low confidence in the executive committee that was demonstrated this morning is any indicator, the motion stands a good chance.