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Diminishing Returns?
Friday, May 12, 2006

In the early years of the Southern Baptist Convention, God raised up a few extraordinarily gifted men with keen minds, bold visions, and compassionate hearts. Some of these men were repeatedly elected as president of our Convention and served an indefinite number of years. It was not uncommon for these same men to become chief executives of SBC agencies and institutions. The Convention was young, its size was much smaller, and highly educated and charismatic leaders were fewer in number.

The landscape has changed. The Convention is no longer in its infancy and has long passed the days of a fledgling denomination. The Southern Baptist Convention is still rooted in the rich soil of our Southern Baptist heritage. Many of our churches remain in rural settings. From this heritage our forebears taught us the importance of "scattering the seed" upon good ground that awaits to receive the absolute and authoritative Word of God. From these beginnings sprang a convention of believers devoted to scattering the seed to the ends of the earth. We became a people whose hearts were aflame with concern for the unsaved and a vision to circle the globe for the cause of Christ.

Today political strategies, agendas, and power politics threaten to distract us from empowered possibilities of a people who rely solely upon God's guidance. We are drawn to do things as the world does them. To lose power from above all too often drives us to generate artificial power of our own making. We can intellectualize the Word of God 'til the cows come home and Christ reigns supreme upon the earth, but the more we attempt to do in our own power, the less we shall know the power of God. Our strength pales in comparison to the Christ who arose from the grave and ascended to the right hand of the Father.

In our Convention's more recent history it has been the rare exception for a chief executive of an entity to be nominated for an elected office of the Southern Baptist Convention and just as rare to nominate or endorse someone else. In the Southern Baptist Convention there are 12 entities and 1 auxiliary. Among the other 16 million people are there not sufficient leaders to make and accept nominations for the elected offices of the Convention?

For the head of an entity to be president of the convention in this and succeeding generations creates potential conflicts of interest, great and small. The head of an entity is not an unbiased and soft-spoken advocate for the entity he has been called to lead...and rightly so. But upon his election the SBC president, according to SBC Bylaws, becomes a trustee on every SBC board (IMB, NAMB, LifeWay, Guidestone) and the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee members are charged with the responsibility of recommending to the SBC the percentage of CP funds to be distributed to SBC entities through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget. The president conceivably may vote on the percentage not only going to his entity, but to every SBC entity. Of course, a president may choose to abstain from voting on the allocation budget but that puts the decision in his hands rather than in the hands of the convention.

Additionally the SBC Executive Committee is charged with policy, polity, and financial matters affecting entities of the Southern Baptist Convention. In his elected role, if inclined to do so, the president would be in position to engage in well-intentioned persuasion of Executive Committee members and executive staff to make certain decisions although they may be contrary to facts that lead toward another decision. Of course, we can assume he would make the case in good faith for good reasons.  Nevertheless, the potential for conflict exists even though it would most likely be created by the situation, not the individual.  Obviously, we assume that no president would be tempted to misuse his office in any way. Also, we assume no members (trustees) and staff of the Executive Committee would allow themselves to be unduly influenced to make unwise decisions in spite of the insistence to the contrary by a Convention president. Because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, we assume the purest intentions of every SBC president. However, this does not obscure the reality that the potential for conflict exists if the president of an SBC entity is at the same time the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

Nominating or being nominated for an elected officer of the SBC, or endorsing a nominee for an elected office, in my opinion, lessens the importance of the work to which the entity head has been called. The faithful exercise of his duties as the president of an entity and the continued fulfillment of the ministry to which God has called him bring admiration, love, and respect from many corners of the SBC. When a president of an entity publicly endorses a potential nominee or nominates a candidate for elected office, he potentially alienates some who otherwise hold him in high esteem because they differ with the person he has embraced publicly for an elected office. Consequently, the entity head endangers his potential to provide effective counsel and spiritual leadership to the larger body of Southern Baptists although their beliefs may coincide with the entity head on most other issues.

Diminishing admiration for a SBC entity president could be the consequence of endorsing or nominating an individual even if he were to be the only candidate nominated for a particular office. We can hardly forget that the head of an entity serves at the pleasure of the trustees. Is it possible that a breach with a trustee or two or more could result from the endorsement or nomination undertaken publicly by the chief executive. At the least, it is an unneeded risk. At the worst, fractured relationships with the very people to whom the SBC has entrusted our accountability could be the consequence. 

As absurd as it may sound, perhaps this scenario will put the comments above in perspective. What if the heads of all 12 SBC entities and the auxiliary decided one year to nominate or endorse 13 different nominees for the same elected office of the Southern Baptist Convention? Even worse, what if the heads of all entities and the auxiliary decided one year to be nominated for the same elected office of the Southern Baptist Convention? The Convention might never recover. Why then should any head of an entity seize the opportunity any given year for public participation, aside from voting as a messenger, in the election of our SBC officers? To do so risks much good will and enormous respect normally gained over many years by individuals who have been elected to lead entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.

When I accepted the invitation of the SBC Executive Committee to become its chief executive officer, I agreed never to endorse or campaign for a candidate running for state and national political office. Some of the same reasons for making this pledge would apply to the election of state and national offices within a religious body. Why then should I publicly endorse or nominate a candidate for an elected office in the Southern Baptist Convention? Southern Baptists have well demonstrated godly wisdom through the years and the ability to sense the gentle nudge of God's Holy Spirit in their decisions. What more is needed?

Dr. C

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