Some thoughts as GCRTF vote approaches

I hope Pathway readers have found our coverage of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) comprehensive, fair and informative. That has been The Pathway’s goal from the start. We do not make the news. To borrow from the Fox News Channel: “We report, you decide.”

This is partly why I have refrained from offering my opinion about it all, even though some readers and Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) leaders have urged me to do so. Missouri Baptists have a right to know what their state newspaper editor thinks about issues. Some of our readers may not agree with me, but they have a right to know what I think about an issue. However, in this instance, I wanted to see the final report before possibly taking a position. I also wanted to give others an opportunity to offer their analysis. For example, MBC Executive Director David Tolliver’s views on the matter are of paramount interest to Missouri Southern Baptists. I am sure his four columns on the subject have been among the most read he has ever written.

The April 13 vote – with no opposition – by the 54-member MBC Executive Board authorizing Tolliver to make a motion at the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting asking messengers to approve another year of study on the GCRTF’s proposals is thoughtful and much-needed. Rumors are already swirling that it will be ruled out of order. That would be unfortunate. It deserves a hearing and a vote because of the magnitude of what messengers are being asked to approve. I have confidence in our Executive Board’s leadership in this matter and in Tolliver as he goes to Orlando to address this significant issue – and The Pathway will be there to cover him every step of the way.

I also hope the point/counterpoint series of columns in The Pathway have been profitable reading. We have published more than a dozen opinion columns in the series that has spanned several months. In addition, we have printed more than a dozen news stories related to the GCRTF over the same period. It has been a daunting task for a publication that averages just 20 pages every two weeks – especially with everything happening with Missouri Baptist churches.

So my priorities have been threefold: make sure Missouri Southern Baptists are informed about the GCRTF, encourage each one to pray about the matter and, if possible, go to Orlando and vote according to one’s conscience. The value of my opinions is commensurate with the degree I make them enlightening, absent pomposity. Pontificating is a temptation in this age where we are bombarded with the bombastic and the bloviating. Opinions come at us from every direction. It often feels like everyone is trying to out-scream everyone else because they are so sure they are right and they are entitled to be heard. It becomes annoying and thus, ineffective. Fortunately, that has not been the case in the GCRTF debate.

As it turns out, I have an opinion about the CGRTF. Much of my concern about the GCRTF thus far has had more to do with the process than with the proposals. For example, messengers should be able to vote on each of the GCRTF components individually and not have the whole thing crammed down their throats. The GCRTF proposals are too massive to adopt in one bite. They are also too important to get wrong and should be handled in a thoughtful and orderly fashion.

Southern Baptists voted (in my judgment mistakenly) in Louisville last year to honor the request of SBC President Johnny Hunt to form the GCRTF. In so doing, I feel we may have short-circuited our polity, one that we have all agreed to adhere as Southern Baptists. There is a reason we have an elected Executive Committee and trustee boards. Any action should not be taken apart from their review and approval. As a conservative, I believe in order. If you do not like the system, then change it, but otherwise follow the pre-agreed process in place. And just because you can do something, does not always mean it is best.

I believe it is time for the office of SBC president to return to being largely ceremonial. It served its political purpose during the Conservative Resurgence. The star power of heroes like Charles Stanley, Adrian Rogers, Bailey Smith and Jerry Vines was needed to bring about a successful theological course correction for the SBC. But that time has passed. All that said, what has been done is done. As a loyal Southern Baptist, I am bound to adhere to the wishes of the majority.

I also fear the process has accentuated differences between mega-churches and smaller, rural churches in the convention. This is a dangerous development for the SBC. We must make sure that it does not threaten the unity we have enjoyed for the past 31 years.

I am also curious about how we will quantitatively assess the proposed structural changes. The GCRTF will be disbanded and any changes approved by messengers in Orlando will be implemented by people or entities who may be less-than-enthusiastic about the whole deal. Tolliver has said that anything adopted by messengers in Orlando will receive the full cooperation of the MBC. This is correct thinking and we all need to make sure that happens.

I would like to thank everyone who served on the GCRTF. Men like Al Mohler, president of my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (I called on Mohler to run for SBC president three years ago and I would gladly do so again); Jim Richards, executive director of the burgeoning Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and former SBC President Frank Page (who, I am delighted to report, was just recommended by the search committee to be the new president of the SBC Executive Committee; see related story on page 2) are just three examples of the outstanding leadership that exists in the SBC. They and their task force colleagues have done well in calling Southern Baptists to rally around The Great Commission. They have offered ideas we would do well to consider – and to an extent – implement.

Perhaps like many of you, there are components of the GCRTF’s final report I like and others that raise concern. I could spend twice this space telling you what I think of each component, but to be honest, I would simply be repeating what many others have said. I trust Southern Baptists will do the right thing. No matter the issue, I think we will more than often get it right because we are people of “The Book” whose desire is to bring honor and glory to the One who died for us on Golgotha Hill.

I hope Missourians will go to Orlando in droves. Let your voices be heard in the hallways, meeting rooms, on the convention floor and – most importantly – on ballots. If you cannot go, I promise you The Pathway staff will be there to work tirelessly in bringing you the best coverage possible.

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