Monday, June 19, 2006

My Motives Regarding the Cooperative Program

Rzrbk offered a thoughtful comment in response to my Greensboro analysis. With a name like Rzrbk (??razorback??), I'm thinking that he has to be an Arkansan, and therefore a person of impeccable character and high IQ (guess where I'm from). In respect for his comment and because of the length of the response it commands, I have chosen to respond with an entire post rather than just another comment.

The section that most caught my attention addressed the question of my motives behind the comments I made regarding the Cooperative Program amendment both on the floor of the convention and in a post on this blog. I quote from his comment:

You seem to really resent the cooperative program or churches that support it for some reason.

I had no problem with the state convention directors being part of the committee recommending this change. My state convention gives over 40 per cent of CP receipts to the SBC. It was a good political move by the old guard to turn the discussion toward the state conventions so they would not look at the poor support their churches give. I think the churches need to pick up their giving then the states can give more.

I agree with you. We need to be led from the top down. That is why I am glad Frank Page was elected president. He can lead us to give to the CP program because has led his church to do that. The other two candidates have not and many of our recent SBC presidents did not provide the leadership needed because they wanted the SBC to serve them and not to serve the SBC.

Talking About Motives

Some people don't want to talk about motives. They resent it when people ask about motives. They suggest that talking about or seeking to analyze motives is improper or unsound reasoning.

I disagree. Trying to understand motives is an important part of historical analysis and contemporary analysis. Without trying to understand motivation, you really can't understand. Discovering motive is more difficult, but not less valid than other kinds of analysis.

So, I think that rzrbk is asking a great set of questions. I hope to answer them.

Do I resent the Cooperative Program or the churches that give to it?

Well, if I do, then I really need to see a psychiatrist soon, because that would mean that I resent myself.

Fresh out of college, I was recommended to a small church in Oklahoma as the guy to rescue it for the Cooperative Program. The church had just endured a three-way split, and the former pastor had left to start an Independent Baptist church. Before leaving, he had convinced the church to cease entirely its participation in the Cooperative Program. After two years of zealous trying, I got the church to resume partial participation in Southern Baptist missions, but I never got them to give to the CP. Their previous exposure to problems (embezzlement in the construction of something like a retirement village, to hear them tell it) in their state convention had them convinced against the validity of the CP. My convictions in favor of the CP were strong enough that, when I was unable to lead them to participate in the CP, I left. I could not in good conscience pastor a church that would not give through the Cooperative Program.

Today I pastor a church that gives 10% to the CP...sort of. We were giving 10% through the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Now we are halfway along in a move to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Our money is split between two conventions and a small portion is designated to undo some of the things that BGCT is doing. Soon our move will be complete and we will be giving 10% to CP again.

I love the Cooperative Program and am proud to lead a church that faithfully contributes through it.

As an aside, let me mention that I think it is a dubious thing to assign the credit or blame for a church's CP participation exclusively to the pastor. Hey, folks...some of us are still Baptist and practice congregationalism! My church was giving 10% long before I showed up. On the other hand, I've just given an example from my past where I pastored a church giving zip to the CP not because of my leadership, but in spite of it. Yet the entire outcome of the presidential election this year was based upon the notion that Frank Page is responsible for his church's CP giving. What percentage were they giving before he came?

Do I have a problem with state executive directors being a part of the Ad-Hoc Cooperative Program Committee?

No. My problem is an application of Jesus' speck-in-your-eye-log-in-mine parable. A committee of state convention people is free to address our current deplorable lack of CP support all that they want as long as they don't point fingers at everyone else while trying to shirk their own responsibility for the problem.

Why not mention 50-50 in the report? Simply do that and I would have been silent. The resolution was no more binding upon state conventions than it was upon local churches. Why not at least mention the 50-50 goal? Especially when the SBC just last year affirmed the 50-50 goal and asked for a timetable of when the state conventions would achieve 50-50? Especially when the report to the convention cited this very report as the answer to the query about when the state conventions estimate that they will achieve 50-50? The SBC asked when the states expect to achieve 50-50, and the answer didn't even mention 50-50!

Why? Because some state convention executives are trying to weasel out of the 50-50 and bury it. I am not making this up. One state convention exec told me from his own lips that the 50-50 split is unreasonable. The SBC messengers asked for a good-faith estimate of when the state conventions would achieve the 50-50 split stipulated at the founding of the CP. The state conventions' answer? Never.

So, my problem is not with the state convention execs being on the committee; it is with their actions on the committee. It would be bad enough to answer "Never" and disavow an ancient promise, yet I would not have spoken out just for that. But the committee went further than that. While turning their backs on their own CP obligations, they laid the blame for flagging CP support upon everyone else. Then they overturned Baptist polity and dared to tell autonomous local churches how much they ought to give. At that, I could not be silent.

Did the "Old Guard" turn the discussion toward the states and away from the local churches?

Umm...only if I qualify as the "Old Guard." I'm 36. I've never held an elected position or served on a committee for anything farther up the food chain than my local association. My family has not been important in Southern Baptist life. I come from a tiny church in Northeast Arkansas. Ask yourself this, reader: If I qualify as a member of the "Old Guard," who doesn't?

I am the only person who mentioned the state conventions in the floor discussion at Greensboro. Two bona-fide members of the "Old Guard" elite, Jack Graham and Jerry Vines, spoke after me, and neither of them brought up this topic.

Nobody prompted or coordinated what I said. The moment I read the Ad-Hoc Committee's original report, I didn't need to hear from anyone in order to know that I disagreed with it. My daily Baptist Press newsfeed reported the basic gist of the report, and I immediately fired off an email to complain to my state executive director. I asked him for contact information to complain further up the chain. He gave me the email addresses of Anthony Jordan and Morris Chapman. I sent them an email to complain. This precipitated a flurry of email conversation among the three of us over the course of the next couple of days.

When the Executive Committee dropped the 10% stipulation, I decided not to say anything at Greensboro. I would prefer a report that specified the 50-50, but I could live with no mention of percentages as a compromise. When an amendment came to reinstate the 10% at Greensboro, I knew that I had to speak to it. I could not remain silent. Surely the nervousness in my voice and the lack of good organization in my comments made it clear to everyone that I had not prepared my remarks in advance.

So, no "Old Guard" was at all involved in my comments.

By the way, I'm a whole lot less impressed with the "New Guard" (who so far have accomplished nothing for the SBC) than with the "Old Guard" (who have a pretty impressive track record). But forgive me for stating my opinion. :-)

Would increased giving from local churches enable the state conventions to give more?

Well, the Cooperative Program has been around for 81 years. In 1979 the average SBC church was giving more than 10%, but state conventions weren't giving anywhere close to 50%. In good days and bad days, state conventions have never given 50%. Why? Because they aren't trying to give 50%. Local church contributions are the symptom, not the cause. The historical sequence is absolute, irrefutable proof of that. If local churches step up to the plate and raise their giving back up to where it ought to be (which I hope they will do), we have no reason to think that the state conventions will do any differently than they have done in the past eight decades: Keep every penny they can in-state.

So, I am motivated by my passionate love for the CP as envisioned in 1925, including respect for local-church autonomy, strong encouragement for local churches to give sacrificially, and a 50-50 division of CP receipts between in-state and rest-of-the-entire-world expenses.


I conclude by saying this: Not all state conventions are equally to blame here. The 40% that your state convention gives puts them far ahead of average. That's commendable. My state convention gives 52%, and I'm really proud of them for that. If I were in a different state convention, I think I would go to the state convention and say something like this: "I want to help you convince local churches to give more through the CP. But I also want us to work toward the 50-50 split that is our moral obligation from all the way back in 1925. Let's negotiate a common goal. How much of an increase would you need in order to achieve the 50-50? I'll work hard to enlist sister churches toward that goal if you'll promise me that we'll make a Herculean effort to do what we should have done so long ago."

I don't want just to sit on the sidelines and criticize. I want to be a part of the solution. In putting that solution together, I'm more than willing to admit my own shortcomings and the shortcomings of local-church pastors like myself. I want the solution to face those problems honestly and address them directly.

I just wish that the Ad-Hoc Committee of state executives had taken the same approach

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