For the first time in my recollection, the election of First Vice-President will be the big event, far overshadowing the Presidential election at the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. Nobody will want to miss being there at 5:00 pm on Tuesday. Today, I'm wearing my political analyst hat. The 1VP election does have tremendous personal significance for me. Never before has anyone I have known personally ever run for any office in the SBC. Now, this particular race features not one but TWO men with whom I have become personally acquainted and whom I personally like. That's a little mind-blowing for me. But the historical significance of this election is equally staggering. Privately I had predicted that the Burleson Blogger Coalition would secure the nomination of a Southern Baptist who has cautiously steered away from the controversies of the past two years, much like E. Y. Mullins was snatched out of New England obscurity in the midst of the Whitsett Controversy to lead Southern Seminary. Instead, they have selected a nominee who is very publicly and vocally aligned with one side of the partisan divide currently plaguing the convention. Not that David Rogers is monolithic…not at all, but he certainly is not a fence-straddler. And so, now we have a 1VP election in which each candidate's colors are clear. Two partisan candidates. Frank Page's re-election is a non-event, making this the vote-to-end-all-votes in San Antonio. Setting aside my obvious advocacy role of late, the analyst in me salivates to witness this historic election. Some fascinating observations:
- Jim Richards is certainly the Cooperative Program candidate. In addition to attending a church with exemplary Cooperative Program support, Dr. Richards has been responsible for re-defining what state conventions can do in supporting national and international missions causes. Twenty years ago, who could have imagined a state convention being so generous as to pass along for missions more money than it keeps for itself? Jim Richards, that's who—he not only imagined it, but he also brought it to pass. Analysis of last year's Presidential election grappled with the question of what caused Frank Page to win so handily. Was it his support of the Cooperative Program? Given the events of the intervening year, that seems likely. This 1VP election may help us to answer the question, as one of the CP's greatest friends stands for election in the person of Jim Richards. If you like the Cooperative Program, you're going to like Jim Richards. (NOTE: Bellevue Baptist Church, David Rogers's home church for obvious reasons, gives 1.02% through CP, although I doubt David had anything at all to do with that decision)
- It is delicious irony that the self-proclaimed anti-nepotism squad is nominating Dr. Adrian Rogers's son. One of the earlier salvos fired against Dr. Richards came from Marty Duren (see here), who derided Richards's candidacy based upon the fact that Jim Richards is being nominated by Mac Brunson who is married to Debbie Brunson who was selected by the Committee on Nominations (sorry for the convoluted sentence structure…it takes a few phrases to describe such remote connections!) to serve on a board from the state of Florida, even though she has served on the board before and has not lived in Florida, apparently, long enough. Marty has edited away the comment after I objected, and I thank him for that. I opposed to the overreaching connection, but not to his objections to cronyism, nepotism, and recycling of appointments. I agree wholeheartedly with this concern (see #3 on this post). I'm just not as caustic about it as some are. I think David Rogers ought to be able to run for First Vice-President no matter who his daddy was—let him be evaluated on his positions and his exemplary service in a difficult missions field. But you've got to love the irony of the Burleson Coalition asking the SBC to indulge in a little nepotism.
- The differences between the two candidates extend beyond politics into theology. David Rogers has some publicly expressed disagreement with The Baptist Faith & Message (see here for a reference to that fact with a link to sources); Jim Richards is fully in support of The Baptist Faith & Message. David is, obviously, the pro-Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third-Wave practices candidate, and has blogged extensively (his blog is here). Jim Richards just as obviously is not. David favors a very minimalist ecclesiology, relating warmly to a "city church" concept merging (although not quite formally consolidating) Baptist churches with other non-Baptist churches. Dr. Richards is a firm supporter of Baptist distinctives in ecclesiology. Anyone who has read my blog for more than a week knows that I agree with Dr. Richards, but any objective observer would have to note that this election has become something of a referendum on Baptist theology.
- The big winner in all of this may be none other than Dr. Patterson. The First-Vice-Presidential election takes place immediately after the Southwestern Seminary report. I have fully expected the SWBTS report to be the key moment when Ben Cole will attempt to make our Annual Meeting his personal vehicle for advancing his personal vendetta against Dr. Patterson. But, with such a critical election for his party coming up immediately afterwards, Ben may find that it is not politically astute to spew too much venom and reflect poorly upon his candidate. I'm not sure whether that will stop Ben, but it is a factor worth considering. Which will win out: vengeance or calculation?