I want to offer a heartfelt statement of gratitude to the GCR Task Force and to state my endorsement of the GCR Task Force Recommendations.
It was not always so. On Monday, April 27, 2009, I penned this post explaining why I would not add my name to an affirmation of the original GCR Axioms statement. Later, on May 29, when the website began to allow people to affirm the document with caveats, I clarified that, although I would not ask to be added as a signatory with caveats (and that only because of the troublesome outcomes I believed to come from the practice of affirming things with caveats as a general practice), I was indeed someone who agreed with the document just as much as did those affirming the GCR Axioms in that manner.
On May 14, 2009, I wrote in opposition to the abolition of NAMB, a theme that I developed on multiple occasions.
On October 17, I implored my readership to pray for the GCR Task Force and to give them input. Later that month, on October 29, I concurred with Johnny Hunt's public statements about the Cooperative Program.
On November 18, 2009, I somewhat nervously opined that the Task Force ought not to spring the recommendations upon the Southern Baptist people and expect them to rubber-stamp their work. This was the last thing that I wrote about the GCR Task Force's work before they began to release some of the fruits of their labors. As a result of these articles (or at least, as a result of the first of them), I was featured as a counterpoint critic of the GCR declaration in this article in the Florida Baptist Witness.
So, here I am, at one moment and in one article I was presented as the leading dissident criticizing the GCR, and now I am offering an endorsement of the final report. How did we get here?
My reservations about the GCR (as they developed over time) can be summarized pretty tersely:
- I didn't think it wise to do away with NAMB.
- I didn't think it wise to change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention.
- I anticipated that the recommendations would be trotted out late and strongarmed upon the convention.
- I worried that the recommendations would undermine the Cooperative Program by redefining it.
- I didn't think that the GCR really had much to do with the Great Commission or could make a real difference. I regarded it as merely another round of bureaucratic reorganization that would waste our energy and passions over what is eternally trivial.
To put it simply, these people on this Task Force have suitably addressed every one of my concerns. They listened. They did not do away with NAMB. They did not change the name of the SBC. They brought forward their recommendations WELL IN ADVANCE and gave plenty of time for people to digest them and interact with them. Then, after everyone had their say, they ALTERED the recommendations somewhat to take into account people's feedback.
This may be the most Baptist thing that the Southern Baptist Convention has done in a long time. The entire process has sought, received, and respected the opinions of Southern Baptists in a way that just almost appeared congregational. And the result now is that I genuinely do not regard this recommendation as the personal recommendation of any of the individual personalities involved. This recommendation belongs to this entire Task Force as a team, and because the Task Force has responded to so much Southern Baptist input, I think we must say that in some sense it belongs to us all.
That's not to suggest that everyone got everything that they wanted. Quite the opposite. I know that I would have written a slightly different document...OK, maybe a profoundly different document...if I were High Potentate of the SBC. But I don't require that mine be the only voice listened to in the process, just that it be one among the voices heard, whether heeded or not. Certainly the GCR Task Force has demonstrated far more sensitivity to the input of rank and file Southern Baptists throughout this process than does the average experience of trying to make a motion from the floor of our Annual Meeting. In this age of the-Executive-Committee-decides-it-all-for-you and it's-all-cut-and-dried-before-the-first-gavel-falls, I have found it quite refreshing and encouraging to see the GCR Task Force process respond so much to public input.
They have bolstered my faith in what we can accomplish together.
They Found Some Things
I still believe that the most important things required for us to pursue the Great Commission are not contained in this report—could not possibly have been contained in this report. We will pursue or abandon the Great Commission this week based upon what you do in your life and in your local church, not based upon what any committee of the Southern Baptist Convention does or does not do. More about that later.
But I believe that the GCR Task Force has made some recommendations that can really help us. Our Byzantine flowchart of CP money could bedevil a career IRS bureaucrat. No, I don't mean that any entity or any servant touching that money is greedy or wasteful. I'm just saying that the pathway itself is unnecessarily bizarre and inefficient. Furthermore, it is embarrassingly connectional and undermines the autonomy of the local church, thereby violating our principles as Southern Baptists.
This is not a debate about whether the state convention needs money; rather, it is a debate about whether money destined for the state convention really needs to go to Nashville first before arriving at the state convention. It is also a question of whether I ought to be required to support state conventions other than my own. I support my state convention. I love my state convention. I support my state convention in a lot of different ways. I am not anti-state convention.
Nevertheless, my congregation has chosen which state convention we wish to support. In Texas, there are two state conventions. There is the state convention that is more supportive of the national SBC, and then there is the state convention of which the national SBC is more supportive, and they are two different state conventions. Why the SBC bites the hand that feeds it and licks the hand that slaps it I will never understand, but things are as they are. I love the SBC anyway. I'll continue to push for strong support of the SBC anyway.
You may disagree with or even dislike the sentiments that I just articulated. Fair enough. But that's not really the question. Rather, the question is this: Why should my church, having explicitly chosen to support one state convention rather than the other, be forced to have some of our money go to the support of the state convention that we have rejected, just to be able to support the Cooperative Program? Yet that is just what happens now. Some portion of our CP money goes up to Nashville and then to Alpharetta and then back to the BGCT.
That's just wrong, and unnecessarily so.
And it doesn't just have to do with living in a state with two state conventions. You're underwriting the operations of all of the state conventions with your CP funding, including any state conventions with which you disagree. Some portion of the CP giving of BGCT churches in Texas goes to the SBTC. Some portion of CP contributions in Arkansas goes to the Baptist General Association of Virginia. All of us are funding the District of Columbia Baptist Convention, the convention that gladly contains homosexual welcoming and affirming Calvary Baptist Church in Washington DC. Did you know that you were subsidizing such as that? Thanks to Cooperative Agreements, you are if you are giving through the Cooperative Program.
My idea is a simple one: Let my church support the Baptist entities with which we have chosen to affiliate and in which we have an opportunity to have our voice heard and to hold people accountable. We say that we are non-connectional as Southern Baptists, but we have not been practicing what we preach.
Ask a dozen Southern Baptists if they see anything wrong at all with our Southern Baptist funding system, and more of them will highlight this strange course of sending money away in order to get it back than any other feature of the program. The existence of this cockamamie way of shuttling God's money hither and yon is eroding people's confidence in the Cooperative Program. I've had laypeople complain about this very thing at nearly every church I've ever served.
The whole thing needs to go.
Yes, some state conventions will readjust the amount of money that they forward to national and international causes in order to adjust for the lost NAMB funding. Fine. If it all comes out to equilibrium and if the elimination of the Cooperative Agreements means that no additional money is gained for national and international missions, I would still be in favor of this measure. The simplification of the system will, in the long run, make the Cooperative Program more winsome to the Southern Baptist people and will result in a rising tide that will lift all boats.
By making the SBC funding system make more sense and by answering one of the key criticisms leveled against our funding system, we stand the chance of garnering more support for the Cooperative Program. If we can do that, we will indeed have done something that will make a difference for the Great Commission.
I'm also supportive of the reallocation of funds away from the Executive Committee toward the IMB, as well as the other nuances of the new plan for NAMB. Although I do not see that these measures will have as direct a potential effect upon the Great Commission as what I highlighted above, I do support them for other reasons.
The Cooperative Program
I still stand by much of what I said about "Great Commission Giving" in this post. We must acknowledge that the Southern Baptist Convention has always received, tabulated, and celebrated designated giving. Designated giving is a bellwether used to measure candidates for office already (try to run for SBC President if you don't give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering). The third recommendation of the task force report really brings us nothing new in the way of designated giving.
Also, the Cooperative Program has not been redefined. At one point I worried that the Task Force might recommend that designated contributions actually be incorporated into a new definition of the Cooperative Program. They didn't do that, and for that I am thankful. The recommendation pretty much preserves the status quo with regard to the basic princples of our funding system.
It does, however, exclude non-SBC giving from our ACP reporting form. Now THAT, my friends, is a positive step. The Southern Baptist Convention should not be in the business of tracking gifts outside of the Southern Baptist family. It just isn't any of our business. The fact that the Great Commission Giving category explicitly excludes all but SBC-related designated giving is important and worthy of our support.
If Social Security is the third rail of national politics, the Cooperative Program is the third rail of Southern Baptist politics. Address it at your own peril. And I very much FEEL that in my own heart. This whole "Great Commission Giving" thing makes me nervous—perhaps irrationally so. I worry that if we pass this thing I'll look back 25 years from now and see it as the beginning of the end for the Cooperative Program (because here's where we demonstrated a feeling of greater openness to societal giving). I worry that if we DON'T pass this thing I'll look back 25 years from now and see it as the beginning of the end for the Cooperative Program (because here's where we failed to reinvigorate CP support among a new generation of Southern Baptists).
Where's a crystal ball when you need one?
In the end, I come to this conclusion—the Cooperative Program will be what we make of it, and if we determine to make the most of it, this recommendation can do nothing to harm it. The future of the Cooperative Program will not be determined by the design of the ACP. It will be determined by the design of your church's budget and mine.
Ronnie Floyd is right, the text of component #3 is actually quite pro-CP. We may fear what some people will do with "Great Commission Giving," but nobody has been able to tell me why those people (who obviously are already not committed to the CP) will support the CP better just because somebody votes against this component.
If there's a way that voting "No" stands a chance of increasing funding through the Cooperative Program, then I'll enthusiastically—rabidly even—vote in the negative. Apart from that, in what is a very contested election in my heart, the ballot goes in favor of this recommendation in order to support the elimination of contributions going outside of the SBC from our Annual Church Profile.
Does this report contain everything that I wanted? No. But I guess that's what it comes down to. I just don't have to have everything that I want in order to get on board. I won't violate my convictions. I won't offend my conscience. But I will compromise on practicalities for the greater good. This, in my opinion, is one of those times. Every substantial objection that I've raised over the past year has been addressed. What kind of a churl would I have to be to remain in opposition?
Well, I may be some kind of a churl (be gentle in the comments, please), but I'm not that kind of a churl.
In conclusion, the most disappointing aspect of this entire journey, in my estimation, is how little we've paid any actual attention to the Great Commission itself—by that, I mean the actual text of Matthew 28:16-20. I worried that the reorganizational aspects of this process would overshadow the Great Commission aspects of this process. That turned out to be a fear unfounded—there were no non-reorganization aspects of this process to overshadow!
This report is a good step. I plan to vote for it. I hope that you will do so as well. But it is not the answer to our problems.
And on that note, I have to offer you an apology. Rather than curse the darkness, I should light a candle, and I haven't done that. For that reason, over the next several posts I plan to set aside political intrigue and give full-time consideration to nothing but the actual Great Commission. I hope you'll join me, and then I hope that we'll join one another in obedience to what our Lord has commanded.