I don't know that I will, but I've contemplated making the following motion at our annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention:
I move that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention direct the Executive Committee to acknowledge that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention can direct the Executive Committee.
Here's my rationale:
I wanted to phrase the motion in a manner not connected with any other controversial topic. The question of the Executive Committee's autonomy or lack thereof arose informally during the Great Commission Resurgence conversation a few years ago. At that moment, it was probably not possible for most Southern Baptists to disconnect any discussion of our polity at this point from whether they supported or opposed the GCR. The motion I've crafted, coming at this particular time, would not wind up being connected with any controversial topic in the SBC, I don't think. The motion is entirely self-referential.
It's a disputed question that ought to be answered. When those GCR discussions were ongoing, I spoke with leading experts in Southern Baptist polity who either came down on different sides of this question or confessed that they weren't certain of the correct answer. It seems to me that this is a serious organizational question for our convention and that it ought to be settled outside of the heat of any particular battle. The relationship between the convention and its Executive Committee is a matter with significant implications
The Executive Committee is different from the entities affiliated with the SBC. We know that the convention messengers cannot direct the IMB, NAMB, Guidestone, Lifeway, the ERLC, or any of our six seminaries. The messengers select trustees to govern these agencies, but it then cannot send directions to those trustees. This barrier between the SBC and entities probably eventually gets around to frustrating everyone at one time or another, but it exists with good reason.
It exists for good historical reasons. Consider the case of Southern Seminary. The SBC explicitly wanted nothing to do with starting a seminary. Four private individual Southern Baptists launched Southern, together with some grassroots support. The institutional SBC established a formal relationship with Southern only later. The same is true for Southwestern Seminary. These institutions came into being independently of convention action, and one could imagine hypothetical scenarios in which one or all or our entities could outlast the convention. Separate governance enables these institutions, in dire circumstances (the SBC dissolves?), to exist on their own. We can contemplate that they might do so because the missions of these individual entities can be distinguished from the mission of the convention as a whole.
It exists for good legal reasons. The legal liability of Lifeway, for example, cannot legally be imputed to the International Mission Board. If a person were successful at securing an enormous plaintiff's judgment against Lifeway, the entire work of the convention could not be sunk thereby. This is an important factor to consider in our increasingly hostile environment.
And yet, although these are good reasons why the convention should not be able to direct our entities, there are good reasons why our relationship with the Executive Committee should be different.
Unlike the entities, the purpose of the Executive Committee cannot be distinguished from the purpose of the convention. If the SBC were to pass out of existence, there would be no purpose for the Executive Committee to exist.
Unlike the entities, the Executive Committee is empowered to act in the convention's place. The Executive Committee can, in an amazing variety of ways, act AS the convention ad interim. No other entity is able to do this. Accompanying this extraordinary power ought to be extra accountability. If the Executive Committee will be authorized to act in our stead, it must be subject to our direction. Otherwise, as soon as the closing gavel were to fall on one of our annual meetings, the Executive Committee could, if it so desired, act with the authority of the messengers to do precisely the opposite of what the messengers have explicitly stated.
I'm not sure that the convention has any assets that the Executive Committee doesn't have. If that is the case, then it's hard to see how there can be much in the legal structure of the convention that would need drastic legal protection from liabilities that the Executive Committee might incur. The Executive Committee manages the Cooperative Program. The only employees that the convention has are employees of the Executive Committee, as far as I know.
I might not offer this motion. I haven't decided. Part of me would be content for the 2012 annual meeting to focus on the election of Fred Luter and to delve into little else. But whether I offer the motion or not, I am curious to have a discussion with you, my readers, about the concept.