Sunday, June 24, 2012

In the Town of New Orleans, Part 2

At 8:30 am on June 19, 2012, most of the people attending the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in New Orleans had never heard of R. Richard Tribble. By 9:00 am, everyone attending knew who he was. Mr. Tribble, in the intervening thirty minutes, made four motions from the floor of the convention and successfully overturned a parliamentary ruling by Parliamentarian Barry McCarty.

And a great many of the rest of us SBC messengers descended into snarkiness. Richard Tribble's name became a byword and a punchline among Southern Baptists in the span of a half-hour. And I joined in.

I'm writing this post to repent of that.

Tribble didn't, that I could tell, make any motions that were utterly ridiculous. None of his actions from the floor were self-serving, that I know of. He made no motion that was hateful or dripping with scorn or disdain. Any of his motions, had they come from some duly elected blue-ribbon panel of the convention, would likely have passed and been heralded as important steps forward.

I didn't favor any of his motions and I voted against them all, but they weren't unreasonable. Nor was he.

During the nickname debate, I happened to sit behind and make the acquaintance of two people who knew Tribble (or at least who purported to know more about him than I did). They told me that he was a parliamentarian himself, and that he had been studying the nickname proposal for nine months in order to defeat it. Alas, Tribble doomed his own efforts in a few critical ways.

First, he failed to appreciate the differing roles of parliamentary law and public persuasion in our Southern Baptist system. He needed to have chosen one item as the focus of his efforts. His offering of four motions in the first business session was a political mistake: By the time he got the chance to argue any of his points, people had categorized him and were no longer prepared to take him seriously. If you want to do anything at the SBC, realistically you get one chance every few years to step up to the microphone and actually be heard.

Second, he failed to appreciate the role of history in our decision-making. Wiley Drake has defined a stereotype in Southern Baptist thinking of this era. Many Southern Baptists do not believe that Drake's second-vice-presidency reflected well upon our convention. Tribble's flooding of the first business session with motions put him into the same category as Drake in the minds of many Southern Baptists. Generally speaking, that was not advantageous to him in gaining a hearing for his motions.

I was with a group of fellow Southern Baptists who spotted Tribble on Wednesday and began to discuss him. I got up from the group and walked over to introduce myself to him and meet him. He seemed a reasonable enough fellow, although the strain of his warfare and repeated defeat at microphone 6 had obviously taken its toll on his demeanor a bit. He was a serious man, and I think he meant nothing but good for our convention.

I needed to look into my own heart and consider why I reacted to Tribble the way that I did. He brought no more proposals to us for our consideration, after all, than did the GCR committee two years ago. Could it be that most of us Southern Baptists have descended into a subtle elitism? Could it be that we have in our minds a list of the true leaders of our convention, and that we'll take seriously only their ideas and their motions? When a simple rank-and-file Southern Baptist comes to the microphone with lots of ideas about how our convention might work better, are we annoyed that hoi polloi are stepping out of their place?

Are we really congregationalists? Do we really believe that it all starts at the local church? Do we truly affirm the right of any messenger from any congregation to come to the microphone and make his case? Are we sincere in stating that the headquarters for our mission is in the local congregations and that our denominational grandees are the servants of all?

Our treatment of R. Richard Tribble might give us pause on these matters. I know it did for me.


Anonymous said...

Excellent comment. Thank you. You are right, elitism has crept in. I watched it and agree with your assessement and how many motions and timing.

The mass derision toward Tribble through tweets, etc was unnecessary and quite frankly, not very nice. I even saw some by leaders. I was astonished at how many people felt comfortable making fun of him publicly.

Just another way I think our polity is changing through attitudes.


Anonymous said...

You make good comments here. Thank you for being candid. I rolled my eyes a time or two as well.

One thing you say that I disagree with, however. You say that elitism has "subtly" crept in among us. I say no - it is not even subtle, it is blatant. Big shots rule; little guys drool.

Anonymous said...

Very good article. Yes, elitism is alive and well in the SBC (aka GCB)

Jason said...

Dr. Barber,

Well said. I too need to examine my heart.

Malcolm Yarnell said...

"Could it be that most of us Southern Baptists have descended into a subtle elitism?"
Alas, this is a concern we should take seriously.

Alan Cross said...

Outstanding post, Bart. I agree. In Tribble's defense, I think we are all a bit jaded at this point. We are all just waiting for "that guy" to step up and argue over something trivial. He fit the bill this time, even if he was not really doing that. The perception is that he was and that has more to do with the past and less to do with Tribble himself. We have all had bad experiences.

I am glad he spoke up. He had good ideas. We need to listen and it would be good to act on some of them. I hope we see more congregationalism in the future and not less. Good word.

Garland H. Honeycutt said...

This is an outstanding post! I was part of the snickering and eye rolling, but after reading this I too repent of my actions and pray that God humbles our hearts as we work together for Him.

Anonymous said...

We have leaders who are leading in this elitism. There's nothing subtle about it. Twitter exposes the nastiness. What's sad is that this will be the only blog that expresses any remorse for such disrespectful attitudes against fellow Christians.

Bob Cleveland said...


Just prior to the Wednesday afternoon session, I spent about 45 minutes talking with Richard in the hall. We sat right across from Microphone #3, from which he spoke to his motion in the afternoon session. I can honestly say I've never spoken with a more pleasant, earnest, sincere man in my life. He told of how he's going about starting a Bible study/church plant in a particular area, and there's no doubt God's involved in it, based on what he told me.

I felt bad that I stood perhaps 18" behind his head when I spoke against his last motion, but I really didn't have any choice about that.

Yours is a good post and you are to be commended for saying it.

Todd Benkert said...

I don't think it unreasonable to be playfully annoyed by one man continuously going to the mic as he did. Seemed like a lot of time wasted on trivial matters to me. SMH RME

Tim G said...

Ouch Bart,
Guilty here also. Then I got home and looked up much of what he covered. The guy had studied and obviously had some interesting points.

Bottom line is, no excuses - we were guilty!

Richmond Goolsby said...

I thought Tribble was refreshing although a bit odd maybe due to his very serious and persistent approach. As a pastor who is outside of the elite crowd, I appreciated his willingness to address some issues that he felt were important. Actually, one or two of his motions resonated with me. He obviously had worked hard and was well prepared. I thought it was good to be a part of a convention that would allow (should welcome) such a voice. As for snarkiness, after years of Simpsons and Seinfeld it seems to be a part of our generational nature. I actually liked Tribble and much of what he had to say, but still found some of it a bit comical. I can definitely see from the outside looking in an elitist attitude which I never want to enter. I saw some good friends and had a good time but walked away thinking there is not room for me at the table. I would love to see that change but not by simply gaining a new group of elitists. The local church should be the headquarters of the SBC, and that was mentioned from the platform, but it really seems like mere rhetoric. For example, why are SBC entity leaders salaries such a secret? It seems strange that headquarters would not be allowed to know what they are paying.

hariette petersen (selahV) said...

Bart, I read the tweets about Tribble and the nickname coined "Tribblaltion of 2012". I had no idea what he had brought to the floor. I wish our leaders would begin to have the heart the Lord gave you in the writing of this post.

This is the kind of thing that has gone on in blogs for so long. The every-day, pew-sitter who has an opinion, does not dare dip their toes into the theological streams of conversation. If they do, they are often humiliated, pressed upon or attacked. I know, I've been the ignorant one and only wanted to be a "part" of the team of SBC folk who were talking about SBC stuff.

I'm glad you brought this to the fore and hope we all can learn from it. Thanks...selahV

jjvolkan said...

Thanks for the honesty Bart! I was following your twitter posts while at work. I agree about the elitism. It has no place with disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who came to serve and not be served in this world. We all need to be in a constant state of humility and repentence before the great God we serve.

Bart Barber said...


I speak as someone who had some of the same feelings last week, but who has come to conclude that I was wrong. Here are some of the questions I asked myself.

Did I get playfully annoyed because the motions were trivial matters, or did I determine that they were trivial matters because I had been annoyed? Go back and look at the motions.

He was addressing the fact that we've made no provision for misconduct of our officers during their terms. That's a good point. I didn't like his solution, but it was a good point. What if the president of the SBC were arrested for molesting a child during his term? It could happen. What would we do about it? We couldn't do anything substantive, because we've made no arrangements.

He was addressing the unfair advantage when you rise to try to get your resolution brought out of committee-inflicted purgatory that you stand out in a dimly-lit sea of faces struggling to talk when your own voice is being boomed back at you in a 5-second delay. Meanwhile, the argument from the other side is coming from the convention platform, with all of the trappings of convention power and endorsement behind it, with great lighting and with the ability to speak normally with no disorienting 5-second delay. Again, I don't think he had a good solution, but he does correctly identify a problem.

Again, as I said in the post, if a blue-ribbon presidential panel had returned these reorganizational suggestions with all their attendant trappings and hoopla, I don't think we would be dismissing these initiatives as trivial. We might support them. We might not support them. But we wouldn't be tweeting jokes about the guys making the motions.

Was it because there were so many motions? Like I said, he made no more attempted changes than did the GCR Committee. True, they didn't make their recommendations one motion at a time, but they didn't HAVE to. They had the backing of the structure of the convention, so they could wrap it all up in an "official report" and move it all in a single motion. That option is not available to "normal people." So, I don't know how else Tribble could have brought so much before us.

But do we want a convention in which the president can bring all of the items of business that he desires, but "plain old messengers" face some arbitrary limit? I don't.

But, anyway, back to my main point, I just asked myself, if Tribble had been the chair of a convention committee, and then had brought back every one of these motions as committee recommendations, would I have lampooned him and disregarded his motions as trivial? I arrived at an answer to that question, and I was disconcerted and humbled when I did so.

Bob Cleveland said...

Uhhh .. my apologies for misspelling your name. Seriously.

Bart Barber said...

That's OK, Bob. Misspelling I'm OK with. Rhyming will get you in trouble, though.

Max said...

Dr. Tribble appeared to have a good handle on Robert's Rules of Order. As an SBC pastor, perhaps he should be considered as a back-up to Parliamentarian Barry McCarty, who is a pastor in the Disciples of Christ denomination. Either man appears quite capable of directing convention meetings with parliamentary authority.

peter lumpkins said...


I think you've raised perhaps one of the most significant issues facing SBs today. While some form of elitism has plagued our conventional life as far back as I can remember (there was a time when Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler were standing outside the SBC political structures peeping in through the side window), we were at that time separated by theological temperament. Now we face conservative princes contra conservative peasants. Either way, however, elitism lives. And it lives in the most public places. How often do we glibly pass by the generic but common remark often made about loving our "crazy uncles"? We even biblically sugar-coat it in words about loving our neighbors as ourselves or loving our enemies, pulling the words of Jesus into the conservation to somehow validate the existence of "crazy uncles" and our "Christian" obligation to tolerate them.

Indeed I personally felt the sting of asking the wrong person the wrong question at the 2011 SBC. Twitter & blogs went wild saying I "got what I deserved" when I was "Molerized" and "owned" etc etc etc by the one who answered my question. And, though I had never stood at a single SBC meeting and uttered a partial syllable--out of the 30-+ SBCs I've attended since 1982--I was nonetheless painted as a "crazy uncle" in the SBC. I realize my blogging history contributed in part to portrait painted. Nonetheless, the occasion of the complaint remains pristine--I asked the wrong person the wrong question.

With that, I am...

Anonymous said...

Peter, you didn't just ask the wrong person the wrong question you ARE the WRONG Person. The elites think only certain people matter in the SBC thus all the talk of voices who deserve to be margenilized.

The elites have decided the direction of the convention and there will be no dissent or you will be accused of not wanting unity. Unity, is according to the elites, accomplished by everyone agreeing with what a few have decided is the way the convention will go.

Bart Barber said...


Perhaps having a Parliamentarian who is not a Southern Baptist makes it less likely that he will have his own axe to grind when we face contentious decisions?

Bart Barber said...

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said (sort of), "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Similarly, I believe that elitism can never really be perpetrated by the elites alone. Non-elites create elitism. The theory of elitism must be embraced by the masses before it can hold sway.

And so, I offer this clarification of the sentiment that I attempted to articulate in the original post. When I suggested that elitism may have subtly crept in among us, I meant to allege that rank-and-file Southern Baptist messengers are the cause of it, if it exists. We sitting out behind microphone 8 will listen patiently and with open minds to a proposal if it comes to a platform microphone from the Resolutions Committee. We will also listen with open minds if someone we know steps up to a microphone for commoners (as Steve Gaines did this year).

But when an unknown person steps up to a numbered microphone, aren't the messengers, just as much as the platform, poised to strike the motion down before the first words come out of the loudspeakers? At least, aren't we more bent to do so for that person, regardless of the content, than for the people in the first two categories that I have given.

WE feel that way, we rank-and-file messengers from places like Farmersville. That's the elitism of which I speak.

Dwight McKissic said...


Tribble demonstrated and communicated the courage of his convictions. For that, I applaud and appreciate him.


Todd Benkert said...

I guess I want it both ways. I want Tribble and Drake and my friend Tim Overton, and whoever else to have the freedom to make motions, go to the mic, bring up issues, etc. I also want the freedom to rely more heavily on the insights and opinions of those I've elected than to one guy who wants to dominate the floor mic. Finally, I want the right to be playfully annoyed by someone who wastes so much time trying to defeat something on the technicalities of Robert's Rules rather than open debate and who thinks he among the 8,000 messengers needs to bring a gazillion motions to the floor.

I'm glad we have the polity we do. I'm glad that any messenger can be the impetus for change. But I also think sometimes too much is too much. I didn't participate in mocking, but I did my share of eye rolling.

I guess I need to think through it more. Thanks for the thoughtful post.