Should agency trustees be accountable to the Southern Baptist Convention? Here, it seems to me, is a question that occupies a fundamental position in our current debates and upon which some measure of widespread agreement is feasible. Should agency trustees be accountable to the Southern Baptist Convention? I answer yes. At the risk of putting words into people's mouths, I'm going to guess that Wade Burleson, Ben Cole, Art Rogers, Marty Duren, C. B. Scott, Les Puryear, Alan Cross, Robin Foster, Jeremy Green, Wes Kenney, Jerry Corbaley, David Worley, Tim Guthrie, Peter Lumpkins, Joe Stewart, etc., etc., etc., will all agree. I'll be shocked if anyone in Southern Baptist life responds negatively to that question. With such widespread agreement on an underlying principle, people can build consensus—especially people led by the same Spirit.
It all boils down to asserting a right akin to the secular political process called referendum.
I think it is unwise to set up an automatic referendum situation. That's one reason why I oppose the current assertion by a few people of the BF&M as a maximum doctrinal statement for the agencies (among other reasons). No good framework exists for determining which policies and practices are doctrinal and which are not. The ultimate effect of the recommendations in Dr. Chapman's sermon at the SBC would be, in my estimation, each board of trustees bringing a dozen items every year for review by the convention. Inefficient and onerous—the people of the SBC don't want to deal with all of that folderol. Not having to rubber stamp every little decision is one of the reasons why we have a trustee structure in the first place.
I do not affirm any system that forces the Southern Baptist messengers into an automatic referendum of new doctrinal policies and practices. For Southern Baptists to have to vote, 150 years later, to affirm the Abstract of Principles for SBTS is idiotic. I do, however, believe that the Southern Baptist messengers ought to be able to provoke a referendum of any trustee policies and practices that we WISH to take up. Furthermore, the mechanism for doing so ought to be accessible and reliable—messengers ought to be able to know clearly their precise avenue of recourse, and it ought to work the same way every time for every issue.
Our polity does not allow the convention to instruct the agencies; therefore, our referenda amount to the expression of an opinion, for or against. But remember, the SBC is the indispensible source of funding for these agencies. Believe me: They pay attention to the opinion of the SBC.
Currently, our bylaws and rules of order are structured in such a way as to try to slap down as many initiatives from the floor as is possible. In most cases, I believe this is a wise approach (for one thing, it helps to stem our bureaucratic accretions somewhat). Nevertheless, if you give people the impression that they cannot gain a fair hearing at the annual meeting, you are courting the eventual rise of denominational junta after denominational junta—you force people to seize power in order to have influence. I believe that this right of referendum is already possible within our current structure. Nevertheless, I can understand why somebody might conclude that such an action is not really possible, whether it is technically possible or not.
So, I'm suggesting that Southern Baptists could clarify and codify an explicit right and procedure for elective referendum of trustee or Executive Committee actions by the body of convention messengers. Should it require a simple majority or 2/3 to bring a trustee action to the floor for review? A simple majority or 2/3 to overturn a decision? Should the process take a single year, or should the trustee body have a year to prepare a response or propose a solution? Should the proposed referendum have to be filed in advance, as our resolutions are now? I'm open to persuasion on these specific issues.
I'm specifically interested in hearing from those on the "other side of the aisle"—does this seem a workable solution to you? What say you?