Significant votes as this year’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in Orlando reflected some of the widest discrepancies since the divisive days of the 1980s, suggesting that difficult days lie ahead for the country’s largest Protestant organization.
Frank Page was elected as the new chair of the Executive Committee — the most powerful position in SBC life — but only after a lengthy closed-door session and a decision in which he garnered only an estimated 60 percent of the vote. Page (left) is a conservative, but has never been an “insider” among those who led the charge when fundamentalists gained control of the SBC. Some think he hasn’t paid sufficient dues to earn the top spot among Southern Baptists.
Others were displeased that Page, a former SBC president, was also a member of the “Great Commission Resurgence Task Force” and a strong proponent of its seven controversial recommendations that were later approved by the messengers, by a strong but still divided vote (75-80 percent in favor, according to Biblical Recorder editor Norman Jameson).
Morris Chapman, retiring after 18 years as chair of the Executive Committee, had argued that the task force report would harm the convention’s trademark Cooperative Program, a unified plan for financially supporting the convention’s mission boards, seminaries, and other work. I suspect Chapman is correct on that score. The most controversial aspect of the task force report would allow churches to report both Cooperative Program giving to the basic budget and designated “Great Commission Giving” to entities of their choice.
Chapman, in fact, argued against several of the proposals in his report to the nearly 11,000 messengers, saying the last five recommendations would “never bring resurgence” to the SBC, but only “more confusion and chaos.”
Messengers ignored Chapman’s concerns and went on to approve the report after more than two hours of debate and the insertion of an amendment extolling the Cooperative Program as the most praiseworthy method of giving.
When we look back in 20 years, all of this will likely be seen as a tempest in a teapot. If history is a guide, more division is likely to follow. As the highly-promoted “Bold Mission Thrust” of 1979 turned into a cold mission bust, so the “Great Commission Resurgence” may give way to a great omission insurgence of churches that will continue the trend toward increasing self-direction of resources and decreasing involvement with denominations.
Even so, I wish them well.
[SBC photos from Baptist Press]
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.