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Seven observations on the Orlando Convention

 

As I reflect on the recent Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Orlando there are several things of interest I want to share with you.

First of all, Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, was elected president of the SBC. One of the interesting things about Bryant’s election is that he succeeded Johnny Hunt, who is not only another Georgia Baptist pastor, but both men are pastors in Noonday Baptist Association.

I also find it interesting that out of the sixteen living SBC presidents eight are currently living in Georgia: Jimmy Allen, Bailey Smith, Charles Stanley, Jerry Vines, James Merritt, Frank Page, Hunt, and Wright.

Secondly, the Convention attracted far fewer messengers than anticipated. In the September 7, 2009 Florida Baptist Witness, President Johnny Hunt urged a minimum of 18,000 messengers attend the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando with 10,000 involved in Crossover, the yearly pre-meeting evangelistic effort.

With all the hype over the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report for months prior to the Convention I personally thought there would be between 15,000 and 18,000 present for the meeting.

On June 11 The Marietta Daily Journal indicated that Wright anticipated the attendance being between 12,000 and 18,000 with up to 14,000 being messengers.

Pre-registration figures this year, which were much higher than in recent years, suggested that the attendance would be much higher than usual, but the number of messengers registered at the end of the Convention was 11,079, which is fewer than the number (11,951) at the Orlando Convention in 2000 and fewer than the recent Conventions in Nashville and Greensboro. However, it was more than the 8,795 who attended last year in Louisville, Ky.

Thirdly, the parliamentary gaffe during the debate on the GCR Task Force Report was evident to almost everyone in the Convention hall. A motion was offered to remove the language in the Task Force Report regarding Great Commission Giving and the vote was too close to call. After some considerable discussion on the platform while the messengers waited for some defining word, Ronnie Floyd, GCRTF chairman, offered a compromise which kept the Great Commission Giving terminology intact, but which also included some of the substitute motion’s language.

President Hunt called for a vote and the suggestion offered by Floyd passed by a distinct majority, but no motion was made or seconded. The proceedings at that point were a definite violation of Roberts Rules of Order. Jan Bryant, a messenger from Morrow, Ohio, went to a microphone and suggested that messengers were being “bullied” during the debate.

Fourthly, many news agencies, particularly the secular ones, were conspicuously absent from the newsroom and pressroom. There were representatives from the Lakeland (FL) Ledger, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and the Nashville Tennessean, but that was about it. In the past I have noticed representatives from the Associated Press, Religion News Service, Fox News, Reuters News Service, and many others, but there was no sign of them in Orlando.

Will Hall of Baptist Press stated, “We probably had 175 [people issued press credentials], which includes mostly [Baptist] state papers and entity folks and we typically run about 225-250.”

With all the publicity generated from within our denominational ranks about this particular convention one would have thought the press would have been there in droves. Has the Southern Baptist Convention lost such influence in America that we don’t even register on the secular press’ radar?

Fifthly, there was a motion by Joshua Shank from Youngstown Metro Church in Youngstown, Ohio to affirm the investment of the Acts 29 Network, founded by Mark Driscoll, in helping Southern Baptist churches plant “’Gospel-centered, Great Commission churches.”

Shank rapped, “It ain’t a bunch of kids, cutting loose, sipping on gin and juice. They got roots, and if you ask them they will hang out with you suits. It’s about applying texts to contexts. Teamwork will make the dream work.”

Driscoll has been the subject of much controversy among some Southern Baptists for several years due to his “carnal” language, position on alcohol, purchase of lottery tickets, etc., Although he claims he has repented, the angst of some Southern Baptists has not subsided.

At last year’s Convention in Louisville there were five motions targeted at Driscoll. Two named him specifically and the other three left little doubt he was the subject of concern. One motion instructed LifeWay to no longer sell Driscoll’s books and another urged SBC entities to avoid inviting such speakers (as Driscoll) to address their constituents.

SBC Executive Committee president Morris Chapman wrote a commentary in Baptist Press on June 3 stating, “The practices of some Acts 29 churches reveals that they view the historical emphasis on separation from worldly pleasures and pursuits by many Southern Baptists congregations as outdated and outmoded in the modern context of planting new churches among younger generations of Americans. Surely, there is a better way of reemphasizing our historical purpose as a Convention.”

Sixthly, this Orlando Convention seemed to be greatly influenced by “tweeting” or “twittering.” Neil Postman has written a book entitled, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” Postman explains how the medium of television has by its very nature caused rational discourse to be severely dumbed-down over the last century. Prior to television, discourse was dominated by the written word, which inherently appeals to rationality.

Now, we have the social media outlets of Facebook and Twitter, which discourage intelligent discourse by their very structure. I use Facebook to keep up with my grandchildren and to maintain at least a thread of contact with people I have known through the years.

I even have a Twitter account, which allows me to have some contact with a younger generation, but I find it difficult to confine my verbosity to 140 characters.

Twittering, however, has serious limitations, because it robs us of the ability to reason and rationalize and think for ourselves, particularly when this means of communication is used to control the thinking process. I fear that it creates a “herd mentality” that easily creates a stampede of action with little forethought.

Some have suggested to me that some of our leaders used their ability to twitter to influence their twitter followers to cast their votes at the SBC. It may be a new method of communication or just simply mind control.

Finally, we will now have the opportunity to find out if our leaders on the GCR Task Force will lead by example. They have stated, “We should honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach.”

They emphasized, “The greatest stewardship of Great Commission investment and deployment is giving through the Cooperative Program.”

Furthermore they proclaimed, “We call upon Southern Baptists to recommit to the Cooperative Program as the central preferred conduit of Great Commission funding, without which we would be left with no unified and cooperative strategy and commitment to the Great Commission task.”

Some think all of this is a smoke screen to legitimize “Great Commission Giving” so that churches can bypass the CP and designate their money to whichever national Baptist entity they desire. I do not want to believe that.

First Baptist Woodstock and Pastor Johnny Hunt have already demonstrated leadership and good faith by significantly increasing their mission gifts to the Cooperative Program. Only time will tell how many others will follow their example.