The 2005 Southern Baptist Convention convened in Nashville this week. Several interesting things took place, but I have not had time to blog about them yet. I’ll try to catch up over the next few days. Steve McCoy collected a helpful list of links to those blogging the convention.
I regret not being able to attend as a messenger and vote against the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary sole membership issue, not that my one ballot would have made a difference. The messengers voted 5,627 to 1,528 to overrule the council of NOBTS trustees, the seminary’s bevy of Louisiana lawyers, and the reasoned appeal of president Dr. Chuck Kelley.
In a nut shell, the issue dealt with the best way to ensure the seminaries ties to the Southern Baptist Convention in perpetuity. The Executive Committee (the entity charged with doing the conventions bidding while the convention is not in session) felt that making the SBC the “sole member” of the NOBTS corporation would provide the security they desired. The NOBTS board of trustees disagreed citing the uniqueness of Louisiana law, ascending liability, and other concerns. See the NOBTS web site for more on the Sole Membership Issue.
Many expressed a fear that if the SBC didn’t force sole membership on the current loyal trustee board, then perhaps one day a more hostile board would be in place who would wish to break away from the SBC. Some people cited Baylor and the Missouri Baptist entities as examples of what could happen at NOBTS one day. These scare tactics seemed to work even though president Chuck Kelly explained that the comparison didn’t apply. The legal issues between those colleges and the NOBTS situation were like apples and oranges. NOBTS could not pull away from the SBC even if it wanted to.
When Baylor broke away, the school did not depend on the baptist state convention for support. A very different situation exists with NOBTS and the SBC. The majority of the seminary’s operating budget comes from the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention. Breaking ties to the SBC would be financial suicide. NOBTS could not survive without the SBC.
Also, no one seemed to acknowledge the fact that the NOBTS board of trustees gets appointed by the SBC itself. In order for NOBTS to ever have a board antagonistic to the SBC, the SBC itself would have to appoint it. A friend of mine said that anyone who believed that a hostile board with nefarious motives could never sneak into place was being “foolhardy.” That may be true, but I think its just as likely that a hostile board could one day take over the executive committee – and that’s the main reason I opposed the sole membership deal. Now that all our eggs are in one basket, a rogue Executive Committee board wouldn’t be in control of one entity, they would be in control of them all. The SBC has taken a dangerous step toward an unbaptistic centralized hierarchy. Only history will tell, but I’m afraid one day future generations of Southern Baptists will look back at this action as one of the conventions most tragic mistakes.