Responding to Colossal Failure
If you're not part of the SBC or aware of its situation, this post might not be for you. I'll be back writing regularly on other less-drama-filled situations soon! In the meantime, you can argue about who should be in the College Football Playoff. If you need to catch up and have many hours, you can watch the streams here.
When asked for a word to describe the current situation with the SBC Executive Committee and its refusal to follow the directive of the messengers, the word I initially used was "disappointed." At the time I had the picture of being a teenager and doing something really stupid and my parents saying that they weren't mad but disappointed in me. I'd let them down. I'd failed them. I'd messed up and had done more than misbehave, I'd hurt them. That's what I meant by saying I was disappointed.
But perhaps a greater description takes two words: Colossal Failure.
I know sometimes we're captive in the moment and wrapped up in hyperbole. We're all victims of the recency bias with whatever the most recent thing we've done or eaten or seen is the best/worst thing ever. So it's important that when we use descriptors like colossal failure, we have to be more than captured in the moment. And that's where we as a Convention of churches find ourselves today, in the midst of a colossal failure of leadership and a failure of those we have entrusted to do what it is they have been tasked to do. Perhaps the most telling point that this is a failure of trust was when one of the trustees made the comment that the messengers have no right to tell them what to do. The second was when a trustee asked the question "How much is a little girl worth?" and was met with snide comments describing it as emotional blackmail. At least the quiet parts are being said out loud.
Pastors and churches are deservedly frustrated, angered, and questioning the very nature of our cooperation. Those feelings are way behind and way less important than the pain, trauma, and ongoing scandal we're giving to survivors of sexual abuse in our churches, whose stories have been questioned and dismissed for decades.
As one SBC pastor and messenger to the 2021 meeting in Nashville and, Lord willing, a messenger to the 2022 meeting in Anaheim, my individual voice is limited. But together, just as our spirit of cooperation says that we can accomplish more together than we can apart, we can speak truth to power and hold those accountable who should know better. Can I encourage a few ways of leveraging our collective voice?
1. Contact Executive Committee staff and trustees - Affirm their position of trust within the convention and the role they play in the 363 days the Convention is not in session. But also speak of their duty to fulfill the will of the messengers. Each state convention has representation on the EC, and you can find all their contact information on the EC website. Letters, emails, tweets, texts, and phone calls are all available for you. Authority in the Convention is not based in a board room at 901 Commerce Street, it's in the local church. If you are a cooperating church in the SBC, you have a voice.
2. Contact the Sex Abuse Task Force - They are put in a spot of being between a rock and a hard place. They are limited in time by the motion affirmed by the Convention in Nashville, and they have a responsibility to oversee a massive investigation. They are doing this service because of their love for Jesus, commitment to the SBC, and a desire to do right by survivors. They're discouraged, disappointed, and need encouragement.
3. Engage on Social Media - It's really easy to dismiss social media as a time waster and a collective angst. And in some cases it is. But there is redemptive value in the gathering of like-minded voices and influencers to speak truth to power. Join in the conversation. Engage with other pastors and leaders. Use the magnitude effect of social media to amplify the call for transparency and to fulfill the will of the messengers.
4. Support our missionaries and entities - The way our funding structure works is that the Executive Committee has the power of the purse to distribute CP giving to the appropriate entities, which include thousands of committed missionaries in North America and globally. Give them encouragement, find out how you can give directly to their sending agencies (NAMB and IMB), and commit to pray for them. Our six seminaries are carrying a great burden of preparing future ministry leaders in the SBC, and the future is bright. We are training leaders to carry the baton into the next generation.
5. Research your options - I know a lot of pastors are asking if they should continue their current mission giving or explore other formulas. Do your homework. Find out what your options are. There are avenues to explore how your church can be a part of God's mission through the SBC model. You can bypass the Executive Committee in your giving, and your state convention has a fiduciary (there's that word!) responsibility to do the will of its churches. So if you contact your state convention and say that you want to change how your mission giving is used, they have to follow your directive.
6. Support survivors - During one of the EC meetings, survivors were mentioned as "that lady a long time ago" or some other anonymous and dismissive tone. They have names. Jules. Hannah Kate. Tiffany. Christa. Jen. And thousands more. Use their names. Speak their truth. Share their stories. Affirm their pain. Pray for them. Speak encouragement to them. They have fought against stone walls to get their stories heard. They have paid their own way to get to these meetings and seek an acknowledgement of the truth.
7. Make plans for Anaheim - Decisions are made by those who show up. A lot of Twitter chatter surrounded the 2021 meeting in Nashville. But the only people whose voice mattered were those who held a ballot in their hands. I know that sounds harsh but it's reality. The Convention only assembles once a year for two days. They're important. And if you want to speak into what's going on in our Convention, you have to be in the room when the votes are taken. Hotels go up tomorrow, make your reservations ASAP.
If I may speak directly to the Executive Committee members and staff, truth and transparency matter more than our reputation or even the survival of the Southern Baptist Convention. If the independent investigation finds incidents of sexual abuse coverup and mishandling and our insurance companies refuse to pay, we deserve to be sued. If unsavory emails are discovered that taint the reputation of our heroes and we see the seedy underbelly of institutional sin, it's worth way more to be truthful than for us to think everything is ok. If at the end of this people are fired or potentially liable for prosecution, that's worth much more than any kind of PR hit or cover. Truth matters. Transparency matters. Trust matters.
Do the right thing. Waive privilege. Fully cooperate with the Task Force. And sit this one out.
If not, I'll see you in Anaheim. And my ballot will be used to make sure our trustees and institutions are accountable to the messengers.
I shared this letter to our church family and am passing it along if it's of any value to you in your ministry context. The file itself is available here.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.