Can the Southern Baptist Convention Change?
Updated: May 24, 2022
Organizations and Power: A Question for the Southern Baptist Convention.
Do Grassroots Movements Work?
Can an organization truly be a bottom up operation? Can the masses truly lead and exert power over the organization and its elites?
It’s an interesting question and it shows up in various ways.
For example, if you shop at the outdoor sporting goods store, REI, you’ll know that they call themselves a Co-Op. And by joining the REI co-op for a small annual fee, the customer gains an ownership stake in the Co-Op. Or, so they say...
But, does that truly put the power of the company in the hands of the customers collectively?
Does paying your $20 or $30 dollars annually truly give the individual shopper ownership and leadership in the company?
Can a group of customers—thousands, perhaps millions, in number—truly utilize power in objective ways to shape organizational decision within REI?
I think an honest answer to these questions is: No.
Such “power in the hands of the people” is an illusion at best; a delusion at worst. Only the most naive of customers walks out of REI thinking, “I truly am a decision maker in this company. I truly am a part owner.”
Bottom Up Influence?
-It has long been imagined that grassroots movements, movements of “the people,” are the ways things truly change. The masses coming together under a common cause to exert influence and power over those in powerful positions of leadership.
But has this ever truly worked?
Can a grassroots, bottom-up movement truly change something?
Can people agree enough to make change? And if so, how long can a group maintain such unity?
Can these grassroots, bottom-up movements exist in institutions and organizations?
Finally, is there data to suggest that bottom-up movements actually succeed in their efforts?
In his book, “To Change the World,” James Davison Hunter outlines the common view of culture as held by most people:
1 - Most people think culture is the collective product of what we first think and feel individually.
For example, I like red shirts, so I wear red shirts. That becomes my personal culture, and perhaps I can influence others.
2 - Most people think cultural change can be willed into being. As in, a change in culture can be planned, purposeful, and carried out.
Example: I notice people are not wearing red shirts like me. I can plan to change that through purposeful action, campaigning, personal appeals, etc.
3 - Finally, Hunter points out that most people think culture change is democratic, that it occurs from the bottom up; an expression of the collective will of the ordinary people.
Example: I convince a small group of people to wear red shirts, and that group slowly grows larger until everybody is wearing red shirts. Not only that, but everybody believes in wearing red shirts. Voila, the culture has changed.
Hunter’s comment on this common view of culture and cultural change? - It's almost wholly wrong.
More on that to come...
The Southern Baptist Convention
My main interest in the question of culture change is in relation to how power and influence functions within Churches, and particularly, within the Southern Baptist Convention (my own denomination).
The SBC is currently in crisis.
At the 2021 SNC annual meeting in Nashville, the convention voted to open an investigation into the Executive Committee for allegations of neglect and sexual abuse cover-ups.
The Messengers to the 2021 convention voted overwhelmingly in support of this initiative.
President Ed Litton appointed as task force to oversee the investigation.
But when it came time for the investigation to begin, the issue of “Attorney-Client privilege” came to the forefront because many on the Executive Committee did not want to waive that right.
This stunk of guilt and further coverup to most of the SBC messengers in the know, and a multitude of cries began being heard in favor of waving the privilege. The convention was demanding accountability.
Eventually, the EC caved, and waived the privilege. Messengers rejoiced in their victory.
But that’s when the problems really began…
A flood of Resignations…
Ronnie Floyd, Executive President of the Executive committee, resigned on October 14th, 2021 via email sent out late that Thursday night.
In his letter he writes, “Due to my personal integrity and the leadership responsibility entrusted to me, I will not and cannot any longer fulfill the duties placed upon me as the leader of the executive, fiscal, and fiduciary entity of the SBC. In the midst of deep disappointment and discouragement, we have to make this decision by our own choice and do so willingly, because there is no other decision for me to make.”
Greg Addison, Executive Vice-President of the Executive Committee, resigned on October 15, 2021. The day after Floyd. No explanation was given.
Additionally, 13 members of the Executive committee have resigned over the issue. A full listing of their names can be found here.
Finally, and perhaps most concerningly, SBC Executive Committee Attorney, Rod Martin, resigned his post providing an elaborate explanation of why he, and his legal firm are breaking a 56 year relationship.
You can read his full letter of resignation here.
Throughout his letter, Martin repeatedly uses the phrase “They messengers were not told.” He does so to highlight a distinct, and apparently real breech in the communication between those making decisions among SBC elites, and the information reaching the messengers of the SBC.
His main point? There is a breakdown in communication—what seems to be an intentional breakdown.
The messengers are being misled...or so it seems.
At one point, Martin makes this startling statement, “The messengers were not told that virtually all of the EC’s professional people and many of its pastors would have to resign from the EC if this measure was adopted. The messengers were not told why: that both the EC as a whole and all of its individual members have very specific legal duties which cannot be waived, that a blanket waiver of privilege breached those duties in multiple ways, and that none of it can be undone. As one pastor put it, “once waived, always waived.”
I wrote about this situation in a previous post, and perhaps it goes far deeper than I ever thought. I certainly hope not. But, things don’t look good right now.
In his letter, Martin states, “The SBC is in grave danger.”
-The danger that Martin speaks of didn’t happen because the 2021 Messengers made a decision. Even though, in hindsight, it seems that decision was a large blunder.
The Messengers decision seems to have jostled the leadership culture of the SBC, but it really has no lasting power to change it.
This current crisis is happening because culture is not shaped and does not change from the bottom up. This crisis is occurring because of what the leadership culture of the SBC has become. Something we are just getting a peak into...
-But what does it take for an institution like the Southern Baptist Convention to change? Can a ground-swell of churches really effect lasting, institutional change at the top?