“My granddaddy didn’t have a seminary degree but even he understood you can’t even spell SBC president without a C and a P.” With those inspirational words, ringing out like a shot across the bow of the establishment candidates, (the late) Forrest Pollock ended his nomination speech for Frank Page at the 2006 Greensboro convention. As one who was in the hall that day, I have no doubt that Pollock’s rousing address swayed enough messengers to cast their ballots for Frank Page for the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, handing him a stunning victory on the first ballot.
One of the men that Dr. Page bested that day was Ronnie Floyd (the other was Jerry Sutton.) At the time, Frank Page’s church, First Baptist Church, Taylors, S.C., gave 12.4% of their undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program. In contrast, Ronnie Floyd’s church, First Baptist Church, Springdale, Arkansas, gave .27% to CP. That is not a typo. The decimal point is in the correct place. Apparently in 2006, there were some who tried to spell SBC without a C and a P, but the majority of messengers were not enamored with the new spelling.
Fast forward to Orlando 2010. Not only did messengers adopt the Final Report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF), but these same messengers also elected Bryant Wright, who led his church to DECREASE funding for the Cooperative Program, as President of the nation’s largest Protestant body. My what a difference a few years make! Both of these actions, whether the messengers realized it or not, set the stage for President Wright’s call for “a radical change in priorities in order to fulfill the Great Commission.” In a previous post, I addressed this radical reprioritization and redefinition of the SBC.
As important as electing Bryant Wright as President of the Convention was for those who would seek to redefine what it means be a cooperating Southern Baptist, the even more crucial event was the passage of an amended Component Three of the GCRTF. The Task Force, at the beginning of the debate on passage of the Final Report, made a calculated decision to go for broke. Instead of voting on each component individually, the Task Force implored the messengers to vote on the Report as a total package. To my knowledge, no effort was made to “divide the question” so that the messengers could have voted on each component separately.
The only substantive debate surrounding the Task Force’s Final Report centered on Component Three, which dealt with the Cooperative Program and “Great Commission Giving.” If the Task Force won on this issue, then they would win the day on the entire report. And that is exactly what happened. The pertinent portion of Component Three originally read:
That the messengers . . . request the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to consider recommending to the Southern Baptist Convention the adoption of the language and structure of Great Commission Giving as described in this report in order to enhance and celebrate the Cooperative Program and the generous support of Southern Baptists channeled through their churches. . . .
After spirited debate, a too close to call vote on an amendment, “loose” parliamentary procedures, and points of order from the floor, the Task Force faced a do-or-die situation. With a political sleight of hand that would make Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid proud, the GCRTF hammered out “compromise” language that was inserted into Component Three. With the addition of these clauses, the Task Forced hoped that a majority of messengers would be believe that the CP was not only saved, but strengthened. With the Task Force’s “gracious spirit of cooperation” on display, the messengers overwhelmingly approved an amended Component Three with the following language added:
“continue to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach.”
“We affirm that designated giving to special causes is to be given as a supplement to the Cooperative Program and not as a substitute for Cooperative Program giving.”
However, these changes, while appearing substantive, did absolutely nothing to change the redefinition of giving that is embodied in the Final Report. In fact, the first addition is taken verbatim from the body of the Final Report (see Final Report, Component Three: Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving, page 9, paragraph 2). The second addition, which gave enough messengers cover to vote for this Component and the Final Report as a whole, does nothing to change the direction that the Task Force and its supporters are moving the Southern Baptist Convention. In reality, neither change served to save or strengthen the Cooperative Program, but the changes did serve the purpose of the Task Force to save their entire report from being rejected by the Convention’s messengers.
The radical redefinition of giving within the Southern Baptist Convention must be viewed through actions that have already taken place and future actions that will take place. Words are not sufficient. Indeed, the words of the Final Report relating to Component Three, when viewed through an unquestioning lens, seem to clearly focus on the value of the Cooperative Program. However, if we view the actions of Bryant Wright, Ronnie Floyd, Johnny Hunt, and others (notwithstanding Floyd’s and Hunt’s recent increase in CP giving — after all, Floyd’s church had nowhere to go but up) who share their philosophy, “Great Commission Giving” will eventually replace CP giving as the standard by which leaders and churches within our Convention are measured. Churches like Wright’s will continue to designate around the “bloated bureaucracies” that some SBC leaders believe our state conventions to be, further redefining what it means to cooperate.
Until Orlando, we have been a Convention of 45,000+ churches who cooperate together for missions and ministry. Since 1925, the Cooperative Program has served us well. Although not perfect — for we are not a perfect people — CP has stood the test of time. It has allowed churches of all sizes to give “equal sacrifices, not equal gifts.” Perhaps we need to take remedial English and relearn what Forrest Pollock’s granddaddy taught him: You can’t spell SBC without a C and a P. I hear they might even be offering a class next summer in Phoenix!