“We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” President Barack Obama, Radio Interview on 10/25/2010
Spoken from the one who was supposed to be a uniter, not a divider. Words, especially in the political arena, have meaning and they have consequences. Although President Obama later clarified his use of the word “enemies,” if you look closely at this law school trained President, you will discover that he didn’t take back much:
“Now, I did also say if you’re going to punish somebody, punish your enemies, and I probably should have used the word, “opponents” instead of enemies.” (emphasis added)
Caught saying what he probably means (it’s easy to use probably, isn’t it?), Obama tried to deflect away any criticism of his words or his actions. In the world of politics, words usually reflect what a person believes about a particular situation and will often be a good indicator of how that person will act in the future.
Last week, I wrote a post (here) about Nathan Akin’s call for pastors to head to their state convention annual meetings to let their voices be heard and to elect pro-GCR Presidents in each of the Baptist state conventions (Akin’s article here). This call to arms, which Akin has every right to make and which pastors have every right to heed, is just another example of the highly political nature of the GCR.
One commenter on my blog took me to task for questioning the politicization of the GCR:
“And, come on, there is no major SBC movement that is not politicized, since people are inevitably and heavily involved.”
Am I naive enough to think that there are no politics involved in the SBC, either on the national level or the state level (and even in some local associations)? Of course not. Politics, by its very nature, involves both people and ideas. However, politics, at its best, is about influencing and persuading people to your point of view. At its worst, as we have seen in our nation’s health care debate, it’s about twisting arms and making deals behind closed doors.
From my vantage point (admittedly biased because of my opposition to the GCR), I think that what we have seen employed in the GCR process — from the very beginning — is politics at its worst, not its best. Could we have arrived at a broad consensus that the overwhelming majority of all Southern Baptists (not just the messengers at the annual meeting) would have accepted? I think so, but that kind of politics — the politics of persuasion as opposed to the politics of power — would have taken time and would not necessarily include the radical change that some in the establishment have openly advocated.
But, from what I have observed of the process, the building of consensus and unity was probably not the intent of the GCR. From the inception of what came to be known as the Great Commission Resurgence, Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in his “Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence,” set the tone for what we are seeing played out in each of our Baptist state conventions.
For those of you who need to have your memory refreshed, Dr. Akin specifically called out “bloated bureaucracies”:
“In addition, we have become bloated and bureaucratic. It is easier to move some things thru the Federal government than the Southern Baptist Convention. Overlap and duplication in our associations, state and national conventions is strangling us! If folks in the pew knew how much of their giving stayed in their state they would revolt and call for a revolution! Praise God I/we live in a state where our Convention leaders are trying to do something about this. Their tribe must increase! We waste too much time and too many resources and many are fed up saying, “enough is enough!” The rally cry of the Conservative Resurgence was we will not give our monies to liberal institutions. Now the cry of the Great Commission Resurgence is we will not give our money to bloated bureaucracies.”
Who are these “bloated bureaucracies” of which Dr. Akin speaks? Why, the Baptist state conventions and local associations, of course. But, did you ever stop to think about who leads these so-called bloated bureaucracies? Dedicated conservative Southern Baptists who were the foot-soldiers in the Conservative Resurgence. Men and women on the front lines of ministry in state conventions throughout the country who are trying their best to be good stewards of what God has entrusted into their care, all the while leading the churches in their states to fulfill the Great Commission.
Can we do better? Absolutely! Can we make changes in how we fund our cooperative missions efforts? Yes, and no one is arguing that changes should not be made. However, when you use political language in such a way that paints your opponents as bureaucratic defenders of bloated (and wasteful) state convention budgets, then you might expect that there would be some resistance to the hope and change that you are selling.
Instead of seeing the state conventions as partners in the Great Commission, Dr. Akin and many within the SBC establishment apparently see largesse. Those state conventions that dare to keep more than 50% of CP funds are automatically considered bloated in stark contrast to those state conventions — “Praise God” — who have “seen the light” and have turned from their wicked, bloated ways! State leaders, after all, can be heroes instead of villains when they decide to give more money to Nashville. “May their tribe increase” say pro-GCR supporters.
In what must be one of the most unintentionally funny lines of the “Axioms,” Dr. Akin says that “the cry of the Great Commission Resurgence is we will not give our money to bloated bureaucracies.” Considering that many of the ruling elites within the convention come from churches who give so little to the state conventions and who have shown open disdain for the state conventions, one must simply scratch his head in disbelief of such a statement.
So, now the GCR is headed to each state convention. What could and should have been an opportunity for consensus and unity (remember 95% of messengers authorized the creation of a Great Commission Task Force) has now been turned into an issue of great debate and division, notwithstanding the “mandate” that people think came out of Orlando.
The Great Commission, which should always unite us and never divide us, has been politicized, not by those who oppose the GCR, but by those who support it. When you practice the politics of power, whether in Washington, D.C. or in Nashville, you might be able to get your agenda passed. But, do not expect the grassroots to sit down and be quiet. It didn’t happen in America last Tuesday night and it probably won’t happen in the SBC anytime soon! You could then try the politics of persuasion, but by then, too much damage has already been done.