Calvinism, Connections & Cronies in MBTS Search?

“Good ol’ boy is an American slang term that can have both positive and negative meanings, depending on context and usage. . . . It can be used as a pejorative term, referring to someone who engages in cronyism among men who have known each other for a long period of time. Collectively these people are referred to using the slang term, Good ol’ boy network (also known as an old boys’ club). This network is usually all men, excluding women and minorities.” (source here)

If the title of my post got you to at least read this first sentence, then mission accomplished. I suppose I could have used the less pejorative term, “good ol’ boy network” or the more positive term “protege” (“one whose welfare, training, or career is promoted by an influential person”) instead of cronies, but the first was too long and the second didn’t fit with the nice alliteration that I had going. Hence, the use of the term cronies to help illuminate what appears to be taking place with relation to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Presidential Search Process. With all due apologies to Michael Vick (well, not really), I don’t have a dog in the specific fight over the nomination of Dr. Jason Allen to be the next President of MBTS.

While some have raised legitimate concerns about Dr. Allen’s presumed Calvinism (here, here, and here), whether or not he holds to a Reformed theology (four or five points) — in and of itself — does not affect how I view his nomination or his election. Of course, if it could be reasonably proven that Dr. Allen would exclude non-Calvinists from employment at MBTS, then I would most assuredly oppose his election, notwithstanding the fact that I consider myself an inconsistent Calvinist. That the Presidential Search Committee (hereinafter PSC) at MBTS has thus far been reticence to disclose the theological beliefs of their nominee is, at the very least, tone-deaf in light of:

  1. The nominee’s prior and current service with a Pastor and a President well-known for their Reformed beliefs,
  2. The nominee’s own pastoral service at churches that have — at least at some point — been identified with The Founder’s Ministries and,
  3. The reality that the Calvinism/Traditionalist debate has become one of the most contentious issues (the new NAMB’s shenanigans would, however, get my vote) facing our Convention as evidenced by the recent appointment of a blue ribbon panel to deal with said issue.

I suppose that it could be argued that Dr. Allen is not a Calvinist. However, I believe it would strain creduility to think that someone who served as assistant to Pastor Steve Lawson and as Chief of Staff to Dr. Mohler at Southern (before his current appointment as Vice President for Institutional Advancement) — both known for their Reformed theological views — would himself hold doctrinal views that were incompatible with the two men he has served under. It could happen, but I would be far more surprised to find out that Dr. Allen was not Reformed than I would be to find out that he is. Of course, it would be very easy and prudent for the PSC to get out in front of this issue by sharing Dr. Allen’s soteriological beliefs with Southern Baptists at-large. Surely this would not be confidential information that could only be shared with the MBTS Trustees and no one else. If that is the case (and I would love to see someone try to make an argument that Dr. Allen’s docrtinal views on this matter should remain confidential), then there should be no impediment for the PSC to publish Dr. Allen’s views forthwith. While they are under no legal obligation to do so, to fall back on the “Trust the Trustees and we’ll answer your questions AFTER the vote” smacks of “wait until the bill is passed to find out what is in it.” That philosophy, however well-intentioned it might be in the case of the PSC, is simply untenable.

Whether or not Calvinism has played a role in the nomination of Dr. Allen is debatable. However, a fact that will be somewhat harder (although not impossible) to debate is the role that Dr. Allen’s well-placed connections may have played in the surprisingly short search process. Connections — like Calvinism — are not, in and of themselves, a bad thing. We all have connections that can be useful in our ministries, our churches, and in our everyday lives. Whether it is a professional connection through employment, a personal connection through friendship, or a ministry connection through the SBC, connections can be beneficial. Many times, these connections open doors that would otherwise be closed or at the very least provide a second look from a Search Committee for candidates who might otherwise be overlooked.

While much of the opposition to Dr. Allen’s nomination has come because of his presumed Calvinism and/or his lack of experience, it must be remembered that Dr. Allen is an “insider” who has “inside” connections. Again, nothing wrong — in and of itself — to have these connections. However, to ignore the fact that well-placed connections may have contributed to a truncated search process is to ignore the giant, pink elephant in the room.

In light of the pink elephant, how can the PSC and the full Board of Trustees at MBTS — an SBC entity which has experienced dysfunctional leadership at the Presidential level — satisfactorily explain their rationale for concluding that Dr. Jason Allen is “God’s man for such a time as this” and was not chosen because of cronyism? Let me be clear. I do not believe that Dr. Allen is anyone’s crony. As many who know him have personally attested, he is a man of impeccable character and integrity. From a review of his CV, it would appear that he is qualified to lead MBTS. Neither his age nor his experience (which is subjective) should preclude him from serving as the next President of Midwestern. Dr. Allen obviously made such a strong and positive impression on the PSC that the members of the Search Committee voted to unanimously recommend him to the full Board.

Now, to answer the question of pink elephants and cronyism. The onus is on both the PSC the entire MBTS Board of Trustees to negate the perception that Dr. Allen’s connections led to the short-circuiting of the search process and the speedy nomination. Cronyism or the “good ol’ boy network” only comes into play when other well-qualified candidates are passed over in favor of a well-connected — although less qualified — candidate. Is that the case with the PSC and Dr. Allen’s nomination? The short answer is that we simply do not know. The reason that we do not know lies largely with the Presidential Search Committee. Instead of answering basic questions, they have appeared to stonewall. Rightly or wrongly, this leaves the impression that the PSC has something to hide. Perhaps they do not and the members of the PSC are convinced that they do not have to justify their actions to anyone but the full Board of Trustees. While technically right, the PSC could not be more wrong. How they have rolled out their candidate has been neither productive nor beneficial for Dr. Allen, for MBTS, or for the SBC as a whole. Hence, the increasing — not decreasing — opposition to this nomination from growing quarters within the Convention.

Why not wait until AFTER the vote to get answers? Because every pastor and layperson with any experience in a real world church environment knows that whoever the Search Committee presents for a vote to the full Board of Trustees will (like most church searches) almost always be approved. I’m quite sure that those who are opposed to the Allen nomination are contacting the full Board of Trustees in an attempt to somehow derail this nomination before it gets to a vote because they, too, know the reality of which I speak. If the PSC has gotten it wrong, then the likelihood of the full Board correcting their mistake is slim to none.

Looking at the nomination with the common sense, wisdom, and life experience that God has given to each one of us — particularly those of us who have been in pastoral ministry (not necessarily the ivory tower) and have both experienced being “called” to a church and have led our church to “call” other pastoral staff members — it would seem to me that the PSC moved very fast in their process. The PSC was formed in April of this year and initially indicated that they hoped to have a candidate to present to the full Board by April 2013.  A year-long search process for the top position at a troubled entity seems entirely reasonable and prudent. Working diligently to establish minimum job qualifications takes time, but the PSC was able to get that done approximately one month after its formation. Collecting resumes and applications from interested candidates from mid-May until July 14, praying over the resumes, narrowing the field of candidates to a handful, gathering more information from the remaining candidates, interviewing (by phone or in person) your top candidates, and finally narrowing your list to one man takes a considerable amount of time. Once the PSC focused on one person — in this case, Dr. Allen — it would be reasonable to assume that due diligence would require at least one face-to-face interview with the candidate and his wife. At any point along the way, the Lord could have closed the door on the nomination. The process used by the PSC to reach their conclusion that Dr. Allen is “God’s man” and to unanimously nominate him to be the next President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary should have taken much time. Seemingly longer than 3 1/2 months.

Perhaps the Committee could have done all this in the span of less than four months, but that would not be my experience in searching for pastoral level staff or for having gone through the various search processes with the churches where I have served. That does not mean that my experience is controlling, but I do believe that it would be fairly typical for most churches within the SBC.  If the perception of cronyism or the “good ol’ boy network” is not the reality, then the PSC would do well to answer a few basic, non-confidential questions about their search process. How often and for how many times did the Search Committee meet? How many resumes were received? How were resumes reviewed? Were any resumes from minority candidates solicited and/or received by the PSC? What was the process that was used to come to the conclusion that Dr. Allen is “God’s man” and the best qualified person for this position?

I know that some people think that all of these questions should probably be answered after the full Board of Trustees vote. While I do not believe that the MBTS’ Trustees have a legal obligation to divulge any information about the process ahead of the vote, it is becoming increasingly clear that — in the interest of their Institution, in the interest of Southern Baptists (who own the Institution), and in the interest of Dr. Allen and his family — the Presidential Search Committee needs to share with all Southern Baptists how they arrived at their decision. If they truly believe that this is “God’s man,” then there should be no good reason (there are a few poor ones I can think of) why the Presidential Search Committee would not offer a positive and strong endorsement of their choice right now, not after the vote. By doing so, they could effectively silence at least some of the opposition to this nomination. As it stands, the continued silence of the PSC will erode the confidence in the nomination, the nominee, and ultimately MBTS. There is still time to plug the leaks in the dam, but that time is quickly fading.

 

 

 


Comments

Calvinism, Connections & Cronies in MBTS Search? — 11 Comments

  1. One thing you may want to correct–his name is Jason Allen, not Jared. Jared Allen would be a football player who would sack Michael Vick regardless of a dog in the fight.

  2. ” … it would seem to me that the PSC moved very fast in their process.”

    Howell, I remember a piece you wrote last year re: the new NAMB’s aggressive timetable to reduce a 7-year agenda to 10 months! There seems to be a “hurry up and do it now while the window is open!” attitude by elephants and gorillas in various SBC rooms. I would like to think that cronies and connections would not be SBC descriptors, but I’ve been a Southern Baptist for 50+ years and have seen manipulation, intimidation and control run rampant on other issues. Last time I looked, these are not fruits of the Holy Spirit. God never blesses such activity.

    • Max,

      I do agree with your observation that there seems to be a “hurry up and do it now” attitude at play in what we have experience the last few years. There is no question that the SBC still employs the “good ol’ boy network” in some of its hires. Regardless of whether it is moderates or conservatives in control, “control” is the key issue. It is often difficult to determine whether a particular hire is the result of cronyism or merit. Most of the time, the information revealed by a search committee is so scant that no one will ever know the real reasons for the hire. The best way to defend against even the perception of cronyism is to communicate enough information (not confidential info.) so that reasonable people can understand that a particular candidate was chosen because he was the best qualified, not the best connected. Even if Dr. Allen turns out to be the best qualified person for President of MBTS, the Search Committee has not done him or the Institution any favors in how they have handled this entire process. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  3. At this point in MBTS recent sad history I would think a someone with a proven record dealing with a distressed institution pulled out of retirement or something would be wiser.

    Like you, I am a process person. HOW we do things is important and a proper process builds trust in any organization.. This was not handled well at all.

    • Lydia (if that is your real name and not a pseudonym for Peter :-) ,

      You are exactly correct. Even if there was a “caretaker” President — sort of like an intentional interim at a local church — who could come into MBTS and right the ship, why not take that approach. Giving the Search Committee every benefit of the doubt, I still think that there is a perception — if not reality — that the search process was truncated because of Dr. Allen’s connections. In the current SBC climate, the Trustees should have anticipated strong questioning and therefore bent over backwards to make sure that the process was “kosher.” They still have time to fix the mess, but I think their continued silence speaks volumes that this is not just a bad perception problem, but a real — and much deeper — problem. Hope all is well with you in Louisville. God bless,

      Howell

  4. Peter is in trouble if I am his alter ego. That means he is a mutualist and has a glass of cabernet a few times per year. :o) .

    “You are exactly correct. Even if there was a “caretaker” President — sort of like an intentional interim at a local church — who could come into MBTS and right the ship, why not take that approach”

    I had those same thoughts about an interim. I have seen this process work so well in distressed churches. The interim can bring a certain gravitas and wisdom to the institution and get everyone focused in the same direction.

  5. Lydia/Howell – I agree that a more experienced hand should have been tapped to lead MBTS at this point … an intentional interim. But I suspect that there is indeed an “intent” on the part of some folks with this choice. The perception by some of us in majority SBC ranks is that the process is moving at lightning speed to gain a foothold at MBTS … a foothold can become a stronghold.

    • Max,

      There is no question that the perception of which you speak — a lightning speed process to get a foothold/stronghold at MBTS — is there. Whether or not that perception is reality is another story. I have an educated guess as to what is taking place. Unless the Search Committee or the full Board of Trustees at MBTS gives a plausible explanation as to why Dr. Allen and why so fast, then I think the perception becomes the reality. Given the political nature of things (and yes, there is lots of politics involved in this), I think that the Search Committee and perhaps even a majority of the Trustees believe they can stonewall and ride this thing out. I don’t think that there will be any answers ahead of the vote on issues of process or on issues of Dr. Allen’s theological beliefs, other than to say he has affirmed the BF&M. In the new SBC, “the ends justify the means.” That is not right and it certainly is not Baptist. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

      • “… other than to say he has affirmed the BF&M.”

        Howell, it is increasingly clear that sections of the BF&M were revised in 2000 to provide theological wiggle room in SBC ranks for such a time as this. There’s something for everybody under a big tent, whether or not the majority is agreeable or not to that line of thinking. Russell Dilday provided a “prophetic” analysis of the BFM2000 revision shortly after its publication listing certain troubling factors that now play themselves out on the SBC landscape http://www.baptiststandard.com/2001/5_14/pages/dilday.html

  6. “That is not right and it certainly is not Baptist.”
    Howell, that’s what I like about you. You are more Baptist than “inconsistent Calvinist” and stand for what is right. If SBC leaders stop doing the right thing, it doesn’t matter which theology rules … we will not be blessed.

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