C’mon, People, Baptists Don’t Do Petitions

A friend said he was approached by a friend of his to sign an anti-NAMB petition that is being circulated by a group seeking to undermine the current leadership there.

I am not going to opine on the merits of the petition itself other than to make a few general observations:

  1. NAMB funds the new work states to a high degree and it exerts a lot of authority and control. If NAMB doesn’t like it, they don’t fund it. They work with the states, but in the end, NAMB’s hand is on the purse strings.
  2. NAMB has developed a reputation in my neck of the woods as being very sensitive to criticism and likely to respond harshly to it. (My next post will come from Siberia.)
  3. NAMB has, in the post-GCR era, put all its eggs in the church planting basket. They have also focused largely on the “SEND-Cities.” That means that any ministry that is not directly involved in church planting, or those areas not in SEND-City areas can be defunded or see funding greatly reduced. This has led to hard feelings. NAMB made choices and those choices have had consequences.
  4. There has been, at times, a lot of conflict between NAMB and state conventions.

However, that conflict is normal in a working relationship such as exists here. State conventions have one agenda and NAMB has another. My understanding is that there is often conflict – sometimes sharp – but if a state has leadership that is both strong and reasonable, those conflicts can be worked out. NAMB has the right to fund what it wishes to fund and states are right to seek funding for what they want to see funded. Those agendas conflict, but the two state execs I’ve had the most contact with have found ways to work with NAMB. Others have had more trouble. Clearly. There are times when the state convention/NAMB relationships have been frosty.

I would make another observation before I make my point.

I understand the petition trots out a series of old grievances against NAMB. May I just say that much of this is driven not by facts but by an agenda – one which is not stated in the petition but is clear to those who know the parties. Even if you are dissatisfied with something about NAMB, it is wise to be very careful here. There are counterpoints to the stories that have been presented, though generally, only one side has chosen to air the dirty laundry in public. This is an iceberg – there is more below the surface than what you see above it.

And, Now, the Point

My friends…

Baptists don’t do petitions. We debate. We discuss. We argue. We study God’s word and we pray. But petitions? Puh-leese!

It’s petty. It’s silly. It has no biblical, historical, ecclesiological, or practical validity. It is a tactice taken from the world of secular politics and it isn’t very effective there. It is simply not how Christians or Baptists do business.

And worst of all, it diverts you from efforts that could actually work.

The biggest lie out there is that you can’t change the SBC. You can. The system is set up so that it can be changed, but it is hard. It isn’t easy. The SBC isn’t changed on a whim – we are a large vessel and a change of course is not meant to be quick or easy. It takes thoughtful consideration and hard work to sway opinion and to redirect the structures. It is a painful process, but it can be done.

Friend, you have the power to change the course of the SBC if you can convince a majority of the SBC that your cause is right and just. There are two primary ways to change things.

1. Sea Change through Trustee Turnover

Think Cafe du Monde!

That was the strategy of the CR. It was hard and it took a decade. It also tends to be more permanent. You have to get a majority of messengers to the SBC to elect presidents who will appoint committees which support your viewpoint and will nominate trustees who share your views. If your cause is just and a majority support your point-of-view, you can get it done.

Something has amused me in my second life in the SBC. I was very involved during the CR years, then dropped out for a while. When blogging hit in 2005 or so, I reconnected (to the regret of many). Since 2005 there have been many groups that have self-styled as majoritarian. These “majority” groups have yet to win a vote at the SBC. Every single time there has been a confrontational vote, they have lost.

I have said it often. You can only claim to be a majority if that majority shows up at the SBC annual meeting. Any other majority is theoretical and meaningless.

But if you are a true SBC majority, you can get your majority churches to send their quota of messengers to the Annual meeting and elect presidents who will get your agenda enacted.

2. Influencing Public (SBC) Opinion

We all would like to think our views are shaped wholly by truth and the word of God, but public opinion does influence us. Debate influences us. Well-written articles and well-spoken messages applying God’s word to today’s world influence us. So, if you want something to change, change public opinion. Speak well and advocate for your position in a way that influences people.

Petitions don’t do that.

The world of blogging and other social media has allowed anyone to have a voice. That is good and that is bad. There are voices we’d love to shut off, but they keep speaking. That’s the nature of it. If you have a point to make, make it! Convince us that your view is correct. Write reasoned, biblical articles that make your point. Try to influence public opinion.

We’ve seen this happen recently in significant ways. The tide has turned in the SBC on issues like racism, on the Confederate flag, on the Alt-right, and it may be turning on immigration – not because of petitions, but because reasonable people have been making reasonable points from God’s word. We’ve had leaders who have led, but we’ve also had people making points from the cheap seats!

You can contact your trustees, and if you have strong opinions, you should. Write a polite, informative, reasoned letter to the trustees, especially to those from your state, expressing your opinion. Encourage others who share your view to do the same. Skip form letters and online petitions (they don’t do much in national politics, they don’t do anything in the SBC). Contact your trustees and speak to the issues.

There isn’t anything sinful about petitions unless it is a sin to waste your time. The SBC is not governed by statements with online signatures or petitions. That’s not how we work. If you want to effect change, there are ways to do it.

  1. Reasonably and biblically make your case in blogs and social media, attempting to sway public opinion.
  2. Get your messengers to state and national conventions (FYI – the national strategy won’t work at state conventions, which are usually structured differently). But get your messengers there and seek to influence the course of events.
  3. Write your trustee. Polite. Positive. Informative. Biblical. Concise.
  4. Work within the system as much as possible. You are more likely to be an agent of change if you work WITH the leaders of the SBC than if you stand on the outside lobbing bombs. Our system isn’t perfect, our leaders aren’t perfect, and working in the system can drive you crazy. But you can influence and be a change agent from within far better than if you become an “enemy of the state.”
  5. Recognize that free people in free churches have the blessed freedom to disagree with you. People sometimes confuse disagreement for the failure to listen. If the trustees consider your opinion and reject it, it doesn’t mean they didn’t listen, it just means they didn’t see the wisdom of your point of view.

And remember this, someone can listen carefully and fully to you and disagree with your view. Too many people assume if others don’t agree they haven’t listened to.

If you want to change the SBC, YOU CAN DO IT. But signing a petition accomplishes NOTHING. Skip it and focus your attention on doing stuff that matters – now and for eternity.



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