Monday, September 26, 2005

Bureaucrats for bureaucrats

Timothy George was absolutely prophetic twenty years ago when he said, "The exchange of one set of bureaucrates for another doth not a reformation make" (he later put his thoughts in print). I supported the conservative resurgence in the SBC. The denomination desperately needed a theological correction. Everyone who is committed to the inerrancy of Scripture has reason to praise God for the change in direction.

One of the great dangers that I see in the aftermath of this change, however, is a triumphalism that seems allergic to any kind of self-criticism. When moderates and liberals where in charge, conservatives rightly criticized their theological commitments and improper actions. When those clinging to the levers of denominational power rebuffed such criticisms or circled the wagons they were (rightly) charged with being insensitive to and detached from the churches. The moderates responded with apocalyptic threats (Leon McBeth telling a church in Bryan, Texas in 1979, "If Adrian Rogers is elected president of the SBC, our convention will be over and Southwestern Seminary will be turned into a Bible College"), condescending dismissals ("We are the architects of 'Bold Mission Thrust!' You have no idea all that is involved in that so you cannot possibly understand the importance and complexities of what we are doing") and cajoling, almost whining pleas ("We are good guys. We have noble plans. Don't derail those plans by criticizing us. Trust us!").

Now that conservatives are in charge, the theological commitments have changed, but the method of operating seems interchangeable with the previous regime. Consider the kinds of responses with which even friendly criticism is met.

Sometimes there is intimidation and the threat (subtle or otherwise) of not being truly conservative. "Don't you support 'The Cause?' The CBF crowd doesn't like what we are doing, either. You sound just like them!"

At other times criticism is met with paternalism. "You guys just don't get it. If you understood the issues and knew what was at stake, you would get back in line and support us."

Still other times the response is met with an almost incredulous disappointment that the actions of "conservatives" would be questioned at all. "We are inerrantists! You can trust us. We have 'Empowering Kingdom Growth.' We are good guys. Why are you questioning us?"

All of which brings me back to Timothy George's prophetic observation. Bureaucracies exert a self-preserving pressure on people to conform. Those who yield to such pressures are bureaucrats and they cannot abide legitimate criticism because it is perceived as a threat to the very existence of the organization. So bureaucrats tend to serve the perpetuation of the organization more than the original cause for which the organization was established.

If a man is a bureaucrat, it may not matter what his theological convictions are, because they become sublimated to the preservation of the organization. If current and future SBC leaders remain unwilling to be self-critical and to listen to legitimate challenges in the way things are done in the denomination, they will continue to see faithful, conservative pastors and churches relate the the convention with antipathy. There is a growing number of such churches and pastors who see the desperate need for reformation and who realize that bureaucrats and bureaucracies are impediments to that goal.

19 comments:

joethorn.net said...

Tom, I have been dialoguing with a fellow SBC pastor concerning the kind of change/reformation that is possible within our Convention. We talked about this very thing, and I am encouraged to hear someone who has gone through the conservative resurgence (and supported it) who sees much more work to be done. Great thoughts.

Paul said...

Tom, great thoughts. They very much remind me of a conversation I had with one of our seminary presidents earlier in the year (he thought I was suspicious for even raising questions). I'm also reminded of Walter Brueggemann's book The Prophetic Imagination in which he deals with this beuracratic process you describe.

G. Alford said...

Tom,

Thanks for this honest assessment of the SBC Bureaucracy… and drawing attention to the need for reformation within the Convention.

Some of the Liberals (Moderates/Main-Stream-Baptist they call themselves as no one actually calls themselves a Liberal) who lost power during the Conservative take over of the Convention would say that the SBC has already experienced a Reformation (an unwelcome one from their point of view). However, I whole heartedly agree with you and Dr. Timothy George "The exchange of one set of bureaucrats for another doth not a reformation make".

“Bureaucracies are, above all, instruments of power” and precious little to nothing has changed with how the “real power” is wielded within the SBC. The real power is consolidated within the hand of a few men who rule the Empire from the thrones of their Mega-Churches with little room for anyone else to have their voice heard.

For all its hype about Democratic Government and the principles of Congregational rule, the SBC has descended into a Futile System of Government with the Mega-Church Pastors ruling as Lords over the serfs (pastors of the small Churches) within the Convention. And I don’t think anyone is kidding themselves about the fact that the serfs are unhappy. (I am sorry for the honesty here but this is the plan truth.) This is what Dr. Jimmy Draper has found out with his efforts to reach out to “younger leaders” within the Convention… an effort that falls flat on it’s face, because “younger leaders” are not interested in being “reached out to” or “stroked”, they are interested in change and real change is the one thing no Bureaucracy accepts without a Revolution.

Ok, ok… I’m sure you get my point… It is not the leaders who are currently in power who are at fault, “It’s the Bureaucracy Stupid”. (please forgive me for that one) Simply put we don’t need a new set of leaders, we need a new Government!

Jeff Wright said...

Hmm...

I'm in agreement that the Convention needs a pretty thorough theological overhaul.

I also think it would be helpful to see some specific instances of where the "trust us" or "don't criticize" message is coming down from the current leadership.

There is some strong language being tossed around here and I don't know that we can really discuss this issue unless we can reasonably prove this is a bureaucratic agenda.

I guess all I'm saying is let us be careful to be specific in our critiques so that we aren't accused of attacking a staw man by those who disagree.

Stephen A Morse said...

Gentlemen; I am a young SBC pastor who is growing more and more discouraged by this very thing. What can I do to effect change in this area? I can't even stand to get involved with our associational stuff anymore. Advice?

Paul said...

Jeff,

I won't go into great detail about the conversations I had with one of our seminary presidents, but let me generalize.

I wrote a letter in which I basically said, "Good, we held our ground on orthodoxy. Unfortunately we haven't seemed to learn anything in the area of orthopraxy." In other words, what good is an inerrant Bible that we don't live by? This was an observation of the people in the pews (in all too many cases), the pastors in the pulpits (in all too many cases), and leaders within our convention (in all too many cases).

The response I got was in essence this: "Look back at Luther and the Reformation. People were killed for their beliefs. At least we haven't killed anyone. History should tell you that reformation isn't pretty and mistakes will be made. Those we made were not the first and you can believe they will not be the last. Our cause was right, therefore our actions are excusable."

In at least one of the letters I was chastised for "accusations" I made. You see, a call for correction is accusatory to the beuracracy.

A second example is this. A very solid younger pastor from Georgia (and much nicer than me, by the way) has a fairly prominent blog. His blog was mentioned in a BP article around convention time as he was blogging from the convention. He contacted the six seminary presidents requesting an interview with them about their views on the direction of the SBC and especially as it relates to younger leaders in the convention. Two responded (and one of those pretty much said that cooperation means to tow the party line). The other four refused to be interviewed. This was, by the way, during the summer break when schedules are less hectic for them.

Where is the accountability in that? It seems to me that there is none.

These do not seem to be exceptions, but the rule.

G. Alford said...

Jeff, said "There is some strong language being tossed around here". Thanks for the warning to guard what we say Jeff... I need this warning all too often I am afraid.

I don’t think there is some sort of “bureaucratic agenda” at work here as Jeff says. I honestly do not believe there is even a conspiracy among the leadership of the SBC to keep the power and control of the convention all to themselves… but I do know that any Bureaucracy has the tendency to take on a life of its own, and living things have a built in reflex of self-preservation.

Can anyone remember the last time a SBC President was elected who came from a church of less than 250? 500? 1000? And can anyone remember when the President was not actually pre-selected by the current leadership before the Convention was held? What about having a real election where each church is mailed a ballot with several men to choose from, and how about “one church one vote”?

Here is what I see in my local association and state conventions. The largest church or churches in my local association run the association… they usually have their people in all the positions of power and they usually determine who is sent to represent the association at the state level. The state convention is run pretty much the same way. The president and those in positions of real power mostly all come from the Mega-Churches. Now, I am not saying that these people are not good Christians and do not do a good job for the most part… what I am trying to show is that this has created (unintended I believe) a system of “haves and have-nots” within the local association and state conventions that is all but impossible to change.

Jeff, I am really not trying to use “strong language” but I honesty believe the SBC is in need of some “strong medicine”… with the desire to see her restored to full health!

Tom said...

Jeff,

Fair enough. There are no shortage of specific examples, but let me offer only very public one and suggest a method of thinking about this that underscores my main point, which I would couch more in terms of bureaucratic inertia than agenda.

I will take them in reverse order. If we search for evidence of a willingness to be self-critical among SBC conservative leaders, what do we find? Compare the number of open criticisms leveled against others ("them" with all their various faces) to the admissions of wrongs done by those within the camp. One of the most encouraging aspects of the Task Force's report is that it does acknowledge some culpability on the part of some conservative leaders in the past. That is a start, but it does not go far enough, in my estimation, and even such admissions of wrongdoing are few and far between.

Now for the specific example: When the Baptist Faith and Messsage study committee brought their recommendations to the convention in 2000 every proposed change served to make the document more biblical in keeping with our Southern Baptist heritage...except for the change on the Lord's Day article. When I and others questioned this, both privately and publicly (see my article on it), we were resoundingly caricatured as playing into the hands of those who oppose all the good that the conservative resurgence has accomplished. When 2 pastors sought to revisit the issue at the 2001 Convention, having fully informed the powers that be (many months prior) that a friendly motion would be coming from the floor, the response from the platform was heavy-handed and, to say the least, disrespectful. The message sent was loud and clear: anyone who dares to challenge the decisions of those in charge better be prepared to be portrayed as wreckless, thoughtless and unhelpful (to put it kindly).

Brian Hamrick said...

I would much rather we boast in the cross than in our denonimation.

Scripture Searcher said...

And Leon McBeth coninues to blush, at least in private, as he rightly should.

Yes, Timothy George's statement was prophetic but no more prophetic than Tom Aschol's final paragraph in this current blog.

Persevere, young man!

One Salient Oversight said...

I think the Federal government should force a break up of the Southern Baptist Monopoly.

I'm only half serious!

Small is sometimes much more efficient and able to use resources better. A breakup of the SBC would, I believe, be a great thing for the gospel and for Baptists generally.

Jeff Wright said...

It really wasn't my intention to say we shouldn't be critiquing, just rather that those critiques should be as specific as possible.

I believe it has to be specific in order to avoid being dismissed before being heard.

Thanks to those who filled in the gaps.

Brian R. Giaquinto said...

Our Heavenly Father,

If there was ever a need for beauty and grace it is now. The land is dark and evil, and the people of God are divided into rival camps. O God, let the trumpet of praise be heard on the earth before the great trumpet of judgement rips open the sky! Empower us with extraordinary anointing to lift our voices and instruments in harmony to call Your scattered people together in unity. One day we shall sing the song of the Lamb around Your throne in heaven. Lead us in a dress rehearsal while yet we live on the earth! Amen

(The NIV Worship Bible, Maranatha! Publishing) - based upon 2 Peter 3:14 and Revelation 15:3

David B. Hewitt said...

Yes, a dress rehearsal on earth, and may there be many of them!

Unity should and must be our goal per Ephesians 4 as we all would agree.

However, I am sure we'll also agree that, while loving dearly our brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot abandon Scriptural truth in any way, and must continue to put it forward even as we weep when our brothers angrily and falsely accuse us of wanting to make trouble -- and let us examine ourselves to make sure the accusations are indeed false.

May we continue to go forward with the truth of Scripture in the reformation of our convention at all levels, and do so with gentleness and respect as we are commanded in Scripture (1 Pet 3:16, 2 Tim 2:24-25).

This post is as much for me as anyone, and others have said such things more eloquently than I have just now in earlier blog posts, but it never hurts repeating, especially when much hurt has taken place.

A good-for-nothing slave who desires to do his duty (Luke 17:10 HCSB),
David Hewitt

Brian R. Giaquinto said...

The real power is consolidated within the hand of a few men who rule the Empire from the thrones of their Mega-Churches with little room for anyone else to have their voice heard.

For all its hype about Democratic Government and the principles of Congregational rule, the SBC has descended into a Futile System of Government with the Mega-Church Pastors ruling as Lords over the serfs (pastors of the small Churches) within the Convention. And I don’t think anyone is kidding themselves about the fact that the serfs are unhappy.


David,
I don't think this the "gentleness and respect" that you mentioned. To a group of people who are obviously satisfied with themselves, how do we sound to them? I don't believe that insinuating that the leaders of the SBC are "Lords ruling an empire" which has become a "Futile system" doesn't help the cause much. I am a "serfs" that isn't particularly unhappy. Can things be better? Yes. Should things be better? A resounding YES. I understand that Founders-friendly people are unfairly accused as being trouble makers at best; and heretics at worst. Are we responding to false accusers as Christ responded to His, or are we adding more fuel to the proverbial fire? Christ has not called anyone to drive out the money-changers with the whip. If we resort to "strong language," (as Jeff Wright mentioned) our flesh has taken over. All the verses we quote will fall on deaf ears because the Spirit is not working.

G. Alford said...

The real power is consolidated within the hand of a few men who rule the Empire from the thrones of their Mega-Churches with little room for anyone else to have their voice heard.

For all its hype about Democratic Government and the principles of Congregational rule, the SBC has descended into a Futile System of Government with the Mega-Church Pastors ruling as Lords over the serfs (pastors of the small Churches) within the Convention. And I don’t think anyone is kidding themselves about the fact that the serfs are unhappy.


Brian,
I said the above comments not David

And they are directed not at the current leadership or any individual within our convention. If you read the rest of my comments you will find that I clearly expressed this in the last paragraph…

“Ok, ok… I’m sure you get my point… It is not the leaders who are currently in power who are at fault, “It’s the Bureaucracy Stupid”. (please forgive me for that one) Simply put we don’t need a new set of leaders, we need a new Government!

What I am trying to say is that the Southern Baptist Convention that prides itself on its democratic principles should be able to do a lot better than the Government (our lack of it) that we now see.

By His Grace and Mercy,
Greg Alford

Stewart Clarke said...

a danger we must avoid is equating conservative with regenerate. when the liberals were in power, we knew the ones who had a very different understanding of the "gospel" yet now the lines are not so clear. a conservative resurgence is not necessarily a spiritual reformation

brotracy said...

How true this blog is!! As a student at SWBTS when Dr. Hemphill resigned, I wrote the Chair of the Search Committee for a new President expressing that I did not think Dr. Patterson would be good for SWBTS. It was the worst kept secret that he would be next President. He was mentioned the day that Dr. Hemphill resigned. The chair condescendingly replied to my email by stating that I didn't really know what was going on in the convention. I.e., because I was a student, I could not be informed. I replied back to him that I had served 10+ years as a staff member (Pastor/Minister of Youth) and that I was informed. Basically from that point, with no apology, just let them do their job. So, I see your comments as dead on. thank you for this.

Just Ken said...

I have reprinted Rev. John Haslett Boggs' antipolitical tract, "Our Political Protest. Why Covenanters do not Vote." (1872) on http://classicalliberalism.blogspot.com/. This is a classic expression of the Reformed beliefs on the problems with the U.S. Constitution in particular and secular society in general. From the time of Calvin, John Knox and the Scottish Covenanters, the Reformed tradition has been critical of the foundations of any political agency.

The influence of the Puritan and Reformed principles was a cause of the American Revolution. During the constitutional debates in the U.S., there were certainly strong reasons why they were held in secret. At that time, the Reformed churches were far more influential throughout the American Confederation than in 1872 when this tract was originally printed, and were the constitution publicly debated at the time of its inception, it is doubtful that the framers would have been successful. Many of the reasons can be found in the arguments expressed in "Our Political Protest. Why Covenanters do not Vote."