Why would anyone in their right mind allow someone to nominate him or her to be president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas? I have wrestled with this question for a couple years now. Those who know my story know that I will be nominated on Monday, November 10th in Fort Worth to be president of the convention by Bruce Webb, pastor of First Baptist Church of the Woodlands.
I wish I could claim insanity as the reason, although it could be my midlife crisis kicking in at the ripe old age of forty-eight years old. I have been told that when men reach their midlife crisis they either buy a “Harley” or a convertible, or run for political office. With one daughter in college at Howard Payne and another heading off to college next year, I could not afford the sports car. That is not to mention the fact that I have my first daughter Lorin getting married next June. So here I am throwing my hat in the ring hoping to get elected.
It would be easy as a pastor to suggest that I am doing this because I believe it is God’s will for my life. It is true that I do feel compelled to do what I can to help our convention embrace the future. However, I have been known on occasion to confuse my voice for the voice of God. One huge comfort I have in this matter is the fact that it will not be my decision whether I am elected president, but rather the decision of the messengers to the convention, and ultimately in God’s hands.
One of my greatest concerns is that I have gotten involved for all the right reasons. Ego can be deceiving, and Jeremiah warns us that “the heart is deceitful above all things.” I have wrestled long and hard with why am I really do this?
To answer this question, let me invite you into my private world. The road to this decision for me dates back to 1979, when I was a student at Baylor. As most Southern Baptists remember, this was when political maneuvering and plots became part of the Baptist story. The “Conservative Resurgence” began on the floor of the convention in Houston. Suddenly all the rules changed. A “winner take all” mental struck the leadership of the convention. Over the next several years, the Fundamentalist narrowly won heated elections and took the all the spoils of war by stacking the boards of trustees with their loyal foot soldiers. Soon the Fundamentalists held major vote on all the boards and one by one good loyal Baptist leaders were ousted in favor of card carrying Fundamentalists. In Texas this dark reality became more than a nightmare when Dr. Russell Dilday was ousted from his post at Southwestern, and locked out of his office to boot. Much like the historic cry of “Remember the Alamo” in Texas history, when Dilday was fired Texas Baptists rose up to protect the Baptist General Convention of Texas from takeover, and to safe guard its institutions. The Baylor Board of Trustees took unprecedented action to distance itself from the fray and to maintain its Baptist heritage.
Now the struggle became very personal for Texas Baptists who by and large were very conservative theologically. Since most of the pastor in Texas were Southwestern grads, and most of the churches in Texas were by nature conservative the fight became a very difficult “civil war” as brother fought against brother. Much like on the national level the elections in Texas were highly contested, and the victor took the spoils of war and filled the key leadership posts with loyal Texas Baptists. From my perspective the radical Fundamentalists fringe of the convention began to make overtures of splitting the convention and starting a new convention in historic Baptist faction. Who knows how many of our churches find their roots in unresolved congregational squabbles?
At first few of us felt this would ever happen. Surely Dr. Pinson could help hold us together, even though the seeds of dissention were taking roots and bearing ugly fruit in the form of character assassinations, false rumors and accusations. I don’t have time to explain all that happened but needless to say ten years ago the Southern Baptists of Texas convention was formed and over this decade a couple of thousand churches left the BGCT or chose to be dually aligned.
As this exodus occurred the BGCT began to suffer financially. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were channeled in new directions, and the BGCT leadership did their best to hold the ropes. However, the weight of carry the mission of the convention and sustaining the work of its institutions became more than one could bear and the strain began to be telling. With each year the budget was cut or supplemented by financial reserves. On the grassroots front, many loyal BGCT/SBC churches found themselves feeling disconnected from the mission and the vision of the BGCT. Much of this disconnect could be traced to efforts by the BGCT leadership to distance themselves or to correct moves made by the Fundamentalists leadership of the SBC.
As the good Baptist ship began to take on water, I felt it was time for someone to stand up and say that we needed to change. Business as usual was not going to help us embrace the future. Besides, the world over the twenty years of the struggle changed dramatically, and for the most part we missed the implications of the change because of our internal struggles. I am now convinced that the greater challenge we face today has little to do with the theological and political struggles of the past, but rather to do with the fact that our vision has become very close to “old wineskins” in a day when “new wineskins” are a necessity.
So two years ago, Bill Wright and I began to dream of what would happen if we set a new course into the future. One not dictated by the struggles of the past, but rather by a bold new vision of the future. A vision rooted in our “Kingdom Agenda” (as Randel Everett likes to call it) and fueled the timeless principles of Kingdom cooperation. I believe vision and cooperation will be the key retooling the BGCT to be a powerful movement for Kingdom growth and ministry in a world where denominations are slowing dying all around us. I believe the BGCT has the opportunity because of its position, polity, diversity, and “can do” spirit to set the course for others to follow. However, we must be willing to taste the bitterness of our own failures, and disappointments in order to embrace the future. Like the seed that must be buried and die before the new growth can bud, I suspect we are struggling with death in certain arenas, so new life can be born.
When I began this journey I felt much like a revolutionary calling for radical and immediate change, but I am convinced now that change is in the air, but it will come much more like the nature rhythms of nature. I believe we are either in late fall, or early winter, but the spring is coming. With the coming of spring will be new visions and new hope. I believe young and old alike will be inspired by the Spirit to embrace the future with new strategies and expression of life founded on the bedrock principles of our past. I don’t think any of us know what the end reality will look like, but I believe all of us can have a part in shaping this future if we are willing to continue to communicate, cooperate and work together.
On Monday afternoon, I will confident the Lord will accomplish His will through the votes of His people. I believe Stephen Hatfield and myself only want to help us move into the future. If Stephen is elected, I must admit I will be somewhat disappointed, but I will also have a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I have had the privilege to be part of history being made right before our eyes. I believe a new day is dawning for the BGCT and I am excited to be apart of it. I will also go to bed at night not having any regrets. I did my best, and I will trust the results to the Lord.
On the other hand, if the people elect me to be the president it will be a thrill of a lifetime. I know one man cannot be the answer for the future, but I pledge to do my best to help us move into the future with a bold commitment to be the greatest Kingdom force in Texas by joining hearts and hands to make Texas Hope 2010 a reality by sharing the hope of Jesus with every man, woman and child in Texas, and making sure the least of these among us have been touched by our love.
Join me in Fort Worth, and let’s be part of history together.