With great excitement and enthusiasm, 95% of the messengers (including this one) at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting in Louisville, Ky in June 2009 approved the creation of a Great Commission Task Force. The mandate, as authorized by the messengers, was straightforward and unambiguous:
authorize the President of the Southern Baptist Convention to appoint a Great Commission Task Force charged to bring a report and any recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 15-16, 2010, concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.
The Task Force did indeed bring their report and seven recommendations to Orlando. The messengers, even fewer in number than the year before, approved the report and all seven recommendations as a whole. In the end, the report and recommendations were approved only after Component Three, “Encouraging Cooperative Program Giving and Other Great Commission Giving,” was revised to give the appearance that the Cooperative Program was strengthened.
This apparent strengthening of the Cooperative Program came about after a somewhat contentious debate, a split vote on the floor which should have gone to a written ballot, parliamentary shenanigans that are inexcusable, and some fast wheeling and dealing by the Task Force to save their report.
Because of the negative consequences that I see from an “independent/societal giving” model, I was hoping that the Cooperative Program, as opposed to “Great Commission Giving,” would truly be strengthened. And, even though the overwhelming majority of messengers to the Convention approved what they thought was a strong CP statement, I came away from Orlando convinced that there were some that day, including many within the SBC establishment, who thought (and knew) otherwise.
Now, several months after the GCRTF Report and Recommendations were “overwhelmingly” approved, including the revised Component Three, we are beginning to see divergent interpretations of just what happened in Orlando. We have state conventions, such as Louisiana, Kansas/Nebraska, and perhaps North Carolina, issuing strong affirmations of the Cooperative Program. Other state conventions, like Florida, Kentucky, are looking at their CP allocations and overall giving in a new light.
Most state conventions, including New Mexico where I serve, are cutting their budget because of overall economic factors, but are not otherwise changing their CP allocations. Right now, it appears that most state conventions will not move to make any radical changes to their CP allocations, although New York did increase the percentage amount that they forward to the SBC by .25%.
What does all this mean in the life of our churches, associations, state conventions, and the SBC as a whole? To answer that question, let’s review the mandate that the Task Force was given by the churches who comprise the Southern Baptist Convention:
a Great Commission Task Force charged to bring a report and any recommendations . . . concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.
The Task Force, approved by 95% of the messengers, was supposed to bring back a report and recommendations that would help ALL Southern Baptists (not just a select group) work “TOGETHER” to fulfill the Great Commission (not the GCR). Now, almost 1 1/2 years since the creation of the Task Force and four months after the final report was approved in Orlando, can anyone honestly say that the report and recommendations have brought Southern Baptists TOGETHER? From almost the beginning until the end, including the lack of transparency, this entire process has not united us, but rather has divided us. Seems strangely familiar to the Health Care overhaul, but I digress.
What we are witnessing is a growing division among Southern Baptists that will increasingly manifest itself as a new “war between the states.” One state convention will buy into the GCR vision while another state convention will not. Some individual Southern Baptist pastors and churches will look favorably upon the GCR recommendations while others will continue to have questions and concerns.
But, unless you equate being faithful to the GCR with being faithful to the actual Great Commission (which unfortunately, some are already doing), then just because autonomous state conventions or autonomous churches choose not to accept the GCR vision does not mean that they are any less committed to fulfilling the Great Commission! The Great Commission should always unite Southern Baptists and bring us closer together. After all, isn’t that what we voted for in 2009!