A Bunker Mentality in the SBC?

“A bunker mentality is a slang phrase for a phenomenon that occurs when a group or individual stops taking new, pertinent information into account, and begins viewing outsiders as enemies, due to an isolation resulting from being under attack. Political campaigns and figures are often accused of having this mentality, particularly when a leader, administration or party has become unpopular or is in some sort of trouble.” (Wikipedia)

 “Obama’s Bunker Mentality Sank Him on Tuesday” read the headline of Kirsten Powers’ article in last Wednesday’s New York Post.  Powers, a likeable liberal who is a Fox News contributor, avoided the spin in her analysis of last Tuesday’s devastating losses for the Democrats in general and President Obama specifically.  Powers attributes the loss to Obama and the Democrats misreading of the supposed mandate that voters handed them two years ago:

“When will both parties start listening to voters? They keep misreading elections to mean that somehow the country has suddenly shifted to believe that one party’s ideology is sacrosanct.  Guess what? In 2006 voters didn’t suddenly become liberal ideologues. Not in 2008, either.” 

In her concluding paragraph, Powers says what most tuned-in American voters already knew:

“A series of decisions by the White House sealed the Democrats’ fate. And it all grew out of an oversized sense of support from the American people and a dangerous belief that President Obama could overcome any difficulties with speeches and persuasion.”

When politicians and leaders — whether in the federal government or in the Southern Baptist Convention — begin to misread mandates and wrongly think that they have more public support than they really do, then they begin to think that any difficulties can be overcome with speeches, rhetoric, persuasion and sometimes even good, old fashioned power plays.  As President Obama and the Democrats learned the hard way last week, this way of governing will lead to failure.

Which brings us to the bunker mentality that appears to be happening within the Southern Baptist Convention.  After having received a “mandate” from less than 10% of all Southern Baptists, the SBC establishment has proceeded apace in reshaping the convention in their own image.  There’s just one (well many, really) problem with that:  the vast majority of churches that comprise the SBC do not look anything like the image that has become the public face of Southern Baptists.

In times past, especially during the Conservative Resurgence, grassroots Southern Baptists willingly followed established leaders, most of whom were from large churches within the convention.  Because the focus was on Biblical inerrancy and theological issues, the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists, at both the leadership and grassroots levels, were playing on the same team and were playing from the same playbook.  You had the star quarterbacks and running backs, but without the linemen blocking, there would have been no major victories.

Fast forward to today’s climate within the SBC.  We have become a convention populated by stars — celebrities if you will — who not only carry the ball, but wield an enormous amount of power.  Unlike the CR, which was a grassroots movement that went up against the power-brokers within the convention, the GCR is a top-down agenda that has been crafted (mainly behind closed doors) by those in power to be forced upon  accepted by the grassroots.

And, when those in power — whether in Washington or Nashville or Alpharetta — start being questioned by those they are supposed to serve, instead of answering the tough questions (which is what leaders do), they either retreat into the bunkers or only go on softball shows like Larry King Live where they know that they will not be challenged.  Of course, today’s SBC establishment have their own Larry King-like blogs where they can sit for pro-GCR friendly interviews without ever having a hardball tossed their way.

We saw this same mentality beginning with the Town Hall meetings in the summer of 2009 where constituents were fed up with their elected representatives.  Many of those so-called “leaders” cancelled their public meetings for fear of having to face a hostile and questioning public.  They thought that if they went into hiding, that the pesky no-nothing, ill-informed rabble would just go away.  Well, guess what?  The opposite happened and the Tea Party was born!  The riff-raff did not go away and, in fact, they made their voices heard loud and clear last Tuesday.

The opposition to the radical elements with the GCR is not going away.  And, for those who think that this is just some disgruntled minority with a case of sour grapes, you may need to think again.  But, then again, I don’ expect many pro-GCR folks to learn the lessons from the shellacking that the Democrats and President Obama received on November 2.

When a broad coalition of voices, who have heretofore not been on the same page, begin to coalesce in their opposition to the GCR, the powers-that-be might want to take notice.  When Baptist state convention executive directors openly oppose nominees to mission boards, the SBC establishment better start listening.  When Baptist state conventions pass resolutions in support of the Cooperative Program, maybe the ruling class should stop and ponder that before rushing to make major changes.

But, just like President Obama and the Democrats did when they focused on their wins in special House races while all the while ignoring Republican victories in Virginia, New Jersey, and MASSACHUSETTS, the SBC establishment will highlight GCR wins in states like Florida and Kentucky, but miss the obvious warning signs in states like Louisiana, Alabama, New Mexico, Nebraska/Kansas, etc.

And, when this happens, instead of reality setting in, the retreat into the bunker will be that much greater.  Instead of trying to listen, which is what NAMB President Kevin Ezell promised he would do for the first 90 days of his tenure, he and others will move forward rapidly with the radical agenda that has become the essence of the GCR.

Instead of listening to opponents of the GCR, its most vociferous supporters will tell opponents “that the vote is over, the GCR passed, move on, and stop complaining.”  Instead of handling criticism well, paid employees of entities will come on blogs to make what could be perceived by some as snarky comments against those who dare question the ruling establishment.  And, when things start to really unravel, those in the bunker will blame their enemies opponents for all of their troubles, never once acknowledging that much of the trouble is a direct result of their own making.

So here’s the thing.  Is there no one in leadership in Nashville, Alpharetta, or Richmond who understands that there is great discontent among rank and file Southern Baptists about the GCR?  Is there anyone at all in the establishment that recognizes that the GCR process has been highly politicized from the beginning, up to an including the Orlando Pastors’ Conference and the Anual Meeting?  Is there anyone at all who thinks that there is a huge disconnect between calls by the Task Force for “openness and transpency” and then moving to unilaterally seal all their records for 15 years?  Are there any convention statesmen, in addition to Morris Chapman, who will speak out against the division that the GCR is causing within the SBC and within the state conventions?

I am a blogger.  I do not hide the fact that I am opposed to the GCR and voted against the recommendations in Orlando.  I have written and will continue to write my opinions and analysis of issues affecting the Southern Baptist Convention. 

The SBC establishment can retreat deeper into the bunker by ignoring the warning signs coming from a diverse contingent of bloggers.  But maybe, just maybe, there might be one former pastor turned entity employee who can remind the powers-that-be that many of these “pajama-wearing” bloggers also happen to be pastors.  You can choose to ignore the blogs, but when you do that, you also choose to ignore the pastors.  I’m just saying . . .

About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
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7 Responses to A Bunker Mentality in the SBC?

  1. Among others who see big faults with the “GCRTF Report” .. and subsequent SBC adoption thereof .. are numerous State Convention execs. And they’re the ones to whom the CP dollars flow first!

    IF the states see the changes as inhibiting their work, and if they purpose to continue their work, that’s going to lead to more retention of CP dollars at the state level, and less of those dollars flowing on up the line.

    In a sagging economy, that’s apt to be the biggest change wrought by the GCRTF, and one which will be exceedingly hard to negate.

    • Howell Scott says:


      I think you are correct in your analysis of CP funding from state to national. In New Mexico, we had to trim our 2011 BCNM budget due to the economic realities that everyone is facing. Even though our church gives 10.25% of our undesignated receipts to CP, we are not meeting our budget this year and that means less given to the state. While we have not discussed how we might proceed in future budgeting because of the GCR and what NAMB will do, we must start the discussion this coming year. Most, if not all, of our state staff are dually funded with state convention funds and NAMB funds. If NAMB does away with cooperative agreements and we “lose” that money, we will need to replace it. I can tell you that there is no one I know in NM that is willing to cede command and control of our state staff to NAMB. We most likely will find the funding in-state to pay salaries and do ministry. Florida and Kentucky may go to a 50-50 split, but I do not see NM doing that anytime soon. Thanks and God bless,


  2. peter says:


    As usual you have written a thoughtful piece. A couple of things (one of which is not related to your post in particular).

    First, I am more sympathetic to Mike Ebert’s comments than Dave Miller and the Voices’ regular commenting battalion (and apparently including you, Howell) allow. By experience I know precisely how some people are personally submarined at Voices. More than once I’ve been the brunt-end of endless bantering. Not my ideas mind you. *Me.* I’ve seen the same happen with a couple of professors on Voices. On the other hand, when Danny Akin logged on, he was officially canonized as “St. Danny.” I think SBC Voices sees far too much objectivity in what’s posted there many times than can be demonstrated from their record.

    Nor do I think Ebert’s opening comment deserved either Dave’s lengthy and sharp rebuttal or to be called “snarky” as your own description labelled it, I recall. Again, this is barely more than subjective opinion. I certainly do not think it’s worth much exchange about. I very well could be wrong. And, it’s coming from somebody who not only is not known for short replies, but can be somewhat “snarky” himself! ;^)

    Second, many of the complaints center around secrecy about salaries and personnel issues. For my part, this is absurd. Who wants their salaries posted online or details of severance packages public? Or why people were let go? Or what was discussed in every single meeting? Is revealing salaries necessary to foster a culture of openness? Not in my view. Nor does it matter if they are denominational employees. It’s still asking what no one would reasonably desire. I recall in one church I served when every single month, every line of my “package” was read aloud at the business meeting. I recall an exchange once between two church members over how much electricity we used in the parsonage and something needed to be done. Quite frankly, I was glad when that went away. I see little to no difference between that situation and calling for denominational salaries to be open season.

    Even more I really don’t care how much a denominational employee makes within reasonable parameters of course (competitive with ministry peers in other denoms, etc.). I do care about duplicity. For example, making a fat salary and expecting everybody else to take cuts when times are bad except the executive staff. I get pretty testy pretty quickly about that and will speak up in a West Georgia second.

    Hence, if we want a culture of openness, then I think the parameters needs some type of demarcation, and those calling for open information on salary structures and other personnel privacy issues should be shouted down by those calling for reasonable openness.

    Thanks Howell. I think you’re making a lot of sense for many Southern Baptists.

    With that, I am…

    • Howell Scott says:


      Thanks for the thoughts. I went back and reread what I had said about “snarky” comments. In my original comment at voices, I said that the Ebert’s comments could be perceived as snarky. I have gone back and edited that. Obviously, snark is in the eye of the reader 🙂 However, I do think it is interesting that the VP of Communications for NAMB, during what is supposed to be a 90 day listening period, would come on Voices and publicly say how hurt he and everyone else was about the criticism directed at Ezell. It reminds me of the completely differerent approaches of GW Bush and Obama when it comes to reacting to criticism. In interviews that I have seen of Bush this week, he said that he was not going to respond publicly to the criticisms. Contrast that with Obama that takes public swipes at just about all his critics. I think it demeans the office of the President. From a political and PR standpoint, I think it would be much more effective for Ezell and others in leadership to do more listening and less of what could be perceived as public defending at this point.

      Your point is well taken regarding the salary issue, with one caveat. I’ve not really concerned myself with non-public nature of entity heads salaries. I think many pastors have had the experiences that you describe where everyone knows every penny they make and, if you live in a church-owned house (like I did in Virginia), then everyone also knows your monthly utilities etc.

      I think that there perhaps could be a middle ground in the case of our entity heads. I’ve not done the research to know if this is the case and you might well know, but do major public corporations publish the salary, benefits, and/or bonus packages of the CEO or top executives? If that is SOP, then I don’t know why it would be such a bad idea to publish the compensation packages of the top executives at each of our entities. I don’t think we need to know what the secretaries make or how much lower level executives are being paid, but top leadership may be a differerent story. In light of the great concerns about secrecy in other areas, I think that this would be a positive step that could be taken by the top leadership themselves. I don’t expect them to do it, but voluntarily publishing these compensation packages would help with the “transparency and openness” that the GCR recommended. Thanks again for your insight on these issues. Have a great day and God bless,


  3. My friend Peter cares not about compensation packages and severance agreements of our execs. “Absurd” to ask for such things, says he.

    NAMB among all of our SBC entities has a history that includes far too much wasting of our money on such things. If we are to have a new day, to have openness and transparency, it is not unreasonable at all to make such things public. If they are in line, we will all yawn and move on. If not…well, I suspect there will be criticism and rightly so.

    If NAMB is cutting 25% of their people (“a start” sez the new CEO) how do we know that the new leader is not “making a fat salary and expecting everybody else to take cuts”? We do not of course.

    NAMB has done a good job of squandering the trust of Southern Baptists over the past few years. Ezell may be just the man to help restore it. We will see.

    • Howell Scott says:


      I think that we can have a balance in what information is public and what is not. This really comes down to a philosophy of governance, whether in a religious organization like the SBC, the federal/state/local governments, or private corporations. One philosophy says that the best way to govern and lead is to share as little as possible with the public and make most decisions behind closed doors. Many government officials would love to do this, but there are “government in the sunshine” laws that pertain at the local and state levels. The other philosophy is that the best form of government and leadership is an open and transparent as possible, with only limited work done behind closed doors.

      And, in both government (Obama) and in the SBC (GCRTF), there can be calls for creating a culture of “openness and transparency” while at the same time taking actions that are the opposite of said openness and transparency. One of the reasons that I proposed to Peter for his consideration is that it would certainly go a long way toward creating this transparent culture if top SBC officials voluntarily published their compensation/benefits packages. I don’t expect them to do so, but it would be not only the right thing to do for our convention at this time, but it would be a smart and wise PR/political move that would be well received by many Southern Baptists, even those like me who have opposed the GCR. Thanks for the dialogue on this. Have a wonderful Lord’s Day and God bless,


  4. peter says:


    Now now brother did I really insinuate merely “asking” about salary and/or severance was absurd? I reread my comment and I don’t think that’s exactly my point, William. Rather I carefully boxed in my lament by suggesting many of the complaints concerning the culture of secrecy center around secrecy about salaries and personnel issues, and “For my part”–so far as I am concerned, “this is absurd.” I then concluded by asking a rhetorical question: “Is revealing salaries necessary to foster a culture of openness?” I think not.

    I remain unconcerned about agency salaries and cannot believe you or anyone would thinks he or she could demonstrate revealing the $$ would show we have now arrived–we have a culture of openness.

    You ask, “If NAMB is cutting 25% of their people…how do we know that the new leader is not “making a fat salary and expecting everybody else to take cuts”?” We don’t. But trustees do. And even if they are letting a CEO get away with the supposed hypocrisy, that’s no necessary reason to post salaries publicly. Rather it’s a trustee problem. Of course, one could query, “but then how would we know if the trustees have a problem if only the trustees are involved?” There nonetheless are ways to deal with this without ‘opening up the files’, not excluding periodic independent audits from professional firms, special task committees chosen from various sectors, etc etc.

    Unless someone comes up with a better idea than the trustee system, I think those matters are best left there, that’s all.

    Hence, closer to my intent than merely “asking” for salary $$ to be “absurd” is the expectation of publicizing the salary $$ would lend itself toward a culture of openness–that, in my view, my brother William, remains absurd.

    Thanks for the return.

    With that, I am…

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