I’m for my friends

The Tennessee Baptist Convention is narrowing theological parameters for individuals deemed suitable for leadership. How is that working out?

By Ircel Harrison

The story goes that a politician was once asked where he stood on an issue. He responded, “Some of my friends are for it. Some of my friends are against it. I’m for my friends.”

I thought about this story when I read the news reports about the latest annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention held in Memphis. Many of my friends still find their place of denominational service through the state Baptist convention, so I am always interested in learning how they are getting along.

The report in the Baptist and Reflector, the Tennessee Baptist newspaper, stated that the meeting had “the lowest messenger count in decades” -- 926 registered messengers from 419 churches. (There are 3,200 churches affiliated with the state convention in Tennessee.) This is even more surprising when one considers that about one-tenth of those registered were probably denominational employees (including directors of missions from 66 district associations).

Editor Lonnie Wilkey suggested a couple of reasons for the low attendance. First he cited the cost involved. I can see his point. I have tried to promote meetings in the Bluff City and it is hard to get folks from east of Nashville to make the trek. But his second comment really got my attention.

Wilkey suggested that while “the overwhelming majority of Tennessee Baptists are happy with the current direction of the TBC, there are some who are not totally on board, especially when it comes to the issue of the [2000] Baptist Faith and Message.”

One of the recommendations from the Vision 2012 committee approved at the meeting was that the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) would be the convention’s “confessional foundation guiding our faith and practice as a convention of churches.” So, at least most of the 926 registered are “on board.”

Well, how is that working out? Let me cite one example from the Baptist and Reflector report. One of my friends was nominated for the Executive Board. He affirmed the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) with one exception: “The office of pastor is limited to men.”

My friend is the long-time pastor of a church that gives 15.15 percent of its undesignated gifts to the Cooperative Program of missions. His church has never ordained a woman as either a minister or a deacon during his 25 years of ministry, but he objected to the BF&M 2000 becoming “a litmus test for leadership.”

Of course, he was removed from the slate and replaced by a person whose church last year gave only 3.84 percent of its undesignated gifts to the Cooperative Program but who apparently has no problem with the creedal statement.

Although I wish that my friend were more proactive in his affirmation of women in ministry, I appreciate his willingness to take a stand even it meant that he was “cast out” of a leadership role in an organization that he and his church have faithfully supported.

There are a couple of other incidents that came out of the meeting, one that seems to have been a rebuke to a younger leader, but I think you get the idea about the direction that this particular judicatory is going.

Last week, I wrote a blog about various approaches to serving churches in a new religious environment.

One reason that churches are seeking partnership alternatives is that they want to find individuals and organizations that will come alongside them and work together as fellow servants in the Kingdom of God.

This is very different from judicatories that seem to want the churches to serve them and assure the judicatories’ survival while allowing the judicatories to “call the shots” on who will be allowed to have influence and control.

In light of this, I think some of my friends need all the friendship that I can supply.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.