Friday, March 28, 2014

A Sad Commentary On Baptist Life

Someone once asked veteran Kentucky pastor, Chuck Stewart, "Brother Stewart, what would you be if you weren't a Baptist?"
The old preacher answered, "Why, I'd be Ashamed!"

It's a funny story, and I've used the joke several times.

However, there are times when I honestly have to say that sometimes I am ashamed of us Baptists.

Now understand it has nothing to do with Baptist doctrine and the Baptist's high view of scripture.  And certainly not the time honored view of he autonomy of the local church.  Baptists believe that there is no organization on earth higher than the local church.  However, we also believe that we can accomplish Christ's Great Commission more effectively when we voluntarily associate together with other like minded congregations for the purpose of taking the Gospel to every people group on the planet.

What I am ashamed of, is unfortunately, that sometimes in the local church, or the local association, or in the state convention, or even on the national level, there will always be those who seek to consolidate power.  A desire for power and authority sadly is part of the fallen human condition, and unfortunately it can rear its ugly head at every level of the work.

I'm ashamed of the politics, dirty tricks, good old boy networks, threats, shunning, and the drive to stifle anyone who has the audacity to question actions of those who seek to consolidate power.
Such is the case now in the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

Before I go any further in this blog, let me offer this caveat.  I am not a Louisiana Baptist, but I am a Baptist.  Southern Baptist to be exact.  I do have numerous friends who ARE Louisiana Baptists, and a son who serves as pastor of a Southern Baptist Church in Louisiana.  Providence has placed him in the middle of a controversy that is brewing among the brethren in the Bayou State.  It started with the actions of the President of Louisiana  College (a Baptist institution in Pineville, LA) but now reaches into the office of the Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.  It is a story of ineptitude, mismanagement, personal vendetta, cover up and possible criminal misdeeds.  But it grows from that to a story of power, protection, conflict of interest, undue influence, and threats used to stifle the voices of those who in their fiduciary responsibilities as Board Members who would have the temerity to ask questions regarding ethics.

You see, in Baptist life, we have had the wisdom to build the Board of Trustee system into our various state and national Convention entities.  I personally have the privilege to serve on the Board of Trustees of one of our SBC Seminaries.  The Trustee system is designed to give oversight of the various convention entities into the hands of the local churches.  Ideally power is then decentralized and spread to those whose tithes and offerings (or a portion thereof) go to support these various entities.  However, in Louisiana, the power of the Board, whose members represent the many Baptists in that beautiful state, has fallen into the hands of one very powerful person and a few supporters.

The frustration level has reached the place that a third of the Board Members have written an "Open Letter to Louisiana Baptists From Concerned Trustees".  You can read that letter here.
Another caveat, my son, Jay, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Westwego, LA is a member of that Board of Trustees. He has written in depth in his blog about the history of the situation at Louisiana College, and he has even attempted to bring the situation regarding the undue influence of the State Executive Director to the floor of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's annual meeting last year, and run into a dead end there as well. For those who are interested, his blog contains a lot of background information in earlier posts.

This battle has been going on since 2012.  Smoke screens and straw men have been put forward to confuse the issue.  Jay, and the other minority members of the Board have worked hard behind the scenes to try to do what's right.  He hasn't spoken to secular media until this week.  He hasn't released any confidential information from Board Executive Sessions.  His first allegiance is to his family, his flock, and his own Ph.D. work in seminary, but the thing has come to a head in Pineville. He is a Trustee and he has to do what he feels is his fiduciary duty to the Baptists of Louisiana who put him on that Board.

While these things are issues that must be dealt with, it is sad how much time and energy we Baptists must expend to try to right wrongs among us when the Mission is to reach a lost world.  It's happened before, this time it just happens to be in Louisiana.

Pray for Louisiana Baptists. For everyone involved!

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