Friday, June 15, 2012

Is it time to Pick Luter’s Successor? (Does Anybody Have a Light?)

SBC politics are very interesting and sometimes quite disheartening to me.  I wonder who the boys in the smoke-filled-room (cigars are coming back into vogue you know) are going to put up for president post-Luter.  Does this sound premature? Cynical?  It isn’t intended to be – just observant.  In case you didn’t know it, there really is the equivalent of the smoke-filled-room in the SBC.  I don’t know if Joel Gregory’s description of early 90’s power brokers meeting in a hotel room to agree on the next pick for President still applies literally or not (it may).  Regardless, the equivalent of the smoke-filled-room happens today virtually if not physically. 

There is little doubt that SBC insiders compare notes before the annual meeting.  There is little doubt that a consensus pick for President is arrived at.  There is little doubt that directional agreements about the Convention are made beforehand.  The part that is most unclear is who gets included in the discussion.  Last year, the consensus pick was announced well ahead of time in order to head off any competition.  When, before the 2011 annual meeting was even vacated, Danny Akin tweeted his expectation of voting for Fred Luter at next week’s 2012 annual meeting, it was clear that the smoke-filled-room had already been in session.

I do not ever remember hearing a succeeding candidate announced before the term of the current year even started.  Why did this happen?  I know that a group of SBC leadership believes the SBC to be still tainted with past racism.  Changing our image is behind the SBC name change, and it also explains the timing of the announcement of Fred Luter’s candidacy last year.  Luter’s candidacy appeared to be arranged in such a way as to preclude any other name.  No viable Southern Baptist is going to run or nominate anyone else to run for fear of appearing racist.  The name change timing seems to be for similar reasons and handled in a similar way.  This year, 2012, is the year that the SBC power brokers determined to be the year we are going to shed our racist past in an overt and grand way. 

It was interesting to watch what happened politically when Richard Land made his unfortunate (and wrong-headed) remarks.  Every SBC insider spewed their coffee through their noses when they heard what Land said.  Talk about a way to derail the year the SBC ends its racism!  Land got pressure from every quarter until he had sufficiently repented.  I have no doubt that Land’s ERLC job was hanging in the balance (not just his radio show) as the plan from the smoke-filled-room was at risk of coming apart.  In fact, I expect to hear any day of Land’s retirement and replacement with another “insider”.  Never mind the fact that Land was an insider himself up until his ill-conceived comments.  I bet he will have plenty of space at his lunch table in New Orleans next week.

Why am I talking about all this?  Do I want the SBC to hang on to its racist past?  Am I a closet racist?  Absolutely not!  There’s no denying that the genesis of the SBC could have been under better circumstances.  I want the SBC to do whatever is necessary to demonstrate Christ’s love to the world regardless of race – just as Christ does.  Does changing our name help that?  I don’t know.  I never heard people associate “racist” with the SBC until the SBC started talking about it.  If it does help, then I’m all for a name change, but I remain unconvinced. 

What about the presidency of Fred Luter?  Will that fix our image?  It will certainly help.  I didn’t know much about him until his name was tweeted as the presumptive candidate last year.  He seems to be a very well respected, well qualified and Godly man.  He’s got great pastoral credentials and he’s been very active in SBC life for a long time.  He seems to be a steady and thoughtful pastor.  I’ll be honored to have him as our next SBC President based on what I know – which isn’t really that much.

So if I don’t necessarily have any real issue with the actions themselves, what is my issue?  My issue is with the way these things are done; the smoke-filled-room itself whether virtual or real in space.  I do not like it.  I do not like a self-selected group of people assuming they know what is best and working behind the scenes to orchestrate an outcome.  I do not like power-brokering, good-ole-boy networks and having an “inside crowd”.  If you’ve got an agenda, say so, and then let the Convention decide what to do with it.  Let opposition speak.  Manipulation is not leadership.  I want to see our Convention trust the body of Christ to do the right thing –  to trust that God will speak through it.  I want to see our leaders step forward and make their case to persuade.  Then I want them to step back and listen to the response.  I want them to accept what the messengers decide.  I don’t like stealth agendas.

Does this quiet cartel of power exist anywhere except my mind?  I am convinced it does exist, and not just in my imagination, but I suspect it could be about to fracture.  The new wild-card is going to be what happens between the “Traditionalists” and the Calvinists.   I know there won’t be a new pick for the 2013 President announced next week since it will be assumed that Luter serves his maximum two years – that’s normal.  It’s the year after that I want to watch.  Who will the candidate be?  In the smoke-filled-room, names put forth by either side may now be contentious.  The problem as I see it is that any serious candidate will come from one of the warring tribes, and the other tribe may not be easy to persuade.

Regardless of the factions, I want to see agendas come out into the open.  Light truly is the best disinfectant.  If you can’t be up-front about what you are doing, there may be something wrong with your plan.  If your positions can’t stand the scrutiny of the whole group, then you may want to reconsider them.  Maybe we need to get back to something like 2006 when for the only time since the conservative resurgence, the messengers rejected the insider, spanked the power-brokers, and chose Frank Page.  I think that worked out just fine, as well as sending a clear message to the occupants of the smoke-filled-room:  “Open the windows and let the smoke clear!”

Will a candidate from the smoke-filled-room for 2014 President be announced at next year’s convention?  I don’t think so, but time will tell.

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