On Dec. 7, 1941 Winston Churchill was at Chequers, his weekend retreat, with the U.S Ambassador to Great Britain and many top military officers. For almost two years Britain had held out against Nazi Germany’s efforts to bomb them to oblivion and force a surrender. At some point that evening they turned on the radio to listen to the latest news from the BBC. What they heard was both terrible and wonderful for Churchill. Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. That terrible news caused Churchill to brighten. He was careful not to show elation to his American guest. But the reason for his heightened mood was confirmed when he reached President Roosevelt by phone. Roosevelt told Churchill, “Winston, we’re in the same boat now.” And with the United States in the boat, Churchill knew they would defeat both Japan and the Nazis. Thus, a dark day became for Churchill the day when he knew for certain that Great Britain would prevail in its desperate struggle for survival.
The SBC is sometimes referred to as a great ship. What we’ve learned, however, is that not everyone believes were on the same boat. I believe that we are on the same boat, huddled up in our own groups, and the boat is severely damaged and taking on water. If the ship is saved and serviceable to effectively advance God’s mission in the future, we need to work together to repair the damage and save the ship. How can we do this?
First, advancing God’s mission is the purpose of the SBC, and the Cooperative Program fuels the mission. Make no mistake, Southern Baptists built what we have inherited through a unified, voluntary, cooperative effort, and this effort was blessed by God. “Miracle” is not hyperbole when describing the missionary system that thousands of churches cooperated to build.
Second, multiple fractures in the hull of the SBC ship have sorely damaged support of the Cooperative Program, leading to a steep decline in mission capacity. In 2007-2008 SBC churches contributed over $548 million through CP to fuel the mission work of the Southern Baptists. That dropped to $462 million in 2018-2019. Inflation adds another $100+ million to the impact of the decline. The CFO for the SBC Executive Committee reported in February 2021 that churches contributing through CP over that same period declined from 34,322 to 29,064, a drop of 5,258 churches contributing to missions through CP. 15 out of every 100 churches stopped giving to the SBC during the last decade. This is a major reason we have 2,000 fewer international missionaries, among other losses.
The fractures that have led to huge declines in cooperative mission’s giving are numerous. I have written elsewhere that I believe the changes wrought by the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) strategy, and its implementation by NAMB, have greatly harmed the mission of Southern Baptists. Adopted in 2010, the GCR created the biggest fracture in the ship because it turned SBC mission strategy upside down, becoming top-down instead of bottom up. It also destroyed mission partnerships between NAMB and state conventions and local associations. Without question, there are other large and serious fractures in the ship involving theology, politics, and theories regarding racism.
So, how do we repair the fractures? We must operate righteously, rebuilding trust in the SBC mission’s system, and we must learn to trust each other once again, even if it means “trust but verify,” to paraphrase President Reagan. We will not work together to repair the cracks in the hull if we do not trust each other. Many in the SBC are calling for unity, but it is premature to call for unity when there is no trust, especially when we can’t agree on what is true. Calls for unity, without efforts to improve trust, are efforts to manipulate and silence dissent.
So, how do we rebuild trust? We do it like this:
1. Transparency must be mandated – Insist on transparency. Transparency reveals reality – financial reality and performance reality. Transparency turns the lights on so that all can see the truth of the situation. Leaders resist transparency when they have something to hide. We must demonstrate we have nothing to hide. And if we are hiding things, they must be exposed and dealt with. Transparency exposes wrongdoing. We live in an age where we must demonstrate we are doing right before we are accused of doing wrong. Transparency is how we do that.
2. Accountability must be established – accountability is how we deal with the reality transparency reveals. Rebuilding trust requires accountability. The SBC has adopted the BF&M 2000, and we have adopted documents which govern the work of our entities. These must be enforced if we are too rebuilt trust.
3. Participation must be expanded to include every SBC church. Through remote locations, and through the use of technology, thousands more churches would gain access to attend the annual meeting and vote on matters that concern them. I have heard establishment leaders say that if the SBC system is expanded to tens of thousands of more churches that there would be no way to control things – exactly! We need to move into the 21st century in how we do business. These churches send their CP dollars to support our missionaries. They need more voice in how things are done. And, as we have already seen, fewer churches are giving to missions through CP. Expanding participation will grow involvement.
Whether its issues related to theology, abuse, or mismanagement; transparency, accountability and participation will help us address it and correct it. One reason I have been specific in calling out corruption, self-dealing, and violation of SBC bylaws, is because if I’m elected SBC President I will claim a mandate to deal with them. I have called for forensic audits of our agencies, an ending of NDAs as standard procedure, and honesty in how we report performance. Trustees that violate SBC bylaws must be brought into compliance or dismissed. We must do these things if we are to restore trust and rebuild our missionary system.
When the U.S. and Great Britain understood they were in the same boat they prevailed over their common enemies. If the SBC can agree to transparency, accountability and expanded participation as a means to rebuild trust, we’ll have the unity we so desperately need because we’ll once again be in the same boat.