When I began serving as a trustee on the International Mission Board in 2005, I noticed a pattern of behavior by trustees who thought themselves to be in 'power' or 'control' of the board that disturbed me. When a subordinate trustee dared disagree with the powers that be (the trustees in control), then things were said privately and behind closed doors, things that were distortions, and even outright lies, about the trustee who disagreed with them. This was the method through which leadership controlled the thinking of the collective board. "For heaven's sake, why would ever listen to that guy? Do you know what he did (or said, or wrote . . . )?" Rather than Christian respect, a genuine openness to differing views, and an ability to cooperate in spite of differences, those who disagreed were seen as 'threats,' and things were done to 'get control of the situation.' Verbal intimidation, over-the-top motions directed against the dissenter, and eventually a shunning of anyone and everyone who was seen in sympathy with the dissenter were some of the favorite tools. For example, nobody who was perceived as a 'friend' of mine, or in sympathy to the positions I held on the new policies, was ever called upon to pray, read Scripture, or hold any leadership positions during my two and one half year tenure on the IMB. In addition, for such tight control to be maintained, there had to be either telephone, emails, or some other form of communication among "like-minded" trustees in order to coordinate efforts.
It is my feeling that the days for this kind of activity among Southern Baptists should have been over a long time ago. It is this kind of politicking that divides people into 'parties' (us versus them), causes an overemphasis on secondary things intstead of our primary purpose (cooperation in ministry), and leads to fewer and fewer people involved in the process (because people get fed up and leave). A growing, healthy Convention will be filled with people who are open to debate, who are Christ-like in attitude toward those who disagree, and who guard carefully the freedom for people to speak their mind (religious liberty).
There are two institutions that seem to exert great control over the direction of the SBC. First, there is Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and second, there is Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I have expressed my reservations with the leadership of Southwestern in the past. Today, I would like to point out the danger of a small group of Kentucky Southern Baptists transforming the Southern Baptist Convention into the ideological framework of their own liking. I will fight for the right for these Kentucky Baptists to express themselves freely, but I will also fight against any attempt they might make in silencing those who are pointing out that their ideology lends itself toward Landmarkism and legalism. Unless other Southern Baptists are able to freely express dissent, and unless even others fight for the rights of dissenters, our Convention will be unable to get out of our growing trend of trouble. If a Southern Baptist ever begins to believe it is normal and expected for a person who disagrees to be marginalized and ridiculed because he dissents, then one of these days all of us will wake up and regret that we didn't fight for the right to dissent.
A Kentucky Baptist Illustration
Dr. Hershael York, by his own admission, was the first "conservative" president of the KBC in a long time. In 2004 a small, select group of Kentucky pastors campaigned the state to get York elected. Less than 40 pastors in a state of 4,000 churches (less than 1% of the total number of Kentucky churches) called, emailed and encouraged other pastors to show up and vote for York. Dr. York won by a handful of votes, and served Kentucky Baptists until the next President, Paul Chitwood, was elected. Again, Dr. Chitwood was the handpicked selection of this select group of Kentucky pastors. Both Paul and Hershael now serve Kentucky Baptists on the International Mission Board, with Paul as the new Chairman.
Following Paul Chitwood, Darren Gaddis, a member of the Kentucky 'inner circle' of pastors was elected President of KBC in 2006. Then, this past year (fall of 07), Dr. Bill Henard was nominated by Dr. Hershael York for the office of President of KBC, and Bill was elected at a Kentucky Baptist Convention meeting where barely 700 messengers registered, down from the nearly 2,000 messengers who had registered just four years earlier. Dr. York explains on his blog that the 2007 Kentucky Baptist Convention was the emblem of unity - no ballots, no multiple candidates, etc . . . But the editor of the Kentucky's Baptist paperThe Western Recorder, Trennis Henderson, countered that the reason the 2007 Kentucky Baptist Convention was so 'unified,' was because all dissent had been effectively silenced. Shortly after Trennis editorialized his views on the declining numbers of messengers at Kentucky Baptist Convention's, he accepted a position at Ouchita Baptist University, leaving Kentucky Baptists - and none to soon for the select group of pastors directing the behind the scenes Baptist politics.
Interestingly, the current Kentucky Convention President, Dr. Bill Henard, was soundly defeated as a candidate the year before Dr. York was elected, a time when the Kentucky Baptist Convention was averaging almost 2000 messengers per meeting. Many of those attending the 2003 KBC were moderately supportive of the Conservative Resurgence, thankful for the focus on the inerrancy and sufficiency of God's Word, but disatisfied with the politics involved. The growing connectionalism between Kentucky State leadership positions and the Southern Baptist Convention is telling. President Dr. Henard is also the currently the chair of the Lifeway Board of Trustees. His young protege, Dr. Adam Greenway, has also been appointed to Lifeway's Board of Directors. Southern Seminary has recently hired Greenway, Henard, and Chitwood as faculty for the SBTS Billy Graham School of Missions. Many of the larger Southern Baptist Churches in Kentucky are being filled with recommendations from the select group of Kentucky pastors with the endorsements of Southern Seminary faculty and administration, including Carlisle Avenue, who recently called Jason Allen, Dr. Mohler's personal assistant. Churches are autonomous and can call whomever they please; the question is simply, "If you dissent in Kentucky with the powers that be, shall you be blackballed by those same powers?"
On the other hand, if you are connected with the select group of Southern Baptists who are in 'control' of Kentucky, then you are given the choice positions of 'power.' In fact, Michael York, son of Hershael, was recently married and already his new wife, and Dr. Chitwood's wife, have been appointed to boards and committees in the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Nothing wrong with this were it not for the fact that there are thousands of others have served within the Kentucky Baptist Convention for many years, whose spouses are not serving in KBC leadership positions, and who would make excellent representatives of Kentucky Baptists. One would think that real cooperation involves the diversification of leadership, and not the nepotism that usually typifies tight control.
The Landmark Influence of Kentucky Baptists
Before becoming Southern Baptist in the mid-1990's when he was hired to teach Preaching at Southern Theological Seminary, Dr. York led the largest independent fundamentalist church in Kentucky, the Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington. This church had been the fountain-head of "trail-of blood" landmarkers in KY since the 1950's, even being the printer, for many years, of the "Trail of Blood" pamphlet. If you have a copy of "The Trail of Blood" check to see if it is not stamped "Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington. Many in Kentucky who were saved and discipled in one of the Independent, KJV-only, Fundamentalist, Calvinistic Kentucky churches would testify that they looked at Ashland Avenue as their "mecca." Dr. York was like an icon to them.
Dr. York's move to Southern Baptist life was as significant (in Kentucky) as Jerry Falwell's move to the SBC in the 1990's was to the nation as a whole. The SBC was now conservative enough for Dr. York and many disciples in Kentucky followed suit. Dr. York, as far as I know, has never renounced his Landmark views, and in fact, will argue, along with friend Paul Chitwood, for the continuation and tightening of Landmark ecclesiology and the peculiar tenets of acceptable administrators of baptism as long as they serve together on the board. When Dr. York left AABC to go to SBTS, it was a scandal among the state's independents (similar to the scandal when Falwell jumped to the SBC), with some wroting him off as "liberal" for the move. What most don't realize is that the SBC is being changed to more reflect York's views, than York changed to reflect historic SBC views. Ashville Avenue went through great turmoil after York's leaving, but currently, they are pastored by a young PhD student at Southern, who happens to be doing his doctorate under a very sympathetic Dr. Russ Moore, who is himself part of the inner circle of Kentucky Baptists. Interestingly, Dr. York did his Ph.D. at Mid America, and has also served as an adjunct professor before his full professorship at Southern. Dr. York knows Dr. Floyd well, and it is no accident that Dr. York's friend Paul Chitwood, is now the new Chairman of the International Mission Board. By the way, Dr. Chitwood was the Chairman of the IMB Ad Hoc Committee that 'reviewed' the new policies at the IMB and decided to change nothing.
When I asked questions at the IMB as a 'new' trustees (Tom Hatley used the adjective 'rookie' trustee), I was told to be quiet - both publicly and privately. Yet, Dr. York in the first six months of his tenure at the IMB was frequently at the microphone questioning Dr. Rankin or administrative policy - and not one word was ever said. Interestingly, Dr. York and his father were very integral for many decades in an organization called Baptist Faith Missions , based in Kentucky. BFM is the agency facilitating missions for (only) like-minded independent, fundamentalist, KJV-only Baptists. It is still in operation and can be referenced on the web, but they are solid "Baptist Briders" who only accept baptism from identical-conviction churches and would disown any missionary who accepted "alien immersion" or PPLs. Dr. York's dad was even a missionary for many years in Brazil through BFM. Dr York is still very involved in missions-work to Brazil and speaks fluent Portugese because of his time growing up on the field. The question we must all ask is simple:
Are Dr. York and others like him seeking to turn the SBC into a convention that resembles the independent, Landmark, fundamental, cessationist Baptist identity conventions of which they are familiar, or do they truly understand the purpose of the cooperative nature of the SBC?
I desire to help the people of our Southern Baptist Convention to understand the issues we face. My church understands. My people comprehend. One of our members is a student at Southern Seminary, the very seminary I recommended he attend. He stopped Dr. York one day and asked him about the controversy at the IMB. Dr. York responded, "I don't think I should talk about it, because if I did, you would either be angry with me for what I said, or you would wind up hating your pastor." My student church member was shocked. He thought maybe there could have been a different response; something like this:
Sure, I'll be happy to answer your questions. Please know that I and your pastor may disagree on issues facing our convention, but I have high regard for him, and he for me. We both realize that our convention is based on cooperation around the essentials of the faith, and those areas in which we disagree are not essential for our cooperation as brothers in the SBC.
We must never take for granted the freedoms we enjoy as Southern Baptists to express our differing viewpoints. If we ever succomb to the belief that it is unhealthy to dissent in the SBC we are in trouble. I appreciate my Landmark brothers, and I will fight for them to be able to express their views. I will not quietly sit back and allow them to seek to stifle my dissenting views.
In His Grace,