The Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee will consider a proposal at its June 9, 2014, meeting to update the SBC Constitution regarding qualifications for churches to send messengers to the annual meeting.
During its February 17–18 meeting in Nashville, the Executive Committee voted to place the item on its June 9 agenda prior to the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore. The EC officers proposed setting the date in advance to give an opportunity for EC members and other Southern Baptists to reflect on the proposed changes and provide feedback. The Committee will determine then whether to present a proposed revision to messengers at the June 10–11 SBC annual meeting.
Current Church Qualifications
The proposal to amend Article III came as a motion from the floor at last year's SBC annual meeting—the sixteenth motion on this article in the past thirty-five years—to reevaluate the minimum qualifications for seating additional church messengers at the SBC.
Article III currently states that churches in friendly cooperation with the convention can send one messenger for any gift to Convention causes and an additional messenger for every 250 members or for each $250 "paid to the work of the Convention." The $250 amount dates back to 1888.
Under the proposal to be considered at the June EC meeting, each cooperating church that contributed to Convention causes during the preceding fiscal year would automatically qualify for two messengers.
Additional messengers would be recognized from cooperating churches by one of two options, whichever allows the greater number of messengers:
- One additional messenger for each full percent of the church's undesignated receipts through any combination of gifts given through the Cooperative Program, designated through the Executive Committee for Convention causes, or given to any SBC entity; or
- One additional messenger for each $6,000 the church contributed the preceding year through the same combination of Cooperative Program gifts, designated gifts through the Executive Committee for Convention causes, or to any SBC entity.
The $6,000 figure was calculated by adjusting for inflation and other factors since 1888. It is meant to be comparable to the $250 figure that was adopted 126 years ago.
Other proposed updates to Article III will be discussed, with a series of Q&As on the matter to appear in SBC LIFE and other outlets at the request of SBC President Fred Luter. The first Q&A is in this issue of SBC LIFE.
An Affirming Goal
Before the motion to place the proposal on the June 9 agenda was introduced, EC Chairman Ernest Easley asked for a moment of privilege to give some background.
An earlier proposal on Article III had been discussed during the September 2013 EC meeting, first by the EC officers and then the Bylaws Workgroup, Easley said. The Workgroup "kicked it back to us."
"Feeling that we needed more time to discuss it, I had the officers meet [in Nashville] January 9–10 for a meeting dealing with Article III," he said. Meeting for two four-hour sessions, each begun with a thirty minute prayer time, the officers developed the proposal before the body.
"We really needed God to give us direction and a clear word regarding Article III," he said. "None of us want Article III to be a divisive issue in this Convention. . . . It is not a hill worth dying on. But, the reason we are addressing it is because it came from the floor of the Convention to deal with, again."
Frank S. Page, president of the Executive Committee, noted that the proposed revision would for the first time include references to giving through the Cooperative Program as the preferred means for Convention funding.
Page also underscored Easley's remarks in introducing the proposal that revision of the SBC constitution "is not a hill on which to die."
"I ask you to talk among yourselves, talk to us, ask questions, ask hard questions," Page told EC members. "Do we need even to do anything? Does this help encourage people toward Cooperative Program giving? Does it help people bring more people to the Convention? . . .
"The question for me . . . if the perception is that [this proposal] will hurt small churches, this is DOA," Page said. "I will not tolerate something that even seems like it's going to hurt small churches. . . . My heart is with small churches, and I don't want anything that even seems to be in some way pejorative toward their involvement."
The Executive Committee needs to hear from Southern Baptists on the issue to help make the best decision for the Convention, Page said. Comments are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org. For the full text of the proposal, click here.
Erin Roach, Baptist Press assistant editor, is a member of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky. This report is adapted from an article that first appeared in Baptist Press, with supplemental material provided by SBC LIFE staff.