Sunday, March 25, 2012

SBC keeps special no-accountability status under pre-Civil War law

After convening a task force and debating the issue at length, Southern Baptist officials have taken the bold step of recommending that the Southern Baptist Convention remain the Southern Baptist Convention.

Big whoop, eh?

If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re right. This is a “been there done that” several times over situation. The only thing that makes it interesting this time is the glimpse we get as to the reasons.

Since as far back as 1958, the largest Protestant denomination in the land has repeatedly considered changing its name, and every single time, it has arrived at the same status-quo conclusion: The Southern Baptist Convention will remain the Southern Baptist Convention. Despite the inherent incongruity in the pairing of a regional “Southern” identity with a global evangelistic mission, and despite the negative connotations that the “Southern” identity carries for many, the Southern Baptist Convention will not change its name.

Reason Number 1

“We are intertwined in our cooperation and any change in the SBC format affects every entity in Southern Baptist life,” explained former Southern Baptist president and task force chairman Jimmy Draper. “There is no way to unwind our cooperation with other Baptist entities that work alongside the Convention.”

So . . . even though Southern Baptist officials have repeatedly rejected the notion of denominational cooperation for keeping track of church-hopping preacher-predators, insisting instead that the denomination has no oversight obligation for clergy because each church is so utterly autonomous, Southern Baptist officials now acknowledge the reality that “every entity in Southern Baptist life” is so intertwined in the Southern Baptist Convention’s denominational web that even a simple name change is not feasible.

Reason Number 2

As Draper explained, a name change would yield “uncertainty about whether or not [the Southern Baptist Convention] would be able to retain our ‘grandfather’ position gained from the Act of the Georgia Legislature in 1845, which exempts us from some of the requirements of modern non-profit legislation.”

Whoa. If you think about it, this one’s a “real kicker.”

Under a pre-Civil War Georgia law, the Southern Baptist Convention receives special status that gives it free-rein to avoid what are now commonly-accepted accountability mechanisms for other sorts of non-profit entities. As an SBCattorney explained: “The Southern Baptist Convention” is a Georgia corporation by virtue of a legislative act granting the Convention a charter on a hand-written document enacted in Augusta, Georgia, in 1845. As long as the Southern Baptist Convention does not amend this charter, “the Convention is not regulated by the present Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code.”

Thus, if the Southern Baptist Convention were to change its name, it would no longer be a special-status entity under a “no-strings-attached” 1845 Georgia charter. Instead, with a new name, it would become “a newly organized non-profit organization accountable to and in compliance with the Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code.”

So that’s why the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t change its name. It wants to keep its special 1845 status as a free-wheeling entity with no accountability requirements.

Talk about the preservation of status-quo structures! This is a status-quo that dates all the way back to 1845. It is a status-quo that dates to a slave-holding culture that birthed the Confederacy, and that also birthed the Southern Baptist Convention, which had its very origins in its 1845 split from other Baptists over the issue of slavery. The Southern Baptist Convention biblically rationalized slavery and cast its loyalty in conformity with Southern culture.

And now, to this day, the Southern Baptist Convention still operates under the free-wheeling special status that it gained in those pre-Civil War days with its support for slavery.

Other institutions and organizations are typically proud of their advancements in assuring accountability and safety. But not Southern Baptists. They’re clinging to a pre-Civil War Georgia law that helps to keep them unaccountable.

Can you imagine what would happen if a hospital bragged that its accountability for infection rates was in conformity with the standards of 1845? I suspect such a hospital would soon find its beds empty.

And what if a car manufacturer bragged that it would be accountable for safety standards in conformity with the horse and buggy era? Would you buy such a car?

Perhaps the Southern Baptist Convention’s unaccountability under an archaic special privilege law could be ameliorated if the Southern Baptist Convention would step up to the plate and implement effective denominational mechanisms for policing itself. It could choose on its own to institute accountability structures and quality control mechanisms for Southern Baptist clergy. Certainly, the 1845 law would not preclude the Southern Baptist Convention from making such a choice, and such a choice would not entail rocket science. Most of the other major Protestant groups in this country have already implemented various forms of clergy accountability and oversight mechanisms, including those northern Baptists (aka American Baptist Churches USA) from whom Southern Baptists split but who retain a similar congregationalist polity.

But, of course, that brings us back to Reason Number 1. Though every entity in Southern Baptist life is intertwined, and though Southern Baptists cooperate on all manner of endeavors, Southern Baptist officials remain entrenched in their refusal to implement any sort of denominational oversight for Southern Baptist clergy. For that refusal – a refusal that is of their own making and that places Southern Baptist kids and congregants at greater risk – there is no excuse.

Not even an archaic special-status law can excuse the SBC’s own failure.