GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–For two decades, Barry McCarty has served the Southern Baptist Convention as a certified, professional parliamentarian.
It began in April 1986. He remembers being contacted by the office of then-SBC President Charles Stanley who had called the American Institute of Parliamentarians, asking for a parliamentarian who understood church polity.
Receiving three names, Stanley decided on McCarty, who holds a Ph.D. in argumentation and debate from the University of Pittsburg and also now is senior minister at Valley View Christian Church (Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) in Dallas, Texas.
Interviewing McCarty in his Atlanta home, Stanley started with a list of parliamentary questions that filled every line on three pages of a legal pad, McCarty remembered.
“When I first arrived at this home, Dr. Stanley was a very concerned man. I could literally see the tension on his face,” McCarty recalled. “But by the time when we finished the first page of questions, I could also see the tension easing.”
After listening to McCarty answer his three pages of questions, Stanley asked McCarty if he was aware of what had been happening in the Southern Baptist Convention as conservatives and moderates wrestled for control of the presidency, McCarty said.
“I told Dr. Stanley, ‘Oh, absolutely. I’ve been following the Southern Baptist Convention ever since Dr. Rogers was elected in 1979,” said McCarty, who added that Stanley seemed comforted by that.
“I said, ‘Dr. Stanley, every evangelical in the world who cares about the principle of inerrancy of Scripture has been following the SBC with great interest,’” McCarty recalled.
Preparing for his first convention, 1986 in Atlanta, McCarty studied what had happened the year before in Dallas. He said that while some of the points of order offered were well-intentioned, they stymied the convention’s deliberative process to the point he suspected that some messengers were raising the points to “confuse and frustrate the chair.”
“The thing I remember most about the convention in Atlanta was that they threw everything at us, including the kitchen sink,” McCarty recalled. “It was pretty obvious to me that people who were opposed to the president had found that in the point of order they had a way to harass the chair.”
McCarty said he gave Stanley a legitimate way to dispatch such points in quick fashion: “I recall one thing I had taught Dr. Stanley that became his favorite expression: ‘Your point of order is not well taken.’ But when someone raised a legitimate point of order, we took immediate corrective action,” said McCarty, who noted the 1986 Convention had an unusually large number, between 60-70, points-of-order raised.
In addition to his very first year at the annual meeting of the convention, McCarty characterized the next four as the most contentious: “Those early years especially, I recall being very, very intense.”
McCarty recalled walking to the platform across the football field of the Superdome at the 1990 New Orleans SBC annual meeting and “seeing the place packed to the rafters. [SBC President] Dr. [Jerry] Vines wondered where on earth did all the people come from. And I wondered how they would vote.”
Messengers attending that meeting elected Morris H. Chapman (current president of the SBC Executive Committee) as president by more than 5,000 votes over Dan Vestal (current coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a group formed in opposition to the election of conservative SBC leaders).
McCarty said the usual contention he sensed at previous Conventions began to wane after the New Orleans meeting.
“The run-up to the Greensboro meeting has been the busiest in recent years,” McCarty said. Aware of at least three presidential candidates and activities at the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, as well as all the opinions and plans regarding the convention posted on the Internet by bloggers, McCarty said he was busy anticipating the many possible parliamentary procedures that might be made and also the appropriate way to deal with each of them.
Among McCarty’s fondest memories are the professional associations and friendships he’s enjoyed with every SBC president.
“I have the closest possible working relationship with each president for an extended period of time each year…. And in each case, it has become a personal friendship,” he said. “Those relationships are among some of my greatest blessings and treasures that are gifts from God — friendships with some of the greatest evangelical leaders in the history of Christianity.”
McCarty said tense situations tend to reveal a person’s character. But, to a man, he said every president has told him, “Help me do the right thing. I want to be fair.”
“The presidents have been genuine Christian men of deep, unshakable biblical convictions — men of faith, honesty and integrity,” McCarty said.
Serving the SBC as chief parliamentarian for 20 years has given McCarty, a fourth generation preacher, a growing appreciation for Southern Baptists: “I love Southern Baptists, I really do. And I love the Southern Baptist Convention. I think it is the greatest vehicle for cooperative efforts in evangelism in all of Christian history,” he said.
“I have no problem recognizing Southern Baptists as leading partners in the evangelical world with our common task of taking the whole Gospel to the whole world,” McCarty said, adding that the young leaders in the convention are “standing on the shoulders of some great men of God who endured many sacrifices to bring the Southern Baptist Convention to where it is today.”