SBC Life Articles

Executive Committee to Consider Update to SBC Constitution Article III on SBC Messenger Qualifications


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.

The Executive Committee voted to place the item on its June 9 agenda after earlier presenting it for discussion during its February 17–18 meeting in Nashville. The Committee set the date in advance to give Southern Baptists an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed changes before determining whether to present a proposed revision to messengers at the June 10–11 SBC annual meeting. To facilitate feedback, the EC announced an email portal, [email protected]. The EC also monitored conversations on Southern Baptist-related blogs and through state Baptist convention newspapers.

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.

Proposed Revision Provisions

Article III currently states that churches in friendly cooperation with the Convention can send one messenger for any gift to Convention causes and one 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 in present value to the $250 figure that was adopted 126 years ago.

Under this proposal, the Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists would, for the first time in the Convention’s history, be referenced in its constitution. As recommendation three of the Great Commission Task Force report, adopted by the Convention in 2010, states, the Cooperative Program continues to be “the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach.”

Other proposed updates to Article III include (a) adding an indirect reference to The Baptist Faith and Message, the Convention-adopted confession of faith; (b) increasing the total number of messengers from a church from ten to twelve; and (c) providing a “disaster” clause to allow a church to seat messengers in the event a natural disaster had undercut the church’s ability to give at previous levels of Convention support.

Questions and Answers

At the request of SBC President Fred Luter, a member of the Executive Committee by virtue of his office, SBC LIFE ran a Question and Answer with EC Chairman Ernest Easley in the Spring 2014 issue (see www.sbclife.net/Articles/2014/03/sla8). Since then, two other questions have been posed that the chairman felt it prudent to address.

Question: Why did the Executive Committee include the phrase, “Has not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith”?

Easley: At its September 2013 meeting, the EC Bylaws Workgroup tried to envision a “blue sky” approach to Article III; that is, if Article III did not currently exist, what should an article on messenger composition of the Convention look like? Numerous ideas were expressed and considered. Some were immediately added; others immediately discarded; and a few were retained for further consideration. One that was retained was the idea of making reference to our confessional statement. This idea seemed to make sense and was retained in the draft proposal presented to the EC in February.

Since the February EC meeting, individual Baptists have emailed us at [email protected], and bloggers and state paper editors have debated the wisdom and value of this sentence. Some pointed to the potential upside of how such a statement would clearly identify who we are. Others expressed alarm at how such a statement could be used to command a rigid doctrinal conformity even on matters which historically we have agreed to disagree. We have monitored this debate and I am sure this sentence about our confession of faith will be carefully reviewed by the EC at its June 9 meeting.

Question: If this current proposal had been in effect in the 1980s and 1990s, could a populist movement such as the Conservative Resurgence have occurred?

Easley: This was something various EC members wondered about. We did not have adequate research in hand at the February meeting to be able to answer this with any degree of confidence. However, our EC staff has compiled research that seems to suggest that the results of the votes and elections that fueled the Conservative Resurgence would have turned out the same if this version of Article III had existed in the 1980s and 1990s.

For example, the Dallas Convention in 1985 was the largest annual meeting in the Convention’s history with 45,519 registered messengers. Using it as a bellwether annual meeting, the evidence seems strong that a populist movement like the Conservative Resurgence would have still happened with the same results. This research will be included in the background material for the EC members to review at their June 9 meeting.

A Unifying Goal

Before the motion to place the proposal on the June 9 agenda was introduced during the February 18–19 Executive Committee meeting, 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 and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee affirmed Easley’s goal in bringing this proposal. “[F]or 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.”

Roger S. Oldham is vice president for Convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee and is a member at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Current Wording of Proposed Amendment to Article III to Be Considered by the SBC Executive Committee at Its June 9, 2014, Meeting

Article III. Composition: The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of Baptist churches in cooperation with the Convention at levels which the Convention, from time to time, determines. The following subparagraphs describe the Convention’s current standards and method of determining the maximum number of messengers the Convention will recognize from each cooperating church to attend the Convention’s annual meeting.

1. The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a “cooperating” church as that descriptive term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which:

  1. Has not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith. (By way of example, churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.)
  2. Has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention. (By way of example, the regular filing of the annual report requested by the Convention would be one indication of such cooperation.)
  3. Has made undesignated, financial contribution(s) through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity during the fiscal year preceding.

2. Under the terms above, the Convention will recognize to participate in its annual meeting two (2) messengers from each cooperating church, and such additional messengers as are permitted below.

3. The Convention will recognize one (1) additional messenger from each cooperating church for each full percent of the church’s undesignated receipts or for each six thousand dollars ($6,000), whichever is less, which the church contributed during the fiscal year preceding through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity.

4. The messengers shall be appointed and certified by their church to the Convention, but the Convention will not recognize more than twelve (12) from any cooperating church.

5. Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he or she is appointed.

6. If a church experiences a natural disaster or calamitous event and, as a result, the church is not qualified to appoint as many messengers as the church could appoint for the Convention’s annual meeting immediately before the event, the church’s pastor or an authorized church representative may, for no more than the three (3) annual meetings after the event, certify the facts to the registration secretary and obtain the same number of messengers it could have certified for the Convention’s annual meeting immediately before the event.

    About the Author

  • Roger S. Oldham