Thursday, March 8, 2007

A Spin That Would Make James Carville Proud

Times Which Try Men’s Faith & Character

These are indeed tumultuous times within the Missouri Baptist Convention. As of late, it has been increasingly difficult to remain silent and to trust that truth will prevail via “the system.” Nevertheless, I believe that God is still in control and at the end of the day it will be truth, not fabrication or innuendo that declares the victory. Our state convention finds itself currently in the midst of an internal investigation by a committee appointed by the Executive Board. This committee is charged with investigating the actions of the MBC Executive Director, MBC staff and the MBC Executive Board. I want to state for the records that I believe this committee will fulfill the purpose for which it has been organized because it consists of Godly members who are not out to please a particular side. In the end, I believe they will present their report fairly and accurately regardless of how painful it may be for anyone to hear.

I feel that I need to clarify that point up front because of the way in which statements made by associations and groups as of late have been maligned as “blatant attempts at politicizing and undermining the work of our review committee.”[1] According to the editor of The Pathway, the official newsletter of the Missouri Baptist Convention, in an article which appears on page 1 of the March 6 issue entitled Resolutions show support for state exec; some leaders say action inappropriate, on February 12 the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association Executive Board unanimously passed a resolution of support for Dr. David Clippard and the MBC staff. The motion is quoted in The Pathway as follows:

Whereas, Dr. David Clippard has given innovative leadership to Missouri Baptists and has sought to refocus the attention and resources of our convention on evangelism and missions; and
Whereas, Dr. David Clippard has by this leadership brought financial stability to the Missouri Baptist Convention; and
Whereas, Dr. Clippard has assembled as outstanding staff to lead Missouri Baptists; and
Whereas, Dr. Clippard and the Missouri Baptist Convention staff have been supportive partners with the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association staff; now therefore, be it
Resolved that we express our appreciation, encouragement, and support for Dr. Clippard and the Missouri Baptist Convention staff; and be it further
Resolved that we encourage all Missouri Baptists to support the leadership of Dr. Clippard and the Missouri Baptist Convention staff.”[2]

That there is an effort to see Dr. Clippard either controlled or removed from office is something that has been discussed for some time and was brought to the attention of the full MBC at the annual meeting in Cape Girardeau last fall by Dr. Gerald Davidson, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church Arnold, and Mitch Jackson, pastor of Miner Baptist Church in Sikeston, both past presidents of the MBC. In light of that information, it is understandable that some associations would feel a sense of urgency in expressing their support of their state staff and Executive Director. One association in central Missouri, Fellowship Baptist, passed a similar resolution last fall before the annual meeting and the Director of Missions requested specifically that their association’s resolution be printed in its entirety in The Pathway. To date that resolution has not seen the light of day. However, it did manage to prompt a small comment by The Pathway editor in a previous issue where the editor referred to the resolution as having been passed “amid circulating rumors” and that “such speculation proved untrue.”[3]

Spin, Spin, Spin
What seems even more troubling than this apparent desire to suppress or dismiss the views of his constituency is the slant from which The Pathway editor consistently writes and seems determined to marginalize any positive remarks concerning the MBC Executive Director and staff. It seems odd that when referring to the resolution passed by the St. Louis Metro Association, the editor is very clear to point out that this associational executive board represents “about 20 percent of the association’s approximately 135 churches and missions” as if to say that the board did not have the right to speak on behalf of every member of the 35,062 member association. This sounds like the rhetoric the liberals used when referring to the consecutive decisions of the MBC annual meeting messengers to move back toward a conservative base. In fact, one wonders from whence such tactics come. Ironically enough in the opening paragraph of the article the editor does not follow the statement that such resolutions “may be attempts to undermine the work of an Executive Board-approved committee” with such clarification as the fact that the committee was approved by 29 of the 54 Executive Board members representing 29 of the approximately 2000 Missouri Baptist churches or 29 of the 392,023 resident Missouri Baptists.[4]

The editor does the same thing again with an unprecedented resolution by the Fellowship of Directors of Missions which, according to The Pathway, was approved by “some members” on February 15. He states, “not all MBC leaders agreed with the actions taken by the St. Louis Association or the directors of missions (DOMs).” But since when was it a requirement that “all MBC leaders” needed to agree in order for an association or fellowship to speak its mind. Many Baptists do not require anyone to agree with them before speaking theirs (a rich heritage dating back to John the Baptist). For some reason, there seems to be more interest to The Pathway in finding a few individuals who disagree with the actions of corporate bodies than in simply sharing the actions of those bodies in an impartial and unbiased fashion. It would seem more prudent to operate with journalistic integrity and allow for a free-flowing exchange of perspectives and opinions than to become caught up in choosing sides on an issue which will eventually be resolved. But by that point, what damage will have been done to the influence of a paper that has shown an unwillingness to simply, as one past president put it, “print the Good News.”[5]

Perhaps the views of 39,097 resident members and 30 directors of missions who were speaking on behalf of their constituencies is trivial to The Pathway, but I believe that Missouri Baptists are interested in what their fellow Baptists are doing across the state and not about on which side of the political fence one stands. Equally as tragic are the remarks of the Chairman of the Administrative Committee of the Executive Board in essentially making an indictment before hearing the findings of the committee appointed by the Executive Board. He states, “there would be absolutely no reason to do this unless someone has something to hide.”[6] Perhaps this is illustrative of the need for an alternate list of members for the investigative committee which omitted the Administrative Committee. I suppose this type of disputation is what Mr. Moran was referring to when he said before the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that “the Missouri Baptist Convention is on the brink of a near civil war.”[7]

Somebody stop this spin and let me off!
Throughout the conservative resurgence we said that we were about truth, the total truth of God’s Word. I would suggest that we return to that truth now and allow it to be our guide. If there is a question about someone’s ability to be an effective leader, then let’s allow the proper channels to be utilized in order to either exonerate or else to enlighten us as to what the issues truly are; but let’s refrain from using our state newsletter as a forum for propagandistic spewing that result only in more provocation and less sensibility. These things might make for good print in the tabloids but they have no place in sincere and Christ-like journalism.



Bibliography
Palmeri, Allen. “Debate Intensifies Concerning Emerging Church in SBC.” The Pathway 5 Issue 4 (6 March 2007): 1–2.
Hinkle, Don. “MBC Exec Board Affirms Clippard, Moran, Nominating Committee.” The Pathway, 25 September 2006.
------. “Resolutions Show Support for State Exec; Some Leaders Say Action Inappropriate.” The Pathway 5 Issue 4 (6 March 2007): 1, 16.
[1]. Don Hinkle, “Resolutions Show Support for State Exec; Some Leaders Say Action Inappropriate,” The Pathway 5 Issue 4 (6 March 2007): 16 This comment is attributed to Jay Scribner, Chair of the Administrative Committee of the MBC Executive Board.
[2]. Hinkle, “Resolutions,” 1, 16.
[3]. Don Hinkle, “MBC Exec Board Affirms Clippard, Moran, Nominating Committee,” The Pathway, 25 September 2006, Online.
[4]. These figures come the the 2006 Annual Church Profiles and will be printed in the 2006 MBC Annual.
[5]. Challenge given by Jay Scribner during his presidential address to Bill Webb, editor of the MBC newspaper Word & Way, at the MBC annual meeting at Tan-Tar-A Resort 2000.
[6]. Hinkle, “Resolutions,” 16.
[7]. Allen Palmeri, “Debate Intensifies Concerning Emerging Church in SBC,” The Pathway 5 Issue 4 (6 March 2007): 2.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tom -

Great work. I agree completely! I was aghast at the editorial "spin" of several articles in the most recent edition of The Pathway. Of course, that's nothing new, as you've pointed out.

There was certainly plenty of implication that Dr. Clippard must be guilty of something.....How sad.

Mr. Hinkle, in an explanation of how he came to be editor of The Pathway, has pointed out on his blog that The Pathway orginially reported directly to the Exec. Board. Then he adds, "The Pathway was later moved under the executive director in what remains a controversial set of circumstances. The Pathway was restored to its original position of working under the Exec Board in April 2006 where it has remained ever since."
This seems to imply, again, that there is something amiss in the Ex. Director's office or with Dr. Clippard himself....

How truly disappointing to see this in our state Baptist paper. This why I no longer rely on it for "the whole story"....on anything.

Charles

Tom Willoughby said...

Charles,

I have not been to Don's blog, but the idea that moving the Pathway under Clippard in "a controversial set of circumstances" is completely untrue. The rationale behind placing the Pathway under the board originally had more to do with the climate of the existing leadership than it did a desire to have the board serve as its oversite committee.

It was decided to move the Pathway under Clippard only after a series of state-wide listening sessions which allowed for interaction between the administration and all Missouri Baptists. There were charts distributed that clearly described the relationship between the Pathway editor and the Executive Director.

On the other hand, the motion to remove the Pathway from under the Executive Director occurred only after it could not gain enough support from any one committee of the Executive Board and so it was brought as a point of miscellaneous business before the board and was removed by a five vote margin after Roger Moran, who was not on the board, admittedly participated in actively polling the board for votes to get the Pathway removed.

Those, my friend, are the verifiable facts. And I would challenge anyone to dispute that.

This is indeed a disappointing day for Missouri Baptists.

Micah said...

Tom-

Good stuff, as usual. Bad news, as usual.

Maybe Missouri will see brighter days soon enough!

Micah
Psalm 67

Anonymous said...

Tom -

(second attempt at a reply -- cyberspace ate my first try!)

Thanks for the clarification about The Pathway's "chain of command". I truly didn't understand why the paper didn't/doesn't report to the Ex. Dir. Sure makes sense now.

I appreciate your work. Hang in there, I'm sure it's tough.

Charles

Tom Willoughby said...

Charles,

Funny, for some reason when this all took place last April, the Pathway only commented on it in a very small, hidden section of the paper. There was no glorious front page announcement and so, consequently, the vast majority of Missouri Baptists (I believe) have no idea that it was ever removed.

This is a particularly sore spot with me because the motion was presented with an unprecedented cover letter that stated this motion (although not coming from a committee, and having already been defeated in two previous board meetings) had the full support of all four of our then MBC officers and Bob Collins and Jay Scribner who chaired two of the board committees. Three of those four officers now serve on the Exec. Board and the last one is our current president. I'm sure it's all just coincidence though.

Tom Willoughby said...

I'm sorry, but the topic really burns me. It should also be known that the motion stated that many states had such a structure of the paper answering directly to the Executive Board already and that we would merely be following suit. Well, being the pragmatic sort, I called every one of our state conventions and guess what I found and presented as documented information to the Board . . . only 1 state, California, had such a structure. The vast majority have the paper answering directly to their Exec. Director. URRRGGGGHHHH!

It's hard enough to make right choices when you have the facts let alone when those you trust are feeding you misinformation. And we wonder why we have problems in our state. Amazing!

Anonymous said...

Tom -

I'm sure you've already experienced this, but you know you'll be branded a liberal -- or worse, an emergent -- for bringing this to public light....

How we Christians love to shoot at each other while the world watches, wondering why they would want to join us!

Charles

Tom Willoughby said...

Charles,

You know, it's funny in a way. I spent all those years in the middle of the conservative resurgence and took lumps from those who called me a fundamentalist and now, you're right. Anyone who disagrees with the machine gets marginalized and gagged.

You know, even before I came on the Exec. Board there was a lot of discussion among pastors across our state that the time had come to see a return to healthy debate. In fact, some were talking about running an alternate candidate just so we could actually have an election. But the fear was enormous! No one wanted to have their name tossed out as a possibility because the moment they did, they were branded "liberal", "Moderate" or "Big Tent Conservative." Look at the way Gerald Davidson has been demonized along with Mitch Jackson. Gerald led his church to give more money to Project 1000 than any other church in Missouri.

It's just sickening to see the way some have made this into a civil war. Like you said, what lost person in their right mind would want to come within a thousand feet of this nonsense. At least in the Ultimate Fighting Competition there are rules!

God helps us!

BRAD said...

Pastor Tom

I am a young youth pastor in our state of Missouri. Who has also become greatly frustrated with the Pathway and its "spin". It almost seems that the editor has a personal vendetta against the exec. director. This is whole situation is very disheartening to me. I have developed wonderful personal relationships with many of the staff and am afraid of what the future may hold for them. Yet I know that our Lord is in ultimate control. I am praying for the entire executive committee. Thanks for keeping us posted on what is really going on, please keep me up to date.

For His Kingdom,

Brad Russell
bradnsbc@hotmail.com