NASHVILLE, Tenn. – An editorial written by a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) state newspaper editor has opened a dialogue on the role and accountability of the various boards of trustees governing SBC entities.
In a July editorial, “Trust the trustees,” North Carolina Biblical Recorder Editor K. Allan Blume encourages Southern Baptists to operate under the system of leadership established through boards of trustees governing LifeWay Christian Resources, the mission boards, GuideStone Financial Resources, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the six SBC seminaries.
Blume referenced LifeWay President and CEO Thom Rainer’s response to a question a messenger raised at the 2012 SBC annual meeting, writing that Rainer’s statement was worth repeating.
Rainer was responding to a messenger’s inquiry about LifeWay’s decision-making process in choosing which books, videos and other products to sell. For instance, LifeWay this year chose to continue selling the New International Version 2011 Bible, and chose to discontinue selling the movie “The Blind Side.”
“You see, you Southern Baptists have elected 57 trustees to represent you at LifeWay. … They are pastors, educators, directors of missions, homemakers, businessmen, businesswomen and so on,” Blume quoted Rainer as saying. “They have a common love for the Lord, the inerrancy of the Word of God and the commitment to you, the Southern Baptist Convention. They ask us the hard questions.”
Rainer continued, “They hold us accountable. … Please allow us to be represented by your trustees, some of the greatest men and women I have ever known. How do we decide certain books? How do we decide certain videos? How do we decide what we do? It is your trustees who hold us accountable. Trust the trustees. That’s how we make our decisions.”
Bart Barber, a trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, posted on the Biblical Recorder’s website a comment defending messengers’ right to question trustees.
“I do not think that anyone is out of line to ask the boards of trustees or the various entity administrations to explain themselves to the messengers and to answer our questions,” Barber wrote. “I hope that LifeWay has a good uniform standard by which it makes decisions about what to sell and what not to sell. An entity that large in that particular business and with this particular constituency ought to have such a standard, approved by the trustees.
“I just can’t see any reason why that standard ought to be kept a secret from the messengers.”
Barber added, “‘Trust the trustees’? Certainly. Great answer, just not to this particular question, which, as I understood it, attempted not at all to wrest power away from the trustees or control sales policy at LifeWay, but instead merely asked for a report of what document or principles underlie that policy.”
Barber pointed out he is in favor of selling the NIV 2011 Bible and “The Blind Side.”
Bill Tomlinson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee and pastor emeritus of Arlington Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, N.C., responded to Blume by referencing the conservative resurgence the SBC experienced in the 1980s and 1990s.
“As we struggled trying to bring about the conservative resurgence, the one argument we heard over and over again from those who opposed us was that we [should] ‘trust the trustees,’” Tomlinson wrote on the Recorder’s website. “If we had listened to them then, there would have been no conservative resurgence.”
In response, Blume defended Rainer.
“I believe Dr. Rainer’s comments were reflecting the fact that the resurgence is history,” Blume wrote in a response supporting his editorial. “He implied that today, we not only have good conservatives serving as trustees, we also have a CEO at LifeWay who is a solid conservative. So, hopefully the trust levels should be high for our boards.”
In his editorial, Blume pointed out the importance of openness and trust in SBC dealings, encouraging messengers to work harmoniously.
“Having worked within the process for several decades, I learned that most trustees are outstanding Baptist men and women,” Blume wrote. “I’ve encountered a few who did not seem to fit. But they are in the minority. Most trustees are dedicated to the goals and mission of the entity. Their purpose is to make that entity effective in Kingdom work. Their desire for service is not motivated by prestige or power, but to see souls saved and lives changed. Board members give their valuable time without pay to offer wise counsel. Blanket accusations against boards or general statements critical of the leadership are counterproductive.
“We are free to disagree, but we do not need to be disagreeable,” Blume wrote. “Remember that the SBC is made up of an eclectic membership representing believers of diverse backgrounds, traditions and methodologies. Our commonality is set by parameters within the Baptist Faith & Message.”
Blume noted that trustees are elected to four-year terms and that no single trustee can control a board.
Brent Hobbs, pastor of Severn Baptist Church in Severn, N.C., posted a comment emphasizing the integrity of the trustee system.
“Unless some egregious instances surface, we should let the trustees determine what they sell and relax about it,” Hobbs wrote. “If there becomes a pattern of irresponsibility, then some action can be taken at that point. If the Blind Side is the biggest problem – then we really do have more important things to worry about.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is staff writer for Baptist Press.)