By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
NASHVILLE — The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention approved a recommendation at its June 10 meeting in Houston to designate the District of Columbia, Maryland and Delaware as a “defined territory” to determine eligibility for representation on SBC committees and entity boards. Recently, BaptistLIFE sought clarification from D. August Boto, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
First, could you please explain what it means to “designate the District of Columbia, Maryland and Delaware as a ‘defined territory’ to determine eligibility for representation on SBC committees and entity boards”?
Sure. Anyone can get a better grasp of why the term is used, and of the effect of the change, merely by going to this link at SBC.net and then scrolling down to SBC Bylaw 30, Paragraph A – http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/legal/bylaws.asp.
In Bylaw 30, the term “defined territory” is used to denote areas that cannot be adequately described by the boundaries of a single U.S. state. Actually, specific reference to the District of Columbia was first made long ago in the SBC’s governing documents for that very reason, rather than to guarantee D.C. any kind of special or exclusive status. Puerto Rico would be another area that is better referred to as a “defined territory” than it is a “state.” So the change is not a demotion at all, and no one should jump to that sort of conclusion about it. Putting the two states and the District in one “defined territory” is merely an exercise which makes evident the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention defines its own regions . . . regions which may be different from those recognized by the United States or by any Baptist state convention.
What typically defines such eligibility?
SBC Bylaw 30, at the link referred to above, speaks to that point much more precisely than I could.
What prompted this particular action?
One church was getting most of the D.C. trustee appointments, and that sort of concentrated influence was deemed in need of correction. There is a Southern Baptist tradition of spreading responsibility and involvement over as many churches as possible. I should also make clear that the church itself thought some corrective action ought to be taken, so the pastor (Dr. Mark Dever) and the church (Capitol Hill Baptist Church) are not in any way to blame for the problem. Rather, it was the territorial selection of the SBC, coupled with its trustee appointment processes, which rendered the church one of the very few qualified churches from which D.C. trustees could be selected. That anomaly has now been corrected.
Has this been an issue anywhere else in the SBC? If so, how was the issue handled there?
No, not this particular issue (being the issue of one church having so many SBC entity trustees among its members). But defined territories have been changed in the past, and they will again in the future, hopefully. I say “hopefully” because one good reason to change them is when the number of Southern Baptists in a territory increase. When that good thing happens, then “multiple state” conventions can divide and be “single state” conventions, and it is frequently (though not always) the case that SBC territories line up with state convention lines.
But wasn’t that already true before the change in this case?
Yes, it was, but the SBC territorial realignment was needed to correct the situation that was being complained about.
If D.C. trustees had been selectable from a greater array of D.C. churches, would the territorial adjustment have been made?
Probably not, as long as the trustees actually selected came from that larger assortment of churches. I would also point out that in the future, as more churches in D.C. fit the parameters of trustee selection, the territory can be realigned to allow D.C. to stand on its own once again.
What are the “trustee selection parameters” you mentioned? Who does the choosing of trustees?
The SBC’s Committee on Nominations nominates Southern Baptists (both men and women) from churches that the committee determines have demonstrated significant interest and involvement in Southern Baptist missions and ministries. Some of the parameters are set in the SBC’s bylaws and others are more traditional or preferential, such as the level of Cooperative Program participation by the nominee’s church. Other factors include Convention cause giving, such as Lottie Moon or Annie Armstrong giving, and evangelistic zeal, as demonstrated by baptism counts. The Convention messengers vote to approve or reject the nominees.
Does combining D.C. churches with BCM/D churches now limit BCM/D’s involvement on SBC committees and boards?
Strictly speaking, no. The BCM/D itself technically has no such involvement, but its churches have. State conventions do not select SBC trustees, but messengers from churches that are also aligned with various state conventions do, when they attend the SBC and vote on the Committee on Nominations report.
But let me answer the question I think you meant to ask, which is “Might MD/DE churches end up having fewer trustees on the boards of SBC entities than they did before?” The answer to that question is yes, they might. So might D.C. The latter is more likely, however, than the former because there are fewer qualified churches in D.C. from which to select trustees than there are in MD/DE.
How does this merger affect the ongoing work of both the BCM/D and D.C. conventions?
I am not aware of any way the SBC’s territorial realignment would affect either state convention’s ongoing work, and do not anticipate there being any negative ramifications. However, if it were to have a negative effect on the work of either state convention, our lines of communication are open, and the avenues of correction are available.
Should either convention have any concerns about this change?
Again, I do not think so, but I am aware that some folks are concerned. I believe their concerns are borne out of uncertainty more than they are out of experience. Rather than it being a negative indicator, I would hope that the change would signal several positive things, namely:
1. The SBC wants to spread out influence and participation, not concentrate it.
2. The SBC chooses its trustees from SBC-supporting churches. Participation matters.
3. The SBC will take action to rectify its own shortcomings.
4. The SBC is adaptive and responsive.