Thursday, June 15, 2006

In SBC News...

While a pastor in the UCC, I feel an obligation to at least be mildly aware of what is happening in other denominations. This is in order to have some sense of what brothers and sisters who choose a denomination (in an increasingly post-denominational America) are facing in their churches. The blogosphere is helpful for that, because I've come across a handful of Southern Baptist blogs that I like to visit and, outside of a mention in Christian Century (or a shameless dig during our own General Synod...which doesn't even count), I might not hear about the goings-on in their church.

Well, it didn't take long for the SBC bloggers to start reacting to the election of a new president during their big Synod equivalent convention this week. Internet Monk offers one such reaction. Monday Morning Insight reports on it as well. While he hasn't yet, I'm betting Steve McCoy will offer a reaction eventually since he was there.

There really seems to be a lot of buzz over this election for a few different reasons: Frank Page was a relatively unknown 'ordinary' pastor from South Carolina, and wasn't touted as The Next President by the inner circle at the national level. In fact, he won by just over 50%, and was a victory credited to blog support (!) and a grassroots advocacy of a changing of the guard, so to speak. I'm even surprised that the SBC had a contested election, as my experience in the UCC is that one just votes up or down the candidate that a search committee chooses....

Well, anyway, let's pull out the key elements here:

1) Wasn't touted by the inner circle at the top,
2) Blogger support gets major props,
3) Grassroots advocacy,
4) Contested

If you haven't caught on by now, I'm wondering what the implications of this event have on the United Church of Christ. Yes, yes, it's all about ME and US after all. There are similarities between the UCC and SBC in terms of polity, i.e., a congregational system with national conventions that make pronouncements that however unwittingly contribute to a national branding. Those more disgruntled in the UCC have been talking about the national inner circle AND have encouraged grassroots advocacy for YEARS. So it's not out of the question that something like what the SBC has just experienced could eventually happen in the UCC.

As far as blogger support goes, I really do wonder what portion of the UCC's membership, pastor and layperson, has discovered blogging. Our two most high-profile blogs would be Chuck and UCCTruths (blogs hosted by the UCC's 3,419 national websites don't count), and they serve as rallying points for those on both 'sides.' The UCC Blog Network (cheap plug) showcases a few, but how many of us are out there, really? And could UCC bloggers have as much of an impact on our denomination as we see in other churches?

At any rate, I'll end this where it began by congratulating the SBC on their newly elected president, and let you know that I'm praying for you as you enter this new chapter of your life together.


Anonymous said...


I admit, I'm not familiar with the SBC process... but if you just look at

1) How John Thomas and the national office gamed the divestment resolution at the last Genneral Synod

2) John Thomas's dishonest reaction to dissent in the UCC at his Gettysburg College speech

3) The UCC national office reaction to Andrew Young's stance on Wal-Mart

4) The national office's reaction that every challenge is a right-wing conspiracy

...I think it's safe to say that anything that is perceived as a threat to the 'inner circle' gets crushed quickly.

However... you would think that a 'congregational' style denomination like ours would be MORE open than the SBC to the the beneficial dynamics of good debate. But we are not.

Part of the problem that the national office has is it's relevence to the local church. I don't know about your church, but at my church, there isn't a whole lot of engagement on the politics of the denomination or the national office - even though Edith Guffey is an active memeber. The disconnect exists because the local church and it's members are not vested in (and don't have a stake in) the decisions that the national office makes. I think this has contributed the most to the budget woes of the denomination - more so than an single issue like gay marriage. Why would a local church care about the national office or invest their time and energy if the inertia of the national office is already set?

Good post and good questions, none the less.

Anonymous said...

The UCC Blog Network (cheap plug) showcases a few, but how many of us are out there, really? And could UCC bloggers have as much of an impact on our denomination as we see in other churches?

Experience with the conference I'm in tells me that there are only a handful of clergy who even glance occasionally at the blogosphere, nevermind blog themselves (they cite fear of recognition as the reason.) I'd be interested to hear how folks in the local church respond when their pastor blogs!

Active participants in the conference get a bigger voice, yet my experience is that churches who don't agree with national simply withdraw from the conversation locally and their voices go no further. Could there be a grassroots change? I think absolutely, but the churches interested in bringing the change to national need to be interested in every level.

Sadly, I simply don't find people with that much interest or energy in my church.