Saturday, November 23, 2013

I Guess I’m “That Guy”‎

Our family loves Disney World. My wife and I decided a long time ago that a major priority for us would be to focus on spending quality time doing fun things with our kiddos. Thus, and partly due to the cathartic effect a trip to Disney World had on me after living, working and serving through Hurricane Katrina, it is now part of our regular routine (as we can afford it).

We each have our favorite thing to do while visiting the happiest place on earth. A perennial favorite of mine, since it opened in April of 2007, is the Laugh Floor in Tomorrowland. The attraction is a 10-minute “digital interactive puppetry” show in a 400-seat theater where two Disney Cast Members work behind the screen to tell jokes and interact with the audience. Early in the show the actors, through remote camera work, pick out an unwitting rube to be the butt of an ongoing gag. This innocent participant is known as “that guy.” Throughout the routine, “that guy” is jokingly belittled and the crowd gets quite a chuckle at his expense. It is pretty funny right up to the parting final dig from Roz, the task-mastering monster boss.

Apparently, I have become “that guy.” No, I don’t mean the Laugh Floor’s “that guy” who is more often than not surprised to be cast into the limelight (although I will admit that I did have the inglorious, albeit cute, privilege of being the chosen object of that smile-begetting day-long joke a couple of years ago. I even have the button). Rather, I am referring to being identified as “that guy” as it relates to speaking up as a dissenting voice in public settings. Let me be clear… I do not want to be “that guy.” Although I am an extrovert whose personality has oft been described as “high strung” and/or “tightly wrapped,” folks may be surprised to know that I often resent feeling as if I have a responsibility to trudge off into “that guyness.” I’d much rather focus on good things, things that edify and unite, things that encourage and sooth. Thankfully, I spend most of my personal and pastoral life in that vein. However, over the last few years, I’ve found there is a need to speak up, especially in the area of our cooperative efforts in denominational issues. I’m well aware that some would not interpret certain of my actions (most recently a motion I made at our state convention) to be commensurate with what I am describing as a desire to quietly shepherd the flock God of which he has entrusted to my care. However, I know from whence come my actions and I am at peace about raising my concerns even though I know others are not.

Since 2004 I have been acutely aware of what I’m ashamed to identify as abuses of authority in areas of leadership in Baptist life. Ok, call me naive as you clean up your “spit-take” but this realization is not coming from being unaware of such a state of affairs, it is about disappointment.

Over a number of years I have noted several disappointing displays of overreaching leadership. Some of these transgressions have been of a sort that should engender concern from onlookers, yet concern is conspicuously absent. So I’ve wondered, is this absence of concern due to the comfort others feel from blindly trusting those who have led us through the difficulties of the past? Does it come from a place of mindless loyalty to an organization or individual? Is its genesis from an apathetic attitude toward minutia which is better left to the purview of the leaders (since that is why we have them)?

Concerned people must stand up and ask difficult questions. It is the responsibility of those who are invested in an organization to faithfully contend for the best practice of that organization. When it appears someone is covering up information, unduly influencing situations for personal and or professional advancement or trying to manage information so as to not confuse the huddled masses, someone, anyone must say something. They should educate themselves about the issue, understand the facts, seek wise counsel, use appropriate means and above all, carry on with a humble and Christlike spirit. Such a stand, of course, will not be without considerable ramifications.

You might become known as “that guy.” Further, you’re intentions are likely to be questioned. Those who rally around the concern you stand against often unite and will subsequently hurl disparaging remarks in your direction. Others will be amazed that you are “dumb enough” to speak up and ruin “options for future ministry.” Some will just shake their heads in a disapproving nod. You might be labeled a liberal, a Calvinist, a troublemaker, an elitist, foolish, or an attention seeker. Others, simply because you dared to challenge someone, will think of you as the enemy of what is right and good. I ask you to keep your chin up and press on.

The most perplexing thing for me has been the question of why so many will not take the time to listen to the concerns expressed. Whether or not they stand with or against you, many simply will not engage. For whatever reason, they remain satisfied with the status quo and will often not spend the time to look into the concerns raised.

Time for an admission. Hello, my name is Jay and I am a proponent of openness and transparency. I know there are times when discretion is necessary. Of course there are things that are of such a private and intimate nature that complete confidentiality is required. I accept that idea and attempt to function accordingly in my personal and pastoral life. However, I rarely see the need for such secretive back room whispers in cooperative convention life.

Here are a few examples from my own experience. Not wanting the attention this type of vocal dissonance might bring, I’ve tried to point out areas I believe need to be addressed with a Christlike spirit (although I have been accused of mean-spiritedness). Much to the chagrin of some and irrational anger of others I have spoken up when I felt it necessary.

1)      I spoke on the floor at the 2004 SBC in Indianapolis regarding the sole-membership issue. Tuesday morning, June 15th with time extended toward the end of the Executive Committee’s report I expressed concern over what I understood to be inappropriate and heavy handed tactics of the Executive Committee regarding the sole-member issue. It’s not that I was against sole membership (although I certainly had my doubts) it is that our news outlet (which, by the way, falls under the control of the Executive Committee) had not been balanced in reporting both sides of the issue. In fact they only ever presented one side of the issue. The NOBTS website, on the other hand, had presented equal treatment including papers and input from a number of individuals on both sides of the debate. (page 54 of the 2004 Book of Reports #48).

2)      The following year I spoke up again at SBC meeting in Nashville when the Executive Committee allowed another year to pass without giving any outlet to the dissenting voices who had opposed the sole-member issue. To make matters worse, I felt as though our seminary president was being implicitly maligned and that the opinion of the Board of Trustees (who the convention elects to govern the institution) was being squelched. (page 66 of the 2005 Book of Reports #39).

3)      I made a motion at the 2010 Convention asking for the GCR documents to be unsealed. At the time of the convention many had questions regarding the Great Commission Resurgence report. I simply asked for transparency on the part of the task force in order to help the body better understand the issues which were addressed. However, in speaking against my motion two key arguments were presented. First, it was posited that my motion would require the task force to “break its word” to those who were invited to offer input in task force meetings. Second, the suggestion was made that if my motion were to be adopted “no future convention committee will allow the recording of its deliberations.” Anyone who is familiar with basic rules of logic can see that neither of these arguments against my motion necessarily follow. A few points: 1) the task force was not given the authority to make a promise of anonymity (although I do not mind the action, to then use it as the reason to suppress the publication of the proceedings is unfortunate at best), 2) The proceedings and deliberations of the task force is what I was interested in, not the testimony of the invited guests. The recording button could have simply been turned off when guests spoke or the published material could have simply not included their contribution, 3) although a professor from Southern Seminary spoke against my motion suggesting it was some sort of political issue, I can assure you this was not a political issue for me (in fact, I can’t imagine what political issues might have been in play). Don’t you just love when people who don’t know you make assumptions about your actions that have nothing to do with reality, 4) to suggest that passing this motion meant that no other committee would allow their proceedings to be recorded is a basic logical fallacy. In the end my motion failed and the information remains sealed. I’d venture to say the sealed information will be of a sort that many will wonder why it was sealed to begin with. For that matter, were it important or incriminating enough to be sealed would 15 years be long enough? (page 57 of the 2010 Book of Reports #20).

4)      Then, of course, there is the issue of Louisiana College. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that I have spoken up on numerous occasions. Some of which I will address at a future date on this site.

5)      Most recently, and because of the concern I have had regarding overreaching influence, I made a motion to point out that the Louisiana Baptist Convention Articles of Incorporation and its Bylaws do not allow a seated voting place for the state Executive Director on any of the four Boards of Trustees. I will address this issue in detail on this site soon. But let me be clear, nowhere in the Articles of Incorporation or in the Convention Bylaws is the Executive Director given ex officio voting privileges on any of the four Boards of Trustees of the convention. I challenge anyone to examine the 1) ex officio representation of the elected President of the Convention (Articles of Incorporation VIII, Section 4), then compare that to 2) the explicitly delineated role of the Executive Director regarding ex officio status permitted on the Standing Committees, not the Boards of Trustees (Bylaws Article III, Section 9) and 3) the evident spirit of the rules guarding our entities against undue influence (Bylaw Article IV, Section 10). This is true even with the 2007 wording change from “service” to “election” (which was passed without discussion). The change of wording has no bearing on the spirit of the article to guard against those who would otherwise wield undue influence. Especially when you consider Bylaw Article IV, Sections 1 and 2 which clearly express continuity of spirit regarding the protection of our Committees and Boards against allowing an inappropriately long tenure. Read it people! (Again, I will comment more on this issue soon).

Folks, let me be clear, long ago I gave up the desire to “be someone” in church or Baptist convention life. I would hope my self-deprecating transparency would testify to this. It is true, I did allow my name to once be nominated for Second-Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention years ago, but here’s the deal, not only did I lose that election… Friends, I forever have the humbling privilege to be able to say that I was that guy who came in LAST to Wiley Drake. Needless to say, fear of what others might think of my particular perspective was set aside many moons ago. I just want people to gather data, be informed and act as those who have the ability to think independently.
I have pastored for 17 years and I am not a politician nor am I interested in fruitless debate (although I do love healthy philosophical sparring). For years I have steered clear of blogging and the corresponding social media attention it garners, but at this point I believe it is time to speak up. Clearly, if one hopes to have a voice one must have a media outlet that offers a vehicle for information dissemination. So, here I am, sitting in the theater, a willing participant. I’ll be “that guy” …
… Although, I suppose it would be more appropriate to identify with Roz since, “I’m watching, always watching.” ;)
(just a parting nod to my Disney compatriots)


Unknown said...

Jay, from one "revolutionary/rabble-rouser" to another (although neither of us would use those terns to describe ourselves, our actions, or our motivations), I appreciate and applaud your continued willingness to stand up for principles. Particularly when it comes to the issue of
Louisiana College, many alumni have been painted with the same brush of liberalism/Calvinism/radicalism/etc when all we have done is seek the truth and ask for transparency from the LC leadership and administration. Prayerfully, a leader will arise from with the LBC. You may just be "that guy". Praying for you, my brother!

Unknown said...

I messaged you on facebook the other day, Jay. Thank you for being "that guy."