Published August 26, 2010
“The most powerful person in the SBC is the elected messenger. The motions that are passed, the resolutions that are adopted, the budget that is approved, the program statements that are embraced are all decided by something the messengers did.“I have a reverence and awe for the messengers. You have great leaders, but at the end of the day they have to convince those messengers to lift those ballots and ultimately they decide the issues.”
Barry McCarty, in commenting that the ultimate power in the Southern Baptist Convention lies not in the office of president but in the ballot of the elected messenger.
If a connoisseur of church architecture launched out in search of the most beautiful worship facility in Georgia he/she just might want to include Peachtree Christian Church in Midtown Atlanta as one of the churches on a must-see list. The picturesque Gothic Revival-style sanctuary might find a rival in Europe, but very few worship centers in the South could compare with its stateliness and elegance.
In February Peachtree Christian Church welcomed a new senior pastor to provide leadership for their congregation and he is incredibly happy in his new parish. Why would a Baptist newspaper devote prime journalistic real estate to the pastor of a Christian church or a church affiliated with the Disciples of Christ?
The answer is simple. The new pastor has been serving Southern Baptists for almost a quarter of a century as their chief parliamentarian. The name of the PCC senior pastor, Dr. Barry McCarty, has become a household word to perennial SBC messengers.
McCarty, a native of Atlanta, earned an undergraduate degree from Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City, N.C. He later earned a MA is speech communication from Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas and a Ph.D. in rhetoric and argumentation from the University of Pittsburgh.
McCarty admitted, “After my educational pursuits at ACU I had an interest in continuing my graduate studies in preaching and apologetics, but at that time I couldn’t find a lot of good seminary choices, so I decided to go a secular route. The University of Pittsburgh had one of the nation’s top debate teams and I chose to go there and study argumentation and debate.
“While at Pitt,” McCarty explained, “I came under the wing of Dr. Robert Newman, who had been educated at Oxford University in England. He cut his teeth in the Oxford Debating Union – a debating society regulated by parliamentary rules – rules that mirrored the procedures used by the English Parliament. Dr. Newman became my mentor and I earned a doctorate in speech with a concentration in argumentation and debate at the University of Pittsburgh.”
During his days in Pittsburgh McCarty saw Newman as a heavyweight, a master of parliamentary rules and he knew he wanted to hone that skill as well, but he returned to Mid-Atlantic Christian University as a professor of preaching, speech, apologetics and philosophy. His passion was to teach people to think and speak.
In the third book of Cicero’s dialogue De Oratore, he quotes Crassus as saying, [There are] “things belonging together in reality, namely, the knowledge of wise thinking and that of ornate speaking.” In McCarty’s education he attempted to unite the disciplines of “wise thinking” and “ornate speaking.”
In 1981 the American Institute of Parliamentarians had a summer practicum in parliamentary law and procedures at the Law School of William and Mary College. McCarty took advantage of a couple of those summer sessions and opted to sit for the professional parliamentarian certification exam in 1982 and scored the highest grade in the written exam for that year.
During McCarty’s summers at William and Mary he developed a relationship with Floyd Riddick, who served as the parliamentarian of the U.S. Senate from 1964 to 1974. Riddick, who became famous for the preparations for a planned impeachment of Richard Nixon, became one of McCarty’s mentors.
From 1982 to 1986 McCarty’s life was intersecting with the most prestigious people in the field of parliamentary rules and procedures. He assisted Senator Jesse Helms with the North Carolina Republican Convention and was the presiding officer for parliamentary proceedings at the group’s annual meeting in 1984.
In April of 1986 Charles Stanley, newly elected SBC president, called the American Institute of Parliamentarians and asked for the name of the best parliamentarian in the country who had an understanding of church parliamentary procedures. McCarty was the name given to Stanley.
McCarty stated, “In 1985 Robert and Julia Crowder brought a lawsuit against the Southern Baptist Convention because they didn’t like Charles Stanley’s ruling of the chair in the 1985 annual meeting in Dallas. Although the lawsuit was decided in favor of the Convention, Stanley didn’t want the Convention to have to experience anything like that again. He invited me to come to Atlanta to his home. When I got there he had three legal pages of questions he wanted to ask me.”
Lawsuit prompts adding official parliamentarian
“I answered his questions and gave him a reason for the answer and told him how the answer could be defended. My first recommendation was to get control of his platform. In parliamentary law no one is to commandeer the podium of the moderator or president. In those days messengers would come to the platform and attempt to stand in the place of the president to make their motion, speak to their motion, call for personal privilege or voice their point of order. We were able to change that the first year.”
McCarty continued, “That first year was extremely interesting. Being at the Southern Baptist Convention was new for me because I was 33 years old and thrown into the deep end of the pool and had to start swimming. There were people calling for points of order and some harassing the chair because of their displeasure, but most of those folks were told that their point was ‘not well taken.’”
Many Southern Baptists may think that the job of the Convention parliamentarian is limited to the sessions of the annual meeting, but that is only the tip of the iceberg regarding the amount of work required to fulfill this role. McCarty generally meets with the SBC president in the fall of the year and no later than January.
A behind-the-scene look at procedure
In the first meeting he attempts to get a concept of the president’s vision and find out what the individual wants to accomplish. Some years when there are large issues looming on the horizon, like the presentation of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and the 2010 Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report, more work is required. McCarty then keeps abreast of what is happening in SBC life by reading Baptist Press articles.
Prior to the annual Convention meeting McCarty will meet with the president on several other occasions to review agenda items and discuss procedures. He also prepares a 100 page written guide to let the president know what to say in any given situation.
“About 60 to 70 percent of what happens is in the agenda and is predictable,” asserts McCarty. “I try to provide as much advice and counsel as the president needs or wants
“The greatest blessing I have received from being the SBC parliamentarian is the friendships I have developed with the denomination’s leaders,” McCarty commented, “Your Convention has elected such great leaders that working with them has been like a quarter century of going to graduate school on leadership.
“Who wouldn’t want to work with Charles Stanley? He taught me more about how to pray than anyone. Sometimes I thought I was praying with Elijah. If we had built an altar with wood and placed a sacrifice on it he could have prayed down fire from heaven. When he prayed I was convinced we could do anything. Charles Stanley is a mystic; he goes up on the mountain, spends time with God and comes down with a glow on his face.”
Overview of SBC presidents
In his review of some of the SBC presidents, McCarty smiled broadly when he got to Adrian Rogers. He emphasized, “Adrian was a great leader, but a hoot. He had a natural wit about him – a wit that comes out of one of the greatest minds I’ve ever known.
“Dr. Rogers was a brilliant man who was able to concentrate that brilliance on any given subject. At the San Antonio Pastors’ Conference in 1988 Dr. Criswell was preaching on ‘The Curse of Liberalism’ and said, ‘Because of the opprobrious epithet ‘Liberal,’ today they call themselves ‘moderates.’ A skunk by any other name still stinks.
McCarty continued, “The moderates took offense to Criswell’s statement at the Pastors’ Conference and at the Convention one of the moderates made a motion that Criswell be censored for his ‘skunk’ comment.
“Adrian asked me if the motion to censor Criswell was in order and I told him that it was outside the bounds of the convention’s jurisdiction – that we had no control over the Pastors’ Conference. Adrian paused before turning back to address the messenger and said, ‘You mean, the point of odor is not well taken.’”
“Jerry Vines,” McCarty reasoned, “was the great Warrior President; he was bred for combat. The back of the moderate opposition was broken during that presidency. The Moderates were still around during the presidencies of Stanley and Rogers, but Vines had a more detailed interest in what we were doing.
“He wanted to know things in meticulous detail. He wanted to maximize the legitimate weapons available in the fight for ideas. He always wanted to do things the right way, but he wanted to press the battle.
“From the 80s to the 90s the Conservative Resurgence was building momentum with the appointment of conservative committees and boards. So, with the election of Morris Chapman the Conservative Resurgence was in full swing. The moderates were heading for the exits and the tenor of things were changing rapidly. Morris was a gentleman and the consummate administrator.
“Ed Young was hard to contain because he had such bold ideas. He is larger than life. Jim Henry chose not to use me as parliamentarian but went with John Sullivan and other SBC leaders who were well versed in parliamentary procedure.
“Paige Patterson, of course, was the brains and architect behind the Conservative Resurgence. Serving with him was interesting, because it was during his presidency that Southern Baptists adopted the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
“I was fascinated as I sat at luncheons with Paige, Al Mohler, Chuck Kelly, Adrian Rogers, and others who were giving leadership to that effort; it was like being a part of the Council of Nicea. I knew I was in the presence of the brightest theological minds in America. I could write a book from the luncheon conversations that took place from those seminal minds.”
McCarty concluded his review of the presidents by adding, “Tom Elliff brought me back to the importance of prayer. He is a great intercessor and has such spiritual depth about him.”
McCarty has obviously loved and respected the presidents with whom he has worked through the years, but insists that the ultimate power does not lie in the office of president.
“The most powerful person in the SBC is the elected messenger,” proclaims McCarty. “The motions that are passed, the resolutions that are adopted, the budget that is approved, the program statements that are embraced are all decided by something the messengers did.
“I have a reverence and awe for the messengers. You have great leaders, but at the end of the day they have to convince those messengers to lift those ballots and ultimately they decide the issues.”
Some have suggested that at the recent Orlando convention there was a parliamentarian faux pas during the debate on the GCR Task Force Report. McCarty explained, “Roberts Rules of Order actually works better in smaller meetings than in larger meetings. When there are nearly 12,000 messengers engaged in the decision making process it puts real pressure on the system. Not everyone who wants to speak and address a certain issue will be able to do that.
“For years the Convention used machines to rapidly count paper punch ballots used by the messengers. But after the hanging chad episode in Florida in the 2004 Presidential election, the company that made those ballots and counting machines went out of business. So, for the past several conventions we have had to count marked ballots by hand, which takes from 45–50 minutes. When John Waters offered his amendment to the Task Force recommendation and the show of hands was too close to call, had we proceeded with a ballot vote, the messengers would have lost half the time allotted for them to consider the whole report.
“When Ronnie Floyd and the committee agreed to accept it as a friendly amendment, that was a real game changer. At first it was not clear whether the committee wanted to accept Waters’ amendment as an addition to their language or as a substitute for it. By taking a few moments to bring Mr. Waters to the platform and confer with the committee, they worked out a solution that was agreeable to all sides and overwhelmingly affirmed by the messengers. This was one of those times when a little informal consideration of a question helped us more effectively get to the collective will of the messengers.”
McCarty concluded his remarks by adding, “Two things that my heart is full of when I think of my role in Southern Baptist life. First, I consider it a tremendous honor to have partnered with some of the greatest leaders in our nation in a great cause; because Southern Baptists are such a large ship their wake affects everyone.
“Secondly, I have made some great friends. I have been privileged to work with some great men and I love them.”
In addition to his service to Southern Baptists, McCarty has been the parliamentarian for the Georgia Baptist Convention and the GBC Executive Committee and will serve as parliamentarian for the November meeting in Albany.
SBC President Bryant Wright of Marietta has also asked McCarty to be prepared to see that “things are done decently and in order” at the SBC annual meeting next year in Phoenix.
Presidents of the Resurgence
McCarty was thrust into the spotlight in Southern Baptist life when he was named parliamentarian during the second year of Charles Stanley’s term. Here are his remembrances of the denomination’s leaders during that turbulent era, which ended with adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
“Who wouldn’t want to work with Charles Stanley? He taught me more about how to pray than anyone. Sometimes I thought I was praying with Elijah.”
“Adrian was a great leader, but a hoot. He had a natural wit about him – a wit that comes out of one of the greatest minds I’ve ever known.”
“Jerry Vines was the great Warrior President; he was bred for combat. The back of the moderate opposition was broken during that presidency.”
“Morris [Chapman] was a gentleman and the consummate administrator.”
“Ed Young was hard to contain because he had such bold ideas. He is larger than life.”
“Tom Elliff brought me back to the importance of prayer. He is a great intercessor and has such spiritual depth about him.”
“Paige Patterson, of course, was the brains and architect behind the Conservative Resurgence.”
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