Got news? Baptist cuts in Texas

Anyone who has lived in Texas knows that there are times when it seems that there are more Baptists inside the Lone Star state then there are people. When it comes to politics, separation of Baptists and state remains a vital issue. But enough joking around. If you run a newsroom in Texas and you aren't covering the Baptists, then you aren't covering Texas.

This brings us to a classic "Got news?" story, which was covered by Associated Baptist Press (the press service aligned with the so-called "progressive" or "moderate" Baptists others), but not, unless I have missed something, the paper of record in the region, The Dallas Morning News. Here's the top of this newsy, factual report, which ran with the headline, "BGCT eliminates 13 staff positions, reduces some to part-time."

Six Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board employees are losing their jobs, seven unfilled posts are being eliminated and a dozen positions are being reduced from full-time to part-time due to the state convention's current financial situation and the 2011 forecast.

Savings resulting from the staff cuts total $1,044,000 in salary and benefits for 2011, said Jill Larsen, BGCT treasurer and chief financial officer. The layoffs and cutbacks bring the total BGCT Executive Board staff -- full-time and part-time -- to two-thirds the size it was just four years ago. ... In addition, seven vacant positions are being eliminated. They range from interns to clerical positions to managerial posts.

"As we finish out this year and plan for next year, your leadership team has spent many hours looking at various options to determine our direction both strategically and financially. Unfortunately, any of the options considered required that we reduce our expenses. This requires the elimination of some positions," BGCT Executive Director Randel Everett said in an e-mail to staff.

In correspondence to directors of the BGCT Executive Board, Everett elaborated: "The staffing reduction decisions have been made with a consideration of both the current year financial situation and the forecast for 2011. ..."

The story covers all of the basic facts, while never specifically addressing two crucial questions -- membership loss in BGCT congregations and the aging of the state's "moderate" flock.

But the overall picture for the organization is stark.

The latest round of layoffs and cutbacks continues a trend dating back seven years. In 2003, the BGCT eliminated 20 staff positions -- laying off 13 people and eliminating seven vacant posts -- but some positions were added later in an organizational restructuring. In a major round of layoffs four years later, 29 staff positions were eliminated. ...

In 2006, the BGCT employed 406 staff, with 315 in full-time positions. After the latest cuts take effect, staff will number 268, with 213 full-time positions.

Now it helps to understand that the state of Texas, after decades of Southern Baptist warfare, has two Baptist conventions that, to varying degrees, are aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest non-Catholic body. The BGCT represents the old guard, the "moderates," on the left and the Southern Baptists of Texas is the convention that represents the conservative coalition that now controls the national SBC structures.

It also helps to understand that the BGCT is very much part of the religious establishment in Dallas. I should confess at this point that my father worked for the BGCT long ago and the Mattinglys have other ties to that body, as well.

Any ongoing decline of the BGCT is a major story in Texas and, especially, in Dallas.

We know that the News is sensitive to the politics of the BGCT and knows that the "moderate" coalition has its pressure points. Remember the recent coverage of the Dallas congregation that began openly ordaining gays and lesbians to its deacons? The BGCT cut its ties to the congregation, but the move had its complications, as noted by the News.

Doug Washington, a Royal Lane deacon and BGCT executive board member, spoke against the resolution at the meeting in Northwest Dallas. He said the church has two gay deacons, and he praised them as outstanding leaders. ...

The BGCT requires that executive board members and employees be part of a church in good standing with the denomination. Washington said he would be staying with Royal Lane and leaving the BGCT board. Two Royal Lane members are BGCT employees, and ... they would have to find another church to keep their jobs.

That's a symbolic story in an important state and local institution. The ongoing decline of the BGCT is a story, too, especially in Dallas.

The mainstream press has focused quite a bit of coverage -- totally valid coverage, by the way -- on recent reports about the modest statistical decline of the national SBC, after decades in which that conservative body grew and liberal Protestant bodies decline (a sharp decline that continues).

So the SBC has suffered some statistical blows. That's a valid story. What is happening among the "moderate" congregations and, come to think of it, what part of the overall SBC decline is actually taking place in pews that are linked with the old guard bodies such as the BGCT? Is it possible to get some numbers there?

So the BGCT has been forced to make new cuts and the long-range projections are not good. That's a valid story, too. Especially in Dallas.

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