Covering SBC annual meetings for more than 25 years, one thing I’ve always noticed is the person attentively and consistently standing near the left shoulder of the presiding officer.
The chief parliamentarian serves to guide the SBC president and others at the podium through business discussions and decision-making.
While SBC president Bart Barber showcased his own masterful understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order, he still worked closely and frequently with his “parliamentarian ninja,” Al Gage.
Gage, current president of the American Institute of Parliamentarians and a Southern Baptist from Arizona, served as chief parliamentarian of the 2023 meeting. He served as vice parliamentarian the two years prior under longtime SBC parliamentarian Barry McCarty.
“Al is a fine man and an able parliamentarian,” McCarty shared with me when I reached out to ask why he wouldn’t be on the platform this year.
McCarty, parliamentarian for the Georgia Baptist Convention and dean of communication for Georgia Baptists’ Truett McConnell University, became acquainted with Southern Baptists in 1986. Media reports indicate a platform ruling by Charles Stanley in the contentious 1985 SBC Annual Meeting in Dallas prompted lawsuits.
The next year, Stanley sought a professional parliamentarian rather than continuing with the tradition of using pastors and others who were well-versed in parliamentary procedure but not professionally trained.
McCarty was selected from a list of certified parliamentarians from the same group Gage currently leads and immediately became the go-to guy for the role.
It’s a one-year contract, and the current SBC president makes the official invitation for the year he moderates the annual meeting. “Essentially, I have been hired 37 times by 17 presidents for the same one-year job,” McCarty noted.
All but two SBC presidents since Stanley’s second term — Jim Henry in the mid-1990s and Barber this year — have brought McCarty in as chief parliamentarian.
When the SBC Executive Committee voted in February to approve Gage as the chief parliamentarian for this year’s annual meeting, leaders didn’t discuss the adjustment publicly. McCarty said Barber did call ahead of time to let him know of the coming change though.
“He strongly affirmed that I had served the convention with professional integrity, fairness and impartiality … but wanted to use an ‘outside’ parliamentarian (someone not so closely tied to the inner workings of Southern Baptist life),” McCarty said.
Reports indicate Henry’s reasoning not to use McCarty was because he wasn’t part of Southern Baptist life. While a longtime pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), McCarty has only been part of a Southern Baptist church since 2015.
While I don’t know McCarty or Gage well, I have had the opportunity to be around both, and I’m confident both take their profession and their responsibilities seriously.
They also are respectful, courteous and kind — at least to me. A messenger receiving a “point … not well taken” response from the podium might disagree.
For more coverage of the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting, click here.