According to this blog, Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia, will be nominated to be president of the SBC in Greensboro, NC this summer.
The announcement, reportedly made by Jerry Vines as he was flanked by Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler and Bailey Smith, raises questions in my mind that I think are worth a thoughtful conversation.
What kind of person would make a good president of the SBC? Most of our presidents have been pastors of local churches although we have also had men who have been denominational servants who have been elected. The position has certainly changed over the last 25 years. The architects of what has now become known as the conservative resurgence understood that the appointive powers of the president could be used to affect significant change in the SBC over 10 years of consistent leadership. This made the office a vitally important political tool in the effort to set the theological direction of the SBC. The men elected had to be tough-minded and willing to be unpopular. During my days in seminary (1980s) it was common to have professors and administrators speak disparagingly of the presidents who were elected to further the conservative agenda.
Today we are long past the “takeover agenda.” So what kind of person makes a good SBC president? Personally, I still want a person of strong theological conviction to be in that role. I also would prefer someone who understands the real theological issues and practical challenges that are facing evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular. The president should also be a churchman; someone who understands our Baptist ecclesiological convictions and unashamedly affirms and defends them.
Secondly, what kind of process is there–or should there be–for a person to be nominated for president? James Hefley, the conservative chronicler of the resurgence, describes the process that existed before the conservative resurgence began in 1979. He describes an “informal group of SBC leaders who worked behind the scenes” to insure that their man became president. Hefley calls these leaders “SBC Kingmakers.” He writes, “These well-intentioned kingmakers politicked in informal but successful ways, to get men elected to the presidency …” (The Truth in Crisis, 5:17). He goes on to describe how the kingmakers very carefully planned to have their man speak in high profile pre-convention meetings in order to place him in “a very strategic position for election to the SBC presidency” (Ibid, 19).
C.R. Daley, who was the longtime editor of the Western Recorder of Kentucky, admitted this kind of secret process in a famous lecture he gave on denominational ethics July 20, 1984, to a class on ministerial ethics at Southern Seminary. In that lecture, he also admitted the complicity of Baptist Press and most state Baptist papers in this king-making effort. Richard Land, current Director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Council of the SBC said this about Daley’s lecture: “Well, I admire his honesty, Clearly there was a conspiracy. There was an alliance of opinion shapers and editors at the Convention who sought to promote certain people, who sought to squelch other people, and to manipulate those who ascended to leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention” (quoted in Jerry Sutton, The Baptist Reformation, 56).
I find this very interesting. Daley admits that the deck was stacked in favor of the kingmakers’ anointed man in large part because of the cooperation of the “old line strongly established [state Baptist] papers” to promote this candidate to the people. Could that still happen today? In our age of the internet and rapidly deployed media, could a man not anointed by denominational kingmakers and supported by denominational public relations arms be elected president of the SBC? It is an interesting thought.
Thirdly, is it good to have more than one conservative candidate nominated for president of the SBC? Would that breed disunity? Would conservatives who suggested alternative candidates be seen as disloyal and even playing into the hands of the CBF crowd by denominational leaders? Would having two or more legitimate conservatives candidates provide an opportunity for healthy dialogue about Southern Baptist life–with all its needs and potential? I think it could.
Finally, given that the season for mentioning names as candidates for the SBC presidency is now officially open, who are some other folks that you think would make good candidates and why?
Well, those are my thoughts. I am interested in hearing yours.