If you wanted to read about the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) self-destructing in political factionalism or fundamentalist fanaticism, you’re going to be disappointed.
In his presidential address, outgoing President J. D. Greear emphasized the importance of this year’s annual meeting in deciding the direction of the denomination in the long term. He said that he talks about diversity, not to be woke or please people, but because most of the denomination’s growth has been in minority congregations, and he values their leadership in spreading the Gospel. His speech expressed standard Southern Baptist belief about the primacy of the Great Commission and the proper separation between politics and religion. “Anytime the church gets in bed with politics, the church gets pregnant, and the offspring does not look like our Father in heaven,” Greear said.
Messengers chose between four candidates to succeed Greear as president. Georgia pastor Mike Stone is part of the Conservative Baptist Network and represents those who think the SBC is becoming too liberal. Alabama pastor Ed Litton is conservative theologically yet has worked towards racial reconciliation within his church community and was seen as the unity candidate (he was nominated by Fred Luter, the only African-American SBC president). Albert Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has been well-known for decades. Randy Adams is Northwest Baptist Convention executive director and was running a long-shot reform campaign.
In the first round of voting, 14,300 ballots were cast, out of 15,678 registered messengers. Stone led with 5,216 votes. Litton came in second with 4,630. Mohler was third with 3,764. Adams was a distant fourth with only 673 votes. Seventeen ballots were disallowed. The rules require a majority vote for the new president to be elected, so the top two vote-getters advanced to a runoff. Mohler and Adams were eliminated and Stone and Litton advanced.
Adams’ elimination was expected, but Mohler’s was more surprising. He has been president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1993 and has a popular podcast on current events. He announced his candidacy in 2019 to run for president in 2020, but the annual meeting was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. He was the first to announce his candidacy for this year’s annual meeting. It seems he was in the position of being some people’s first choice and many people’s second choice, but he wasn’t enough people’s first choice to make it to the second round of voting. Some messengers also may have been uncomfortable with a seminary president serving as convention president as well since the denomination abhors centralized power.