We’re only a few days away from the SBC Presidential Election. It’s the time of year when people who aren’t paying much attention the rest of the year begin to consider the choices they’ll make at the Annual Meeting.
I know many people have already made up their minds about who they’ll be voting for in Nashville. But there may be some who are still considering which nominee is the best choice. I’d like to offer some thoughts on the vote for SBC President, especially knowing that Al Mohler has the highest name recognition among those being nominated.
I’m someone who should be a likely Mohler voter. Reformed. M.Div. graduate of Southern Seminary (2006). Have long looked up to and appreciated Dr. Mohler’s voice and leadership at Southern Seminary and in our convention. But at this moment, instead of being my enthusiastic first choice, Dr, Mohler is a far-distant second choice. Partially because I’m gladly supporting one of the other candidates, but that’s not my point here today. I believe, at this moment in our history, with the divisions and controversies that we’re facing, electing Dr. Mohler would be the wrong direction for our convention.
The Time to Lead Was Yesterday
We’ve had a brutal few years as Southern Baptists. There’s widespread discouragement about our convention – from sexual abuse scandals to high-profile exits to tensions over racial justice approaches to an out-of-control SBC Executive Committee – by almost any measure we’re a mess right now.
In the middle of this mess, Al Mohler has been one of the most visible SBC leaders in our convention – one who already has the platform to speak and make a real difference in inspiring unity and bringing Southern Baptists together. Instead, the opportunity has been missed, nearly completely.
Apart from appointment responsibilities, what influence does the office of SBC President offer Mohler that he doesn’t already have? Are we supposed to think Mohler has been holding back, waiting until he becomes SBC President to suddenly start providing this kind of unifying leadership for our convention? We’re going to start seeing it in some new way if he’s elected? Or, is it more likely that he’s already been trying to provide it throughout this time and been nearly completely ineffective?
On June 2 Mohler posted an article with ten steps he would take as convention president to move Southern Baptists forward. In a convention where leadership has been sorely needed, Southern Baptists would be right to ask, “Al, What are you waiting for? If these steps were going to make a positive difference for our convention, then why not 6 or 12 or 18 months ago?”
Steps 2, 3, 6, and 8 in that article share the theme of bringing Southern Baptists together to “talk to each other”, “avoid gathering in separate corners”, “closer conversation”, and “to talk to each other rather than to tweet at each other”. I’m not disputing those would be good steps to take. But if Al Mohler believed we needed to get Southern Baptists together to talk through some of these controversies we’ve been facing, he could have done it already.
Instead we’ve had mostly silence, or worse.
Silence in the case of an out-of-control Executive Committee’s back-room power plays and disastrous handling of the sexual abuse crisis.
In cases where Mohler has gotten involved, further division and suspicion. There’s a list of significant examples:
Teaming up with budding documentary filmmaker Tom Ascol (who’s now apparently supporting Mike Stone for SBC President) for the floor fight in Birmingham over Resolution 9.
The poorly handled Seminary Presidents’ Statement on the BFM & CRT, which was pushed by Mohler and adopted without input from African American Southern Baptists leaders. The ramifications of that misstep are enormous, including prominent pastors and churches who left the convention as a direct result of this mistake.
Even the followup meeting with the National African American Fellowship of the SBC appears to have been un- or counter-productive. Mohler’s article claims he has the ability to bring groups together. A meeting with the godly leadership of the NAAF was a perfect opportunity. But the meeting ended with virtually nothing positive to show for it.
Mohler’s involvement in these well-known instances speaks against his ability to foster productive conversation, not for it. Regardless of how you feel about the content of those situations, our convention has been driven farther apart in each of these cases – and Mohler’s played a key role in each of them.
The Leadership Style We Don’t Need (Right Now)
We all know Al Mohler can speak. He does plenty of that. What’s yet to be demonstrated is that he can bring other people into the room and listen in order to foster unity and consensus. We don’t need, at this time, someone who leads by pronouncement. Mohler is not known for consensus-building leadership. He’s known as a command and control leader. There are moments for those type of leaders – this is not that moment. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite of what we need right now.
Over the past few months we’ve had quite a few Black Southern Baptist pastors and predominately Black churches leave or say they’re on the verge of leaving the SBC. This should be considered a crisis for our convention. I don’t see that Dr. Mohler has any plan to stop or even slow this trend. It doesn’t even appear on his list of ten steps I mentioned earlier.
These churches, in my assessment, are not waiting for more pronouncements from seminary presidents. They’re not waiting for more eloquent briefings about this or that evil that’s overtaking our culture. They’re waiting to see if Southern Baptists have the humility to include, listen, and value their voices as we build a convention together.
I’m thankful for how God continues to use Al Mohler in our convention. His leadership of Southern Seminary, one of the strongest evangelical seminaries in the world, has been a blessing to Southern Baptists and to me personally. But his strengths as a leader don’t coincide with the challenges we’re facing today, and I’m afraid his election would be an obstacle in healing the wounds in our convention.