This is the most highly contested SBC presidential contest since the end of the Conservative Resurgence. I think the 1990 election in New Orleans where Morris Chapman defeated Dan Vestal by 15 percentage points was the last white hot election. We’ve had contested elections since but none like this year’s. One group casts this election as one to turn the convention around, reclaim the convention, etc. Steve Gaines and others call it “pivotal” but doesn’t explain how it is so. Maybe it’s supposed to be self-evident.
Is the SBC president that big of a deal?
In the light of current events, probably so. In the broader context of the SBC’s next decade or so, probably not. I’m not expecting a dozen years of militant traditionalists, and they’re the driver of the sea change talk this year, achieving wins and making much of a difference in the SBC’s long term future. But, it’s possible. As we saw in the years 1979-1990, presidents successfully drove the changes in the SBC.
The splendid little book, SBC FAQs: A Ready Reference by Keith Harper and Amy Whitfield answers the question, “What does the Southern Baptist Convention president do? It takes them three paragraphs. I summarize below:
- The president appoints a number of groups to serve at the annual meeting: a Committee on Committees, a Committee on Resolutions, a Credentials Committee, a group of tellers, a team of convention parliamentarians.
- The president presides over the meeting itself.
- The president serves on a number of boards and committees by virtue of his position.
Of these three duties, only the appointment of the Committee on Committees has the potential to generate much change in the convention. It was the recipe for the CR itself: elect a president who will appoint a Committee on Committees which nominates a Committee on Nominations who nominate trustees…who change institutions. It is deliberately convoluted which makes change difficult. SBC messengers are directly involved and must approve the president, the Committee on Nominations offered by the Committee on Committees, and finally the Committee on Nominations report itself. It takes a lot of energy and time to bring about substantial change in the Old Ship SBC.
No one has to approve these presidential appointments. The convention cannot disapprove or amend the appointments from the floor. When the convention elected Steve Gaines president they gave approval in advance for his appointments to the Committee on Committees, Committee on Resolutions, Credentials Committee, tellers, and parliamentarians. You and I and other messengers don’t get a vote on any of those.
Steve Gaines has two year’s worth of Committee on Committees appointments on record. Someone more in touch than I am may be able to discern how aggressive the appointments are relative to the current parties. I recognize a flamethrower or two. The whole idea of making the president an “us vs. them” issue is to eventually change trustee boards. Whether or not this will translate into any game changing trustee balances, I don’t know. I’d guess not but I’d speculate that some trustee meetings would get more interesting and have to field more questions. Nothing wrong with that. I commend our president for appointing a handful of females to these committees.
Aside from the three above, the president has a pretty good bully pulpit. I haven’t seen any SBC president, and we have had a long string of quite outstanding presidents, make much of any difference in the SBC as a whole as a result of their persuasive powers. I don’t see either J.D. Greear or Ken Hemphill changing that pattern.
Seems to me that the underlying dynamics of the SBC are not things that the office of president can change. Baptisms aren’t down because SBC presidents haven’t provided a good example. The Cooperative Program isn’t flat because the SBC presidents haven’t given enough or because they haven’t been the right kind of CP cheerleader. Membership isn’t declining because of the long string of megapastors elected SBC president.
There will be, I expect, some chest-thumping and some desparing over the election outcome. Unfortunately, it’s been set up in such a way that there will be perceived winners and losers, rather than like 2016 where it looked like we were all on the same side and were all winners. I’d like to think we are still on the same side.
I don’t see the new president as accomplishing much. I like both of the brethren but I’m not seeing any grand retro action happening. My vote will go to J. D. Greear. I think we look better for the future if we make generational changes.