With the recent announcement that Ed Litton will not be running for a second term as SBC President, rumors have been flying about the open position and who will run for it. Florida pastor Willy Rice has already been announced as a candidate by the man who will nominate him, Clint Pressley.
There will undoubtedly be another candidate, especially given the current climate of the SBC. It’s expected that the Conservative Baptist Network will announce a candidate that they choose to support, and there are plenty of names being bandied about.
I don’t wish to discuss the relative merits of each potential candidate, merely to give some clarification about what the president does, what the requirements are, and who has served that role in the past.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE SBC PRESIDENT?
The SBC President is the man who in some part represents the SBC to the country at large. He serves as an unofficial face for the SBC, and is often asked to preach at various events as part of that role. But the President is more than ceremonial.
In their book SBC FAQs by Keith Harper and Amy Whitfield they answer the question, “What does the Southern Baptist Convention president do? They go through very thoroughly what the president does, but it can be summarized in a few points.
• 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 annual meeting.
• The president serves on a number of boards and committees by virtue of his position.
This might not seem much, but the President can have a large influence on the whole of the Southern Baptist Convention by the committees that he appoints, particularly the committee on committees. The CoC chooses the members of the Committee on Nominations, who in turn do all the work of appointing trustees at all the SBC entities. In turn those trustees help elect presidents of the those institutions, and therefore guide the entity for years. The understanding of this system was the backbone of the Conservative Resurgence, an effort to guide the SBC back to belief in Biblical Inerrancy. During those years the presidential election was highly contested every year, in part for these reasons.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS?
The only official qualification required of Convention officers is that they be “members of Baptist churches cooperating with the convention.” (Article VIII) To further clarify where those churches are to be, Article II says that the convention is an “organization for Baptists in the United States and it’s territories.” In Article V it simply says that the officers of the convention shall be a “president, a first and a second vice president, a recording secretary, a registration secretary, and a treasurer.” It also lays out how the officers are to be elected and that the President is only to serve two terms in succession, although they may come back later and run again. Later it says that in case of death or disability of the president, the vice presidents shall automatically succeed to the office of president in the order of their election.” The Constitution gives no other guidelines about what exactly the VP’s are to be doing or not doing.
What are the qualifications to be a “cooperating church” with the SBC? Article III lays it out clearly.
- The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a “cooperating” church as that term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which:
- Has a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith. (By way of example, churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.)
- Has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention. (By way of example, the regular filing of the annual report requested by the Convention would be one indication of such cooperation.)
- Has made undesignated, financial contribution(s) through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity during the fiscal year preceding.
- Does not act in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse.
- Does not act to affirm, approve, or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.
WHO HAS BEEN PRESIDENT IN THE PAST?
In most recent memory the SBC President has been a pastor, but that is not always the case. As recently as 1998 Paige Patterson was elected while he was president at Southeastern Seminary. Other seminary heads to serve as President include JP Boyce, EY Mullins, LR Scarborough, William Hamilton from NOBTS, and Pat Neff who was president at Baylor at the time.
Many laymen have also served as president, especially in early years. Patrick Mell was Chancellor of the University of Georgia, and one man James Philip Eagle was the governor of Arkansas, President of AR Baptists, and president of the SBC all at the same time!
The last layman elected president was Lawrence Owen Cooper of Mississippi. He was nominated by a former employee of his, the comedian Jerry Clower.
There has not been a woman serve as president of SBC, although there is nothing that says it couldn’t happen. Again, the by-laws only state that the officers must be members of co-operating churches. When Owen Cooper was elected president in 1972, one of the other nominees was Marie Mathis, the long time president of WMU. She was nominated for the office of president by Russel Dilday, although she was not in the room at the time. There were several candidates that year and she did not make the run off. Mathis was no stranger to convention life though. In 1963 Marie Mathis was elected Second Vice President, and became the first woman to preside over the SBC Meeting. After her Mrs Carl Bates was elected 2nd VP in 1976.
All of that history aside, the requirements are quite simple. Almost anyone from any cooperating church could be nominated, and in fact they could be when nominations open from the floor in Anaheim. In recent years we have announcements about who will be put forward, but any registered messenger can nominate someone from the floor of the meeting. We have our traditions, but they are just that, traditions, and they are not binding in any way.
This feels like an especially important election in Baptist life as different groups desire to take the convention one way or another. But I encourage you to not simply believe what you see on Facebook and Twitter. Go read the constitution and by-laws for yourself. Get to know the candidates as best you can, pray about who would best, cast your vote, and then support who ever gets elected. God is still on the throne no matter who becomes president of the SBC, and our seminaries and entities will continue doing the vital work they do to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.