In the preliminaries to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, candidates backed by the Conservative Baptist Network June 13 were turned back in every attempt to gain leadership.
Whether that trend will continue on the opening day of the SBC meeting June 14 is the question of the hour, as there is a heated three-way race for the SBC presidency.
The Conservative Baptist Network, Founders Ministries and other informal networks representing the most far right wing of the SBC, have organized the last two years to take control of the SBC Executive Committee and the denomination itself, claiming the SBC needs to be rescued from liberalism and wokeness.
The first early test of this coalition’s strength came Monday afternoon, June 13, when the Executive Committee elected new officers. The Executive Committee has been at the center of the conflict over mishandling of sexual abuse cases in SBC churches and institutions.
One of the most outspoken Executive Committee members in favor of transparency and full accountability was elected to lead the Executive Committee for the next year. Jared Wellman, pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, was chosen over Indiana pastor Andrew Hunt.
Two other key leaders for the Executive Committee also fall in the same group as Wellman, seeking to right the wrongs of the past and create better systems to respond to known abuse. David Sons, pastor of Lake Murray Baptist Church in Lexington, S.C., was named vice chair, defeating Louisiana pastor Philip Robertson. And Pamela Reed, a retired nurse from Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., was elected secretary, defeating Missouri pastor Monte Shinkle.
In last fall’s debate over whether the Executive Committee should follow the will of the convention and waive attorney-client privilege in the sexual abuse investigation, Wellman, Sons and Reed all voted for waiving privilege. Their three opponents in this year’s officer race voted against waiving privilege.
The bigger headline of the day, however, is that a candidate for president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference heavily promoted by the Conservative Baptist Network also lost his race.
Voddie Baucham, a controversial author and dean of theology at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia, was the conservative network’s choice. They settled on running him for Pastors’ Conference president after initially planning to run him for SBC president — which fell flat because Baucham is not a member of a Southern Baptist church and therefore not qualified according to the SBC’s bylaws.
However, the Pastors’ Conference, an autonomous organization that exists only for the purpose of putting on a two-day preach-a-thon before the annual meeting, has no such limitations. In fact, it has no governing document or guidelines at all.
That lack of governing documents also came to bear when a show-of-hands vote and a standing vote both failed to produce a clear outcome in the leadership race and a ballot vote was required. While current leaders of the Pastors’ Conference announced that only “pastors” are eligible to vote, there is no written policy to back that up.
Some of Baucham’s detractors posted videos and photos showing women voting in the presidential election — a clear violation for a group that stridently opposes women serving as pastors. Similar criticism was offered about who received the paper ballots.
At the end of the day — literally — hours after the vote was taken, the results were announced and Daniel Dickard, pastor of Friendly Avenue Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C., was declared the next Pastors’ Conference president. He got 690 votes to Baucham’s 608 votes.
Ironically, Baucham was not present in the hall for the first session of the Pastors’ Conference Sunday night because he was attending a Conservative Baptist Network event across the street featuring Calvinist author and pastor John MacArthur.
In an earlier interview on the website SBC Voices, Dickard said he wants the 2023 conference to highlight the Beatitudes and to offer breakout sessions. His goal, he said, is to “bring more Southern Baptists together for a time of encouragement and edification.”
The biggest test of the Conservative Baptist Network’s pull will come Tuesday afternoon when the first balloting happens in the SBC’s presidential race. The network-backed candidate is Florida pastor Tom Ascol, who also leads Founders Ministries, a group for Southern Baptist Calvinists.
He faces Texas pastor Bart Barber and California missiologist Robin Hadaway.