It took less than 24 hours to fill the gap left when Florida pastor Willy Rice pulled out of the race for Southern Baptist Convention president April 6. The three-way race became a two-way race and now once again is a three-way race, with Texas pastor Bart Barber entering the contest April 7.
A new SBC president will be elected during the annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., in mid-June. The contest is wide open because current SBC President Ed Litton has declined to run for a traditional second term.
Litton has been hounded by criticism from the far-right wing of the SBC, which is running its own candidate, Florida pastor Tom Ascol, who is an outspoken critic of the institutional leadership of the SBC and believes the convention needs to be rescued once again from the threat of liberalism.
Barber, a conservative by any external standard, is more aligned with SBC traditionalists.
He chairs this year’s Committee on Resolutions, served on the Resolutions Committee in 2021, preached at the SBC Pastors’ Conference in 2017, and served as first vice president of the SBC from 2013 through 2014. He served 10 years as a trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and was on the board during the tumultuous firing of former seminary President Paige Patterson.
Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, also has been a leader in the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, a group that split from the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 1998 because the long-standing Texas Baptist convention was not deemed loyal enough to the SBC’s new conservative leadership.
In the past year of intense scrutiny of the SBC Executive Committee amid allegations of mishandling claims of sexual abuse, Barber has been among those calling for transparency in the investigation. He also has been a defender of Litton against the barbs of Ascol, Founders Ministries and the Conservative Baptist Network.
“Barber is what Southern Baptists are when they are at their best,” said Matt Henslee, who intends to nominate Barber for the presidency. In a statement to Baptist Press, Henslee cited Barber’s work in his local association, state convention and the SBC.
“He preaches the word faithfully, reaches the lost passionately, and truly believes Baptists are at their best when they are working together to advance the kingdom,” added Henslee, who is director of missions for Collin Baptist Association, located in far north suburban Dallas. Barber’s church is affiliated with Collin Association.
One of the unique features of this year’s reshaped three-person race for the presidency is that none of the candidates lead large churches.
One of the unique features of this year’s reshaped three-person race for the presidency — assuming it stays with the current three candidates — is that none of the candidates lead large churches. Rice, who withdrew from the race, serves a large Florida church.
Barber’s Texas congregation averaged 320 in attendance in 2021, according to SBC statistics. Ascol’s congregation reported 281 in average attendance. Although today Hadaway is an educator and not a pastor, he previously served as pastor of two small SBC churches, First Southern Baptist Church of Monterey Park, Calif., and First Southern Baptist Church of Glendale, Ariz., the first averaging 100 in attendance and the second 400 in attendance. That was before he was appointed to overseas service by the SBC International Mission Board.
In modern history, pastors elected SBC president have come from large churches, often megachurches.
Also, if elected, Barber would be the first Texan to hold the top SBC post in two decades. Although Texans have figured prominently in SBC leadership — producing six presidents in the past 50 years — the last Texan to serve as president was Jack Graham, who was elected in 2002 and again in 2003.
Barber is a graduate of Baylor University and earned both a master of divinity degree and Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a historian who has extensive knowledge of the SBC and its polity, often weighing in on previous denominational matters via online forums.