A Georgia pastor making a second attempt to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention described his congregation as “the strictest of the strict complementarians” and said he wishes all SBC churches were as well.
“I don’t think that every church has to necessarily adopt that strict of a policy to be in cooperation with the SBC, although I would encourage them and wish that they would, but certainly at the pastoral level our Baptist Faith and Message has been very clear on that,” said Mike Stone, one of two announced candidates seeking the presidency during the SBC annual meeting in June.
He spoke May 16 at Woodlawn Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., where he engaged in a livestreamed dialogue with Lewis Richerson, lead pastor there. This was one of several stops Stone is making on an informational tour promoting his candidacy.
His position on women in leadership matters because one of the most contentious issues to come before this year’s convention will be whether to amend the SBC constitution to exclude from fellowship any church with a female pastor or that gives a woman a job title including the word “pastor.”
Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., said he strongly favors the proposed constitutional amendment and believes it is a more reliable fix than amending the Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement.
As recently as two years ago, Stone said, he thought the Baptist Faith and Message was clear in its prohibition against women serving as pastors. Yet debate has arisen over the definition of the word “pastor” and over whether the doctrinal statement is binding on all SBC churches.
“We do not even allow women to teach in our couples’ classes. Anytime there are adult men in the in the group, we have men that are leading in that capacity.”
As for his church, “We have male leadership, the pastoral staff, the ministerial staff, our deacon ministry, as well; we do not even allow women to teach in our couples’ classes. Anytime there are adult men in the group, we have men that are leading in that capacity.”
His description illustrates the many levels at which Southern Baptists operate in regard to women in leadership. While some churches, like Stone’s, do not allow women to exercise leadership over men in any circumstance, others take different approaches — some even allowing women to serve as deacons.
The pastoral office
The line in the sand, however, has been the pastoral office — particularly the role of senior pastor. That was a flashpoint of the “conservative resurgence” of the late 20th century that caused hundreds of more progressive congregations to leave the SBC for the Alliance of Baptists and/or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Both those bodies not only allow but encourage women to serve in all roles of church life.
In today’s SBC, the issue of women serving as pastors has exploded once again in large part because the denomination’s largest church, Saddleback Church in Southern California, two years ago ordained three women and now allows women to preach in worship. Most recently, Saddleback named a woman as “campus pastor” of its primary campus.
Stone not only opposes Saddleback but opposes “soft complementarianism that is creeping into our convention” that he sees as “just another descriptor for egalitarianism.”
Saddleback “should have been disfellowship,” Stone said. “And I would challenge all Southern Baptist messengers to be there (at the convention) early and to let our voice and our votes be counted clearly and soundly that we support the action of the Credentials Committee.”
Sexual abuse task force
On another highly contentious issue likely to dominate this year’s annual meeting, Stone reiterated his opposition to the Guidepost Solutions independent investigation of sexual abuse in the SBC and the way the SBC Executive Committee has responded. That investigation was launched in 2020, in part because of concerns about Stone’s own leadership as president of the Executive Committee the two years before.
Stone joins other ultraconservatives in the SBC who believe the allegations of sexual abuse in SBC churches have been overstated and that church money has been wasted on chasing this down.
“One of the first things I would do” as SBC president, he said, is put together a new task force to handle concerns about sexual abuse that would do better than the current and previous task forces.
He offered derogatory assessments of two people who have served previously on these task forces without calling their names.
“The task force that I would put together would put us on a path where we stopped just automatically believing and publishing all accusations.”
“The task force that I would put together would put us on a path where we stopped just automatically believing and publishing all accusations,” he said. His would be a task force “that would try to lead us to a point that we remember the Bible still says that the first to plead his case seems right until his neighbor comes to question him; a task force that would try to lead the Southern Baptist Convention to stop claiming responsibility for things that happen in independent, autonomous Southern Baptist churches; a task force that would not move us toward publishing a database of people who have been accused of crimes even though they have not been convicted, they have not confessed and there is no proof or evidence that they actually committed that crime. I would seek to put together a task force that would move us and recommend back to the convention a biblical approach to dealing with sex abuse — which does still include dealing with resourcing, equipping, training our churches to deal more lovingly, more compassionately, more biblically with abuse when it occurs.”
The current financial trajectory of the SBC Executive Committee is “unsustainable,” Stone said, largely because of the millions of dollars spent on the sexual abuse investigation and related initiatives.
He did not make up the label “unsustainable,” he said. Rather, it “came from one of the largest accounting firms in the country who looked at the financial trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention. They didn’t come with an opinion; they came with calculators, spreadsheets and a calendar. And they noted that in the last year — this was as of February — in the last year your Southern Baptist Executive Committee blew through just over 50% of its on-hand disposable liquid assets, dropping from around $12 million in reserves to around $6 million in reserves largely because of what I believe to be an unwise, unhealthy, unsustainable approach to dealing with the very real issue of sexual abuse.”
Stone also opposes the SBC’s partnership with the secular firm Guidepost Solutions because he believes they are a “leftist corporation that promotes such an agenda of sexual perversion.”
That reference was to a single tweet issued by Guidepost in support of its LGBTQ employees during Pride Month last June.
Stone criticized the current SBC president, Bart Barber, for defending Guidepost.
“I believe the decisions that he has made and the way that he is leading is continuing to foster this unhealthy and. unsustainable trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Stone said of his incumbent opponent.