Easily overlooked in the midst of a presidential race that already has featured several unusual twists is the presence of a third, lesser-known candidate to lead the Southern Baptist Convention.
Robin Hadaway does not come to the race with the name recognition of Tom Ascol or Bart Barber — or of the recently withdrawn candidate Willy Rice.
Ascol leads a group of Southern Baptist Calvinists known as Founders Ministries and is a longtime vocal critic of the SBC’s institutional leadership. Barber has been an elected leader within that institutional leadership and a frequent commentator on denominational life. Rice, who withdrew from the race last week, preached the convention sermon at last year’s convention and has held other leadership roles.
Hadaway also has a long record of service to the denomination, but not in ways that would be highly visible to a majority of messengers who will vote in mid-June to elect a new president.
As the race stands now, Hadaway, Ascol and Barber are the three candidates, although it remains possible that others could be nominated even up to the last minute. The convention will meet in Anaheim, Calif., June 14-15.
And even though Hadaway may be lesser known, he will have one advantage: He’s from Southern California. He currently resides in Oceanside, which is located about halfway between Anaheim and San Diego, less than 70 miles from the convention center.
“I am not a part of any group,” he told BNG. “Nobody encouraged me to be nominated for president or not be nominated. I believe I am the best qualified person to say to Southern Baptists, ‘Remember the Mission.’ My focus is missions.”
As a former missionary appointed by the SBC International Mission Board, Hadaway espouses a four-part vision for his leadership if elected: “To see 1,000 new WMU chapters started to support our missionaries; to see 500 net new churches started in North America; to see 2,000 net new churches started overseas; and to see thousands of men and women stop what they are doing and become home and foreign missionaries.”
WMU is short for Woman’s Missionary Union, the historic missions auxiliary group that raises money for the SBC’s domestic and international missionaries and leads in missions education and awareness in SBC churches.
Hadaway is the author of two recently published books about missions: A Survey of World Missions (2020) and The Muslim Majority: Folk Islam and the Seventy Percent (2021).
One thing he shares in common with Ascol and Barber is experience serving as pastor of smaller Baptist churches. For decades, pastors elected to lead the SBC have come almost exclusively from large churches, often megachurches.
One thing he shares in common with Ascol and Barber is experience serving as pastor of smaller Baptist churches.
Hadaway was ordained to the ministry at an SBC megachurch, Bellevue Baptist in Memphis, Tenn., where the legendary Adrian Rogers was pastor. Rogers was the first of a string of conservative presidents elected beginning in 1979 as part of the so-called “conservative resurgence.”
Before his ordination, however, Hadaway served four years as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, then was a businessman in Memphis. He went on to serve as pastor of 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.
From there, he was appointed by the IMB and served in Tanzania, Kenya, North Africa and Brazil. During the last third of his 18 years with the IMB, Hadaway served as a regional leader supervising more than 300 missionaries. He was responsible for overseeing church planting and strategy, along with providing houses, cars, schooling, transportation, communications, and member care for other missionaries.
In 2003, his family returned stateside and he became a professor of missions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. After 18 years teaching there, the Hadaways returned to Southern California last year. He continues as a senior professor of missions with Midwestern, teaching both online and in-person doctoral seminars.
In 2012, Hadaway was tapped to serve eight months as interim president at Midwestern. His other administrative roles there included interim CFO and administrative vice president, vice president for institutional initiatives, and dean of students.
He and his wife, Kathy, were married at First Baptist Church of Dallas in a ceremony officiated by W.A. Criswell.
Today, Hadaway is a member of New Song Community Church, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic congregation in Oceanside.
Hadaway also has one other interesting historical tie to the SBC. He and his wife, Kathy, were married at First Baptist Church of Dallas in a ceremony officiated by W.A. Criswell — a legendary conservative figure and himself elected president of the convention in 1969 and 1970.
Hadaway earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Memphis, then attended Dallas Theological Seminary for two years before completing a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He later earned a doctor of ministry degree from Gateway Seminary, an SBC school in California, and a doctor of theology degree from the University of South Africa.
Even though he is the “local candidate” this year, Hadaway admitted, “I’m the longest of shots, of course, but … .”