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Barber addresses Black Southern Baptists at annual conference

Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber greeted worshipers July 17 on the opening night of the 2023 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest, N.C. Photo by Aaron Earls

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) — Bart Barber likens his Southern Baptist Convention presidency to the time he tried to impress his wife by carrying the groceries from the car into the house in one trip, balancing fragile eggs, heavy milk and cans that could tear through plastic bags.

“You’re trying to get all this stuff — some of it’s heavy, some of it’s fragile. Some of our churches try to break through the bag every once in a while, if you’re not careful,” Barber said, addressing hundreds of worshipers including pastors and other leaders at the opening night of the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference (BCLFC) July 17 at Ridgecrest, N.C.

Barber, a cattle farmer and pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, described Southern Baptist churches as diverse in ethnicity, size, worship style, appearance and financial resources.

Leading opening night praise and worship at the 2023 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest, N.C., were Aoctavia Stewart-Miller, front center, and Glenn-Alan Shelton, minister of music at Colonial Baptist Church of Randallstown, Md. Photo by Aaron Earls

While at Ridgecrest, Barber began dialogue with leaders of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) of 4,000 churches regarding a pending 2023 SBC constitutional amendment restricting the title of pastor to men. NAAF President Greg Perkins, lead pastor of The View Church in Menifee, Calif., wrote a July 3 open letter encouraging dialogue and prayer regarding the amendment that received its first affirmative vote at the SBC 2023 Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

Barber met with Perkins, NAAF Vice President Jerome Coleman, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Executive Director/Treasurer Todd Unzicker and SBC Executive Committee Interim President and CEO Willie McLaurin to discuss concerns.

“We have spent the last day and a half in intensive conversation and dialogue,” Perkins said of the meeting in a brief video released July 18. “Here is our single goal: to ensure that the SBC family remains unified. We are one family. We have all different kinds of aspects of our family, but we’re one family.”

Barber thanked Perkins and others for the opportunity to join in the dialogue, but said his job as president is limited.

“I’m not the doctrinal czar of the Convention. I don’t really get to make a whole lot in the way of substantial decisions, but I do have this job that I love and embrace. My job is to help Southern Baptists talk to each other and make good decisions that carry the mission forward,” Barber said in the video. “And anything that I can do to help different folks within the Southern Baptist Convention come together and have reasonable, healthy dialogue, and to help us make God-honoring decisions, I’m down with that.”

At issue is a change to the SBC Constitution to declare only “churches that affirm, appoint, or employ only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture” will be considered in friendly cooperation with the SBC. The amendment requires a second affirmative vote at the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis to take effect. Perkins also addressed church autonomy and Southern Baptist polity in the letter.

“These actions, while within the rights of our messengers, undermine the tie that binds i.e., the autonomy of the local church and are inconsistent with our shared Baptist polity,” Perkins wrote in the letter. “This may signal to churches in the SBC that do not believe that women should be the Senior Pastor but allow women the usage of a pastoral title, or appoints a woman to a pastoral role, are no longer welcome in the SBC.”

Barber said it was his first time at Ridgecrest, having grown up in an Arkansas country church too small to be able to send children to camps Ridgecrest, which was owned and operated by Southern Baptists’ Lifeway Christian Resources until 2021.

“We’d scrape the money together to go to the camp that our little Baptist association in our county had,” Barber told BCLFC worshipers. “It was the kind of church where my grandpa, a cotton farmer, deacon, would cry every week about the lost people that needed the Lord Jesus.”

The Lifeway-sponsored BCLFC, in its 30th year, continues through July 21 with daily Bible study, evening worship, educational seminars, children’s events and recreational activities for families and individuals.