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Barber, Stone talk about SBC’s pressing issues

Current SBC President and Texas pastor Bart Barber (left) and former SBC Executive Committee Chairman and Georgia pastor Mike Stone are the two known candidates to be nominated for SBC president at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting. (Baptist Press photo)

NASHVILLE (BP) – Texas pastor and current SBC President Bart Barber and Georgia pastor and former SBC Executive Committee Chairman Mike Stone are the two known candidates to be nominated for SBC president at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting. Louisiana pastor Steve James is scheduled to nominate Barber, and Florida pastor Willy Rice will nominate Stone.

Barber and Stone both joined Baptist Press for wide-ranging video interviews dealing with issues such as the role of women in pastoral ministry, the ongoing work to prevent sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches and care for those affected, and the general direction of the convention.

Barber, pastor of FBC Farmersville, Texas, said legal work connected to sexual abuse cases has been at the forefront of his first term as SBC president.

“I’ve also been involved in some of the litigation that we’ve had as Southern Baptists and given a deposition or two,” he said.

Barber has been required to give depositions in cases involving Paul Pressler, David Sills and Johnny Hunt on behalf of the SBC.

He also appointed the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) as charged by messengers at the 2022 Annual Meeting. The ARITF is expected to unveil a Ministry Check website in New Orleans that includes a preliminary list of pastors, denominational workers or ministry employees or volunteers who have committed abuse in Southern Baptist churches and offers a toolbox of resources to help local churches prevent and respond to sexual abuse.

Guidepost Solutions conducted a 2022 investigation of the Executive Committee based on the entity’s alleged mishandling of sexual abuse claims. The company has drawn criticism for its treatment of some SBC leaders included in the report as well as for its June 2022 tweet that took a positive stance toward LGBTQ pride month.

In its February report to the Executive Committee, the ARITF announced it intended to use Faith-Based Solutions, a division of Guidepost, to handle the Ministry Check website. It has since moved away from that decision. 

Barber said of the ARITF, “They’ve stopped and listened. And as a result, you have their recent announcement that they’re going in a direction that does not use Faith-Based Solutions or Guidepost Solutions.

“They (ARITF) know that the only way this is going to work is if they find a plan that is broadly unifying for Southern Baptists that we can all get behind,” he said, adding that he believes the group has been faithful to find solutions and reassurances for Southern Baptists’ concerns.

Barber said the task force is working to protect Baptist polity, “…the implementation task force understands that the real implementation task force is your local church.”

He also praised the work of state conventions as they are doing “amazing work in trying to help our churches be equipped well to prevent abuse.”

Stone said he understands that challenging a sitting SBC president is unprecedented and is something he would not normally consider.

“The February Executive Committee meeting not only showed me some deep concerns that I have with some of the direction of our convention,” Stone said, adding that it also “stirred the hearts of a broad coalition of leaders” to ask him to pray about receiving a nomination. Stone said some of the leaders were people who “had not supported my nomination in 2021.”

Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., narrowly lost a bid to be SBC president in 2021.

He points specifically to the SBC’s relationship with Guidepost Solutions as well as his treatment by the Executive Committee as his primary concerns.

“I have been greatly opposed to any ongoing partnership with Guidepost Solutions,” Stone said, pointing to the group’s June 2022 tweet supporting pride month.

Stone also takes great issue with Guidepost’s report on its investigation of the Executive Committee. Part of that report describes Stone’s involvement with another church in Georgia in 2019 that was dealing with a married pastor that “was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a single mother.”

The report says Stone did not know the “conduct reach[ed] the level of sexual impropriety.” In the interview with BP, Stone said he advised the unidentified church to terminate the pastor, but it did not. 

Guidepost reported that a staff member at Stone’s church told a witness at the other church that Stone did not intend to help the church, only the accused pastor. The report also stated that witnesses at the church “felt intimidated” by Stone.

Stone expressed frustration that Guidepost will not make changes to its report. “I want to just go on record that absolutely no part of that kind of allegation is true whatsoever,” he said. 

Stone summarized a letter from Guidepost attorneys saying, “We didn’t accuse Mike of knowing any specific information about any of that. We’re just saying that this is how an unnamed witness in that church felt when they found out that the pastor that the leaders had gotten advice from was the chairman of the SBC Executive Committee at that time.”

Stone has shared a copy of a June 8, 2022, letter from the Guidepost attorneys with Baptist Press that states the report does not claim he intimidated witnesses, only that witnesses interviewed during the investigation said they “felt intimidated” by him.

“I want to say in a statesman-like, loving, Christ-like way, but, if that’s the case, Southern Baptist should be asking why was that account ever listed in a multi-million dollar report that we paid millions of missions dollars, whether that’s out of Send Relief, the Cooperative Program, or the CP money on hand … as a husband, as a dad, as a pastor, as a minister of the Gospel, all I have is my name and reputation.”

Stone said this is evidence that there are “unequal weights and measures” in the SBC. “People get treated differently based on who they are and who they run with, and who they have supported in the past. And that is biblically unsustainable,” he said. 

He also said he has never believed there was a need for “a third-party investigator to go outside the body of Christ to look into these matters.”

Moving forward, Stone offered three steps for addressing sexual abuse. If elected, he said he would, first, “try to change the tone and the tenor of the conversation and stop accusing people of not caring about sexual abuse.”

Second, press local churches to take responsibility for the abuse. “The question before us is who committed the abuse and who covered it up and the responsibility,” he said.

In his third point, he deals with the creation of a database of sexual abusers based on the abuser’s confession or a legal process resulting in a finding of guilt. He says he is “100 percent in favor of putting those names out there.” 

Stone is not comfortable with including names under the fourth category of the “credibly accused” definition approved and defined by messengers at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim.

He said he’s not ready to allow a third party to oversee reporting names in a database based on how he’s been treated by Guidepost and the Executive Committee.

On the role of women in pastoral and preaching ministry

Messengers to the 2023 Annual Meeting will also face historic votes as three churches appeal decisions by the Executive Committee at its February meeting finding the churches not to be in friendly cooperation with the SBC.

Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and Fern Creek Baptist in Louisville, Ky., are both appealing the decision that was based on the churches’ having women filling preaching and pastoral roles.

The issue has been accentuated by a 2022 motion from Virginia pastor Mike Law to amend Article III, Section 1 of the SBC Constitution to add an exclusion for any church that affirms women as pastors.

Barber and Stone say they believe the Baptist Faith and Message clearly articulates the role of pastor is reserved for men.

Barber said, “My position on that is that they’ve moved outside who we are as Southern Baptists.”

Stone added he would “recommend and encourage fellow messengers in New Orleans to uphold that recommendation from the Credentials Committee [and] the action of the Executive Committee.”

In the interview, Stone said he is in favor of the Law amendment. Barber has previously stated that he is in favor of letting the motion come before the messengers for a decision.

On Cooperative Program giving

Both men say their churches have been longtime supporters of the Cooperative Program.

“I can tell you this win or lose … FBC Farmersville will still be giving 10 percent of our undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program next year and the year after that and the year to follow,” Barber said.

Stone’s church, while giving consistently for many years through CP, chose to go a different route last year based on the pastor’s inclusion in the Guidepost report and the subsequent reporting in Baptist Press.

“So last year in 2022, we gave directly to a Southern Baptist entity as well as to entities here in the Georgia Baptist Convention. We gave right at $100,000 to Baptist causes. We have also escrowed the balance of that (the church’s CP allocation) because we hope, and it is our prayer that these matters can be addressed and we can feel comfortable continuing to give at the historic level of this church,” Stone said.

In the video interview, Stone repeatedly reiterated his frustration with the Executive Committee related to the Guidepost report.

Stone said the church’s decision does not reflect a complete frustration with the SBC, “…if there’s a pastor out there who is disgruntled with the Cooperative Program, disgruntled with everything Southern Baptist and doesn’t want to give to Baptist causes, I am not that pastor at all.”

Finding focus and unity in New Orleans

Both candidates hope the annual meeting in New Orleans is a time for Southern Baptists to come together.

“When we gather together we’re going to hug people’s necks … and we’re going to sing praise to Jesus and lift up our voices in unity with one another,” Barber said.

He believes “… 99 percent of the votes that we cast are going to be nearly unanimous.”

Stone shares similar thoughts, “Register as a messenger, vote in the election of president. Take part in all the business that we’re conducting as Southern Baptists. And my prayer is that we can leave New Orleans more focused, more on mission, more united, more cooperative than we’ve ever been in the past.”

Barber said: “It’s going to be a time when the Holy Spirit is going to come and move among us, and we’re going to leave that place unified in our mission.”

    About the Author

  • Brandon Porter

    Brandon Porter serves as Associate Vice President for Convention News at the SBC Executive Committee

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