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Candidates hold diverse views on amendment, transparency, abuse reform

INDIANAPOLIS (BP) – The six Southern Baptist Convention presidential candidates are evenly split on a proposal to amend the SBC Constitution to limit to men the title of pastor in senior and subordinate roles, with three favoring and three opposing the move.

All describe themselves as theological complementarians and say only men should be pastors, as qualified by Scripture and detailed in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, but only three believe a constitutional amendment is needed to buttress the confessional statement.

Transparency? It’s good, all candidates say, but only one is on the record to Baptist Press as approving entity financial reporting on par with the Internal Revenue Service Form 990 required of nonprofits.

Sexual abuse reform is also needed, all candidates say, but they offer nuanced differences on the best way to achieve reform that will protect individuals from predators and concurrently uphold local church autonomy. Two of the candidates were members of the committees that drafted the current sexual abuse reform recommendations.

Jared Moore

Candidate appearances in Indy

Messengers to the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis will have two opportunities to hear the candidates express their views and priorities. The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders will host a presidential candidates forum at its banquet June 9 from 5:50-7:20 p.m. The Baptist Review will host a forum June 10 at 9 p.m. in Convention Center Hall B, with registration available on Eventbrite.

Presidential candidates Jared Moore, Clint Pressley and David Allen favor amending the SBC Constitution regarding the use of the title pastor.

Clint Pressley

Candidates confirmed their views in various interviews with BP.

“Our confession says male-only pastors, and this will add that language to the Constitution so that the Credentials Committee can then encourage churches to submit to the vote of the Convention, which is reflecting God’s Word.” – Moore, senior pastor of Homesteads Baptist Church, Crossville, Tenn.

“I think we affirm (the amendment), and I’m thankful that really it’s sort of an inter-Nicene conversation. Like, I don’t think I am having disagreement with outright egalitarians. I think it’s a disagreement with complementarians as to how we express that and how tight to draw the circle.” – Pressley, senior pastor, Hickory Grove Baptist Church, Charlotte, N.C.

David Allen

“The Law Amendment is an attempt to clarify that in our bylaws … that only men should serve in that capacity. I’m 100 percent in support of that by the way. I think that is important. I think it’s an important clarification. I think it is much needed.” – David Allen, distinguished professor of practical theology, Mid-America Seminary

Candidates Mike Keahbone and Bruce Frank are opposed. Dan Spencer does not believe the amendment is necessary but told BP “it wouldn’t break my heart if it passed.” All men have offered nuanced reasons for positions on the amendment.

The candidates have told BP:

Mike Keahbone

“I do not agree with Mike Law. I don’t agree for the necessity of the Law amendment. I believe we have the clarity that we’re trying to reach for. I think the Bible’s clear in what it says. I think our constitution is clear in what it says. And I think our statement of faith is clear in what it says.” – Keahbone, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Lawton, Okla.

“I think we can do better as an expression of our complementarianism. I mean, we can do much better than the Law Amendment. … The Bible says a bunch about what all church members are supposed to do. So what is exclusively pastoral? … This is poorly written, easily weaponized and will lead … to what I would call extra biblical action.” – Frank, senior pastor, Biltmore Baptist Church, Arden, N.C.

Bruce Frank

“I have no issue with the theology of the Law Amendment. I think [it’s] a governance issue, and I think the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 has sufficiently spoken to that.” – Spencer, senior pastor, Sevierville First Baptist Church, Sevierville, Tenn.

The constitutional amendment, long called the “Law Amendment” because of its original author – pastor Mike Law of Arlington, Va. – received in New Orleans the first of two required approvals in consecutive annual meetings for passage.

Candidates have expressed nuanced views affirming the need for varied levels of transparency across the convention. Only Moore is on the record expressing transparency on par with information the IRS requests on Form 990 for nonprofits, although churches and religious organizations like the SBC are exempted from submitting the form.

Dan Spencer

Regarding sexual abuse reform, both Frank and Keahbone served on the Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF), and Keahbone also served on the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force charged with implementing the SATF’s suggestions. Both approve of the ARITF’s work. Others have expressed varied views affirming some of the latest recommendations, while opposing others.

Spencer approves the recommendations. Moore approves an abuse-related database of convicted abusers but disapproves of the process currently on the table to create one. Pressley applauded the ARITF’s work. Allen would recommend a financially prudent plan, sound legal strategies and a “methodologically wise” blueprint for action.

Other SBC officer candidates

First vice president:

  • Brad Graves, senior pastor, First Baptist Church Ada, Ada, Okla.

Second vice president:

  • Eddie Lopez, senior pastor, First Baptist Church en Español of Forney, Texas

Registration secretary:

  • Don Currence, administrative pastor, First Baptist Church, Ozark, Mo.

Recording secretary:

  • Nathan Finn, executive director, Institute for Transformational Leadership; professor of faith and culture, North Greenville University, Tigerville, S.C.

SBC officer elections are slated for 4 p.m. June 11, registration secretary; 1:45 p.m. June 11, recording secretary; 7:05 p.m. June 11, president; 8:40 a.m. June 12, first vice president and 10:40 a.m. June 12, second vice president.

2025 Pastors’ Conference President

The Pastors’ Conference will elect a 2025 president during the meeting June 9-10 at the Indianapolis Convention Center. Candidates for the role are:

  • Chris Bolt, pastor of theology and apologetics, Village Church, North Chesterfield, Va.
  • Brad Whitt, senior pastor, Abilene Baptist Church, Martinez, Ga.
  • D.J. Horton, senior pastor, Church at the Mill, Spartanburg, S.C.