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ERLC’s Duke top candidate for Montana exec

BILLINGS, Mont. (BP) — Religious liberty advocate Barrett Duke has emerged as the top candidate for executive directorship of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention.

Bruce Speer, heading the MTSBC eight-member search team for the post, said Duke will receive the team’s unanimous recommendation for the executive directorship at the group’s annual meeting this fall.

“We did an exhaustive study of qualifications needed and interviewed five excellent candidates. And Barrett was head and shoulders above all other candidates we interviewed,” Speer said Aug. 23. “His experience both as a church planter and working closely with leaders in our government, we felt was an excellent combination to provide us the leadership we are looking for in our state.”

Duke, vice president of the Washington, D.C., office for Public Policy and Research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and director of the ERLC Research Institute, told Baptist Press he appreciates the chance to get closer to the local church.

“I am extremely excited about the opportunity to serve Montana Southern Baptists in this role,” the former Colorado church planter told BP. “I am deeply moved by the genuineness of the pastors and churches I have met since we started this conversation. There are many very godly, dedicated men and women serving the Lord in that great state. My wife and I would consider it a blessing to work with them.”

Duke will be recommended to the MTSBC executive board for the post Sept. 8 and to messengers at the Montana annual meeting in October, Speer said, describing Montana Baptists as “extremely delighted and pleased” that God has brought Duke to serve in the state. He characterized Duke as “a man of great integrity.”

Duke would lead the convention of about 135 churches in a state where less than 1 percent of adults are Southern Baptists and 38 percent of adults never or seldom attend church, according to the Pew Research 2015 Religious Landscape Study.

“Ever since my days planting and pastoring a church in Denver, Colo., the West has held a special place in my and my wife’s [Denise] heart,” Duke told BP. “The lostness across the West is heartbreaking, and the number of churches in comparison to the number of lost people burdens us deeply.

“We would consider it a great privilege and blessing to be able to return to the West and serve Montana Southern Baptists as they work to fulfill God’s calling to win the lost, make disciples, and serve as salt and light,” he said. “God has already joined our hearts to theirs.”

He would serve as the MTSBC chief operating officer, the treasurer and chief financial officer, the official director of MTSBC work and ministries, the director and supervisor of MTSBC staff and North American Mission Board missionaries in the state, and the editor of the Montana Baptist electronic newsletter.

ERLC president Russell Moore described Duke as “a man of conviction, humility and Christ-likeness.”

“It has been my joy to serve with him at the ERLC, and Southern Baptists have benefited from 20 years of his leadership here,” Moore said. “Montana Baptists will be served well by this remarkable Christian leader.”

Duke would replace Fred Hewitt, who is retiring in October from the executive director’s post he has held nearly nine years.

As leader of the ERLC’s advocacy arm, Duke communicates Southern Baptist convictions to elected and public officials, including President Obama, Congress and their staffs to encourage sound public policy. Duke is a founding fellow of the ERLC Research Institute, overseeing research on pressing moral and religious liberty issues, and working with a group of 70 distinguished fellows.

A former pastor, he is also active as a teacher, preacher, speaker, writer and editor, and holds a Ph.D. in religious and theological studies from the joint doctoral program of the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver. He and his wife attend church in Annapolis, Md., and have three grown children.