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SBC presidency vote stirs intrigue & debate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Intrigue abounds over the upcoming election of officers of the Southern Baptist Convention.

One nominee for SBC president has been announced -– Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd. But one potential nominee -– Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson -– has stated that he will vote for another pastor if that pastor, whom Burleson did not name, agrees to be nominated.

Floyd has been publicly endorsed by one of the SBC’s six seminary presidents, Paige Patterson. That endorsement prompted a word of caution from the SBC Executive Committee’s president, Morris H. Chapman.

Floyd’s nomination also sparked a pro-con exchange of opinion pieces published by the Florida Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Florida convention.

The SBC has not had a highly publicized presidential race since 1994 when Florida pastor Jim Henry won the office over Alabama pastor Fred Wolfe during the SBC’s sessions in Orlando.

The election of officers will be part of the June 13-14 SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C. The current SBC president, Florida pastor Bobby Welch, will be completing the traditional two years of service.

Meanwhile, as of May 15, no nominees had been announced for first vice president of the convention.

For second vice president, three nominees have been announced, each from churches which forward less than 10 percent of the undesignated offerings received from their members through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ channel of support for state, national and international missions and ministries. CP giving by Floyd’s church also is less than 10 percent.

The 10 percent figure was suggested in a report aimed at strengthening the Cooperative Program and adopted by the executives of the state Baptist conventions and the SBC Executive Committee in February.

Recent developments include:

FLOYD’S NOMINATION -– The nomination of Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale in northwest Arkansas, was announced May 8 by Georgia pastor Johnny Hunt, who earlier had been seen as the choice of various SBC conservatives.

If elected by messengers, Floyd said in an interview with Baptist Press that he would “passionately lead a desperate call to a spiritual movement in this denomination, a spiritual movement that is biblically based, Jesus-centered and Holy Spirit-controlled.” Floyd said it would complement the “Everyone Can” emphasis by Welch for the SBC to baptize 1 million people during the current 2005-06 church year.

Floyd also said he would underscore “the centrality of the local church,” which he described as “the heartbeat … the center of this denomination.” The SBC, he said, exists “to serve those local churches for the purpose of helping them carry out the Gospel of Christ together across the world.”

As to his church’s giving, the SBC’s Annual Church Profile survey completed by the individual churches showed $32,000 contributed through the Cooperative Program (.27 percent) and $189,000 to the SBC allocation budget (1.58 percent) from $11,952,137 in undesignated receipts. The church administrative officer noted to BP that the church gave over $489,000 to SBC causes and spent about $2,648,000 total in support of missions and evangelism during the budget year, Oct. 1, 2004, through Sept. 30, 2005.

Floyd said the Cooperative Program has involved voluntary cooperation since its founding in 1925. He also noted that his church has started 17 congregations across the world and has organized a dozen mission trips a year, none of which is registered as CP giving.

HUNT’S DECISION -– Johnny Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock, told Baptist Press about his decision not to be nominated, “I prayed about it. I e-mailed my prayer list of about 100 families who also prayed about it. I fasted and asked God to guide me. I just don’t feel it’s the time. Is it a forever no? I don’t know. But right now [this church] is in its greatest days in building for the Kingdom.”

BURLESON’S STATUS –- On his Internet site May 11, Wade Burleson stated he had “received at least twenty five requests from individuals desiring to either nominate me for President of the SBC or allow my name to be nominated by others. I have refrained from commenting when reporters ask my intentions, because I have sought out others to run for President, not myself. I have personally asked five men to run for President of the SBC. For various reasons these men did not feel led of God to agree to be nominated at this time.”

Speculation about Burleson for SBC president was fueled April 20 when Burleson withdrew as a speaker for the Younger Leaders Summit II slated June 12 in Greensboro. The announcement was made via an Internet site operated by Georgia pastor Marty Duren.

Duren wrote: “Citing the increasing likelihood that his name would be placed into nomination at the national level, Wade Burleson has asked not to appear at the Younger Leader Summit in Greensboro. In a phone conversation today, Burleson confirmed that numerous people had approached him about the possibility of being nominated and that if God was orchestrating it, then he needed to keep that door open.”

Burleson, a two-time president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, was in the news most recently when International Mission Board trustees rescinded their action to remove him from the board over issues involving “broken trust” and “resistance to accountability.” Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, had been challenged because he had criticized, via his weblog, or blog, IMB trustee actions that established policies to exclude missionary candidates not baptized in a church that holds to eternal security or those who practice a private prayer language. Burleson also has been critical of caucus groups allegedly meeting to set an agenda for the trustee board.

ANOTHER POTENTIAL NOMINEE –- Also on his blog May 11, Burleson stated a preference for an unnamed pastor for SBC president. Burleson made no comment about Floyd, whose nomination had been announced May 8.

Burleson wrote: “Recently I was introduced to a man who had been approached by several individuals, none of whom was me, to allow his name into nomination. This morning I had a lengthy conversation with this man and left quite impressed with his grasp of the issues, his desire to address them with both a firm resolution and gentlemanly grace, and his pledge to open up the doors of cooperation and participation to include all evangelical conservatives in the SBC and not just a select few. He is a great supporter of the Cooperative Program, a rock solid conservative, and pastor of a very strategic church. Though we might not see eye to eye soteriologically, he has pledged not to denigrate anyone in the SBC who holds to ‘reformed’ theology, believing the SBC and the BF&M [Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement] is broad enough for us all.

“If this man decides to allow his name into nomination for the Presidency, I will not allow mine,” Burleson wrote. “He will make a decision by the first of next week, and because I believe he would make a great President of the SBC and address the issues that concern us, I will give him my full support.”

PATTERSON’S ENDORSEMENT OF FLOYD –- Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in a statement May 12 cited several factors in endorsing Floyd.

Floyd “has faithfully served Southern Baptists” both as an Executive Committee member and, now, as a trustee of GuideStone Financial Resources, “where he has vigorously supported [GuideStone President O.S.] Hawkins’ continuing concerns for widows and the pastors of small churches.”

“Furthermore, Springdale, Ark., while rapidly growing, is hardly a metropolis,” Patterson said. “Yet, Dr. Floyd has built one of our greatest churches in a smaller community. Southern Baptists have always highly regarded evangelism and church growth as the sign of a church that inculcates the ethos of New Testament Christianity.”

Next, Patterson said, “Across the years, whenever he has made a mistake, like we all do, he has always humbly received correction and remedied anything for which a better way could be found. That sweet humility and openness commends him to us all.”

Patterson concluded, “Southern Baptists need a man whose moral fiber is unscathed by compromise with the world in respect to his home, his purity of life, and his integrity. Ronnie Floyd is such a man.”

CHAPMAN’S CAUTION -– Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman posted a 10-paragraph item on his blog, also on May 12, questioning the wisdom of an SBC entity head nominating or endorsing an individual for SBC office or in being nominated for office.

Chapman did not mention Patterson by name. Patterson served as SBC president from 1998-2000 while he was president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Nor did Chapman mention another SBC seminary president by name, Danny Akin, Southeastern’s current president, who has announced that he will nominate North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear for SBC second vice president.

An SBC entity head who engages in SBC elections by endorsing or nominating an individual “potentially alienates some who otherwise hold him [the entity head] in high esteem because they differ with the person he has embraced publicly for an elected office,” Chapman wrote. “Consequently, the entity head endangers his potential to provide effective counsel and spiritual leadership to the larger body of Southern Baptists although their beliefs may coincide with the entity head on most other issues.”

Chapman asked whether a breach might occur with one or more trustees “from the endorsement or nomination undertaken publicly by the chief executive. At the least, it is an unneeded risk. At the worst, fractured relationships with the very people to whom the SBC has entrusted our accountability could be the consequence.”

Chapman concluded, “When I accepted the invitation of the SBC Executive Committee to become its chief executive officer, I agreed never to endorse or campaign for a candidate running for state and national political office. Some of the same reasons for making this pledge would apply to the election of state and national offices within a religious body. Why then should I publicly endorse or nominate a candidate for an elected office in the Southern Baptist Convention? Southern Baptists have well demonstrated godly wisdom through the years and the ability to sense the gentle nudge of God’s Holy Spirit in their decisions. What more is needed?”

RETICENCE OVER FLOYD -– Michael Petty, pastor of First Baptist Church in Marianna, Fla., in an opinion piece on the Florida Baptist Witness website May 11 questioned Floyd’s nomination for SBC president because of the Arkansas church’s record in Cooperative Program giving.

“Southern Baptists need to elect a president who will lead by example and by experience,” Petty wrote. “In spite of the many wonderful ministries of First Baptist Springdale under Ronnie Floyd’s leadership, we do not see a substantial example of cooperation through the CP. Certainly between now and June we can find and nominate a conservative leader who has a proven record of cooperative leadership and CP support.”

Petty also stated, “Though I have never met Brother Floyd, I like him. I have several of his books. I have enjoyed his television broadcasts. He is a strong conservative who faithfully preaches the Bible.”

But, he said, “… it is vitally important that we select leaders who not only demonstrate cooperation by their leadership in their local churches, but also will lead our convention in a deeper understanding and commitment to cooperative support, while maintaining our firm theological convictions outlined in the Baptist Faith and Message.”

SUPPORT FOR FLOYD -– Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, in an opinion piece May 14 on the Witness website, countered, “No level of percentage giving to the Cooperative Program was ever intended to be a litmus test to define a faithful Southern Baptist church.

“… [O]ur forefathers set forth that the cooperation between individuals and churches and convention bodies should carefully conserve self-determination or autonomy,” Traylor wrote. “Each should define its own sphere of involvement. When we even hint that one is not worthy to serve their convention because they do not give enough, we are surrendering this principle. Every church will vary greatly in form, in size, in purpose, in geographic extent and in conditions of membership. Each has an obligation to Christ alone to extend the Lord’s kingdom. We do that best together as we allow each equal access to roles of leadership.”

Traylor asked, “Should SBC entity heads resign if they are members of churches that give less that 10 percent? What about state executives? Must they qualify? Should trustees of our boards step down that have membership in churches giving less than the ‘golden amount’?”

Traylor noted his support of the Cooperative Program, describing it as “a God-inspired way of doing missions,” and stated, “I add my voice to the call to Southern Baptists to increase giving to this wonderful cooperative delivery system for the Gospel.”

He concluded, “Dr. Floyd is a man who has been a loyal Southern Baptist all of his ministry…. He would be a great leader as president of the SBC. As the pastor of a Pensacola church that gives 10 percent to the CP, I plan to support Ronnie Floyd.”

SECOND VP NOMINEES –- The three pastors who have been announced as nominees for SBC second vice president are Wiley Drake of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif.; J.D. Greear of the Summit Church in Durham, N.C.; and Jay Adkins of the New Orleans-area First Baptist Church in Westwego, La.

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