GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–The three candidates expected to be nominated for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention during its June 13-14 annual meeting outlined their visions for the future of the convention during a series of radio interviews June 12.
One of the candidates went so far as to suggest further amendment of the SBC’s confession of faith to settle issues on charismatic practices akin to a recent policy adopted by the SBC’s International Mission Board.
The candidates appeared on “Jerry Johnson Live,” an interview-talk format program with Criswell Communications, based in Dallas. Johnson is president of Criswell College. His radio program appears regularly on KCBI Christian Radio in Dallas and on other stations in Texas and Oklahoma.
Jerry Sutton, a self-described “Johnny-Come-Lately” to the SBC presidential election, said in the radio interview he believes the SBC is “alive and well.” First mentioned as a candidate for the SBC presidency earlier in June, Sutton is best known as the pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., and also as the author of “The Southern Baptist Reformation” chronicling the history of the conservative resurgence in the SBC.
Sutton said he is unique among the candidates for the presidency, citing his historical insights as one way he would be able to bring “continuity” between where the convention has been and where it should go in the 21st century.
He said he hopes to clarify some of the issues facing the convention, including controversy involving the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and so-called “bloggers” who are calling for “a place for everybody at the table.” For example, Sutton said he is concerned by the situation at the IMB, where the practice of “private prayer languages” has prompted an additional guideline for new appointees. The IMB’s board of trustees recently stated that it would not appoint missionaries with the practice, even though IMB President Jerry Rankin has acknowledged that he has had a private prayer language for years.
“Southern Baptists need a level playing field,” Sutton said, citing the new policy for missionaries while the IMB president holds to the practice. “This is going to have to be addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message. I think there will have to be an amendment to it.”
Frank Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., said he felt free to allow his name to be submitted for the presidential nomination because of his desire “just to get things discussed” — among them, the situation at the IMB. Page has drawn support from a movement of younger conservatives who feel they should have greater influence in the development of denominational emphases and policies. He also has support among those who say the leadership of the convention is too closely controlled.
Page said he wants to involve more people in leadership. “I am tired of seeing the same names,” he said. He said he wants to see people elected to SBC positions who have a “sweet spirit,” evangelistic zeal, and who will affirm the inerrancy of the Bible.
Page said his presidency would not change the theological direction of the convention, but “broaden the tent numerically.” He was referencing the concern of some who, according to radio host Jerry Johnson, see him as a “big tent conservative,” or someone who will allow others with divergent theological views to direct convention affairs. But Page said he could not understand where the concerns came from because he is a conservative of record, a strong supporter of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and the author of numerous conservative writings.
“These concerns are not coming from anyone that knows me,” Page said. “I don’t understand them.”
Page said some may be suspicious of him because he has not been politically involved in the life of the convention. He described himself as an “irenic conservative” committed to the Cooperative Program. He said as president he would encourage churches to think about “missions and how we do missions.”
“I see this whole election as a referendum on the future,” Page said.
Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., also said the future of the SBC is one of his greatest concerns. He said the fact that there are three nominees indicates that the convention needs to provide “leadership that engages people, that listens to them and then that leads them in the right direction.”
Floyd has been endorsed by several Southern Baptist entity heads, including Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas. His endorsement of Floyd was called into question by Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, because the endorsement could be misconstrued as a conflict of interest.
Floyd said his top priority if elected to the SBC presidency would be to issue a call to every church in the convention “to call the nation to spiritual awakening.” He said the convention needs to engage issues and overcome the generational challenges before it.
“We need to learn the value of cross-generational leadership and we need to make the right choices,” Floyd said. He also said the convention needs to re-emphasize the centrality and autonomy of every local church, all the while reminding the people of the SBC that they need each other.
“We have fragmentation and disunity…. I’m not sure how to read it. Baptisms are down. This won’t change without a move of God,” Floyd said. “We do real well then we work together. We are very committed to reach the world for Christ and that’s the thing we do best together.”