GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–Frank Page, the Southern Baptist Convention’s new president, declared in his first news conference a commitment to broadening the involvement of Southern Baptists in decision-making opportunities while clearly affirming the conservative resurgence that resulted in leadership changes throughout the SBC.
“I do not believe the convention elected me to somehow undo the conservative resurgence. That is not who I am, not what they’ve asked for, not what they want,” Page said. Instead, the soft-spoken pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., said he believes the vote for him was a wakeup call from grassroots Southern Baptists to focus on the Cooperative Program channel of missions support and to broaden the base of involvement in the convention.
Garnering more than twice as many votes as either of the other candidates, Page admitted his surprise at being elected.
“I am a little taken aback by this,” Page told reporters, noting his lack of national notoriety.
“One of the things this says is the Southern Baptist Convention belongs to His people and to Him — and by that I mean people have spoken a powerful message,” Page said. “It’s a clear call from the people of the Southern Baptist Convention that we want to strengthen our work together through the Cooperative Program as we expand involvement to reach out to godly, conservative men and women who perhaps have not been utilized in the past.”
Declaring his commitment to tap “a reservoir of strong wisdom and ability,” Page said he will draw from younger and older leaders who serve small, medium and large churches “who perhaps have just simply been overlooked.” Page said he believes messengers are calling on him to place an emphasis “not on a personality, but a cause of evangelism and missions that we do together.”
CRITERIA FOR INVOLVEMENT
In responding to a question by Kentucky Western Recorder Editor Trennis Henderson, Page clarified the criteria he will use in making appointments to the SBC committees over which he has influence. Page reiterated the three conditions he offered prior to the election, while adding one more.
“One of the criteria for involvement is to have a sweet spirit,” Page chuckled. “I don’t have time to deal with grouchy people anymore.” Secondly, he would seek men and women who believe in winning the world to Jesus, an attitude Page described as “an evangelist’s heart.”
Page’s third condition addressed a commitment to biblical inerrancy, the doctrine most often identified with the conservative resurgence. “I believe in the integrity of the Word of God. I want that very, very clear,” Page said, alluding to a statement by the Florida pastor who nominated him.
Forrest Pollock of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., in his speech nominating Page, affirmed Page’s conviction on inerrancy and said the Carolina pastor would simply look for men and women who had not previously been involved.
“I’m not trying to undo a conservative movement that I have supported all of these years,” Page told reporters.
A New York Times reporter asked Page about the role bloggers played in his election. Page said he was not certain of their influence but suspected it was “perhaps an inordinate amount of influence given the number” of weblogs devoted to SBC life. He predicted it would be a growing force or phenomenon in SBC life.
While “a small amount of people” write on the blogs, Page pointed out that “leaders in the SBC do read those blogs to try to get a barometer of what certain subgroups are thinking or saying.”
Florida Baptist Witness Executive Editor James A. Smith Sr. asked Page about his future relationship with SBC entity leaders who had endorsed another candidate. Page said it is worth noting those leaders had indicated their support for another candidate before he announced he would allow his nomination. “So I have no doubt they all would have endorsed me if they had had that opportunity,” Page joked.
“To this point [they have] been nothing but Christian gentlemen to me and I expect them to continue,” Page added.
When pressed as to whether endorsements are appropriate by entity leaders, Page said there is the potential of hurting an institution if a substantial number of the constituents disagreed. “You can’t tell people what to do. You can advise or encourage. I do think it would be best for entity heads not to endorse specific candidates,” Page said.
Page added he supports presidential candidate Ronnie Floyd’s call for an emphasis on spiritual renewal. Such revival will lead to support for missions, the Cooperative Program and “a spike in evangelism,” Page said.
When Southern Baptist Texan managing editor Jerry Pierce asked what issue he would uphold in a fashion similar to current SBC President Bobby Welch’s promotion of increased baptisms, Page said he really had not thought about it.
“Since I did not think I would win, I have not got all this together at this point,” Page said, commending Welch’s attention to the Great Commission, adding, “I wouldn’t ever want to demean or pull away from that.”
South Carolina Biblical Recorder Editor Don Kirkland noted that Page had not insisted on “a strict 10 percent rule” regarding Cooperative Program giving, then asked for his position on a report that messengers had approved regarding the need for increased CP gifts from churches.
“I would rather not use a specific percentage amount because my entire point has been to broaden involvement, not to restrict involvement,” Page said. “At the same time, I do believe a church’s giving to the Cooperative Program is a serious and an obvious expression of its support for doing joint missions.”
Page spoke of a friend he described as “a five-point Calvinist” who led his church to move from giving 2 percent to 8 percent of undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program. “Would I support appointment of such a person? Yes. Does he reach that wonderful 10 percent mark? No. But it shows a serious sacrificial, missional mindset of giving to the Cooperative Program.
“I do not advocate a specific amount, but heard both sides of that this morning and understand some people wanted teeth in that,” Page added, referring to a discussion of a motion to suggest that convention leaders come from churches that give at least 10 percent through the Cooperative Program. “Whether people believe in a specific amount, they have said the Cooperative Program is important. I think that’s the reason I’m here.”
Page acknowledged his election could represent a turning point in the SBC when asked by a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter if a different tone might result. “I do think it is a defining moment,” he stated, insisting he will “indeed echo a deep appreciation of the past — the sacrifices men and women have made.”
And yet, Page said his election reveals “the landscape has changed” and highlights a need to involve a much larger constituency. Referring to younger pastors, he added, “I know there is an emerging group of leaders who are seeking involvement.” When speaking to them, Page said he communicated, “Just because you demand it does not mean you deserve it. If you have a sweet spirit, evangelistic heart and commitment to the Word of God, there’s a place at the table. But remember that first point — a sweet spirit.”
Predicting “a great and glorious future for the convention as younger guys are brought in,” Page called that “a wonderful day for Southern Baptists.”
A Religion News Service reporter asked Page if his church could be described as a “mega-church.”
Noting the church had plateaued in 1993 and then began to decline in 1997, Page said worship attendance had more than doubled since 2001 to an average of more than 2,500, but he doesn’t consider it a mega-church in comparison with other Southern Baptist churches.
“Baptisms are still pitifully low,” Page conceded, although he said they have doubled in the past five years. The experience of turning around a plateaued church is one he hopes to encourage as president of the SBC.
Citing a statistic that between 75 and 80 percent of Southern Baptist churches are in decline, Page said, “they need to know there’s help and hope for declining, plateaued churches.”
Texas Baptist Standard Editor Marv Knox asked Page what role he would seek in the midst of “conflict at the International Mission Board and difficulty at the North American Mission Board.” Page said he had no idea. Telling reporters his role would be limited, he said each of the SBC entities is “controlled by and under the authority of” trustees elected by SBC messengers.
“The president of the Southern Baptist Convention does not have a direct role in the running of or correction of various entities,” Page said. While expressing respect for the trustee system, Page said he would encourage “godly resolution of any difficulties.”
Refusing to be drawn into evaluating comments offered at the Pastors’ Conference by Joyce Rogers of Cordova, Tenn., regarding concern about a possible narrowing of who can cooperate with the SBC, Page noted he couldn’t be sure of Rogers’ reference.
A Dallas Morning News reporter sought clarification as to whether Page would appoint an inerrantist with charismatic practices.
“I want to state clearly my belief in the inerrancy of God’s Word. I was an inerrantist before I knew what that meant,” Page said. Later, he specified his belief in the historicity of the first 11 chapters of Genesis “without any equivocation at all.”
Noting that his own congregation includes some Calvinists as well as a few charismatics, Page said he would be careful in going beyond the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 in narrowing doctrinal parameters.
“People with varying degrees of belief in certain theologies go further than others,” Page said. Potential committee nominees who hold to charismatic beliefs would be considered “on a case by case basis,” he said.
Page restated the three conditions involving a person’s attitude, evangelistic fervor and belief in inerrancy, adding a fourth priority related to Cooperative Program support. “They’ve got to be great at giving to CP,” he insisted.
“Southern Baptists are extremely conservative and I think those issues are pretty well nailed down and I would urge people to major on the majors and make sure, as we’ve heard several speakers state, there are some areas about which we can disagree,” Page said. “As long as we major on the fundamentals of the faith, there are some areas we can disagree on.”
Page said he wouldn’t back away from his opposition to what he called “hyper-Calvinism.” “Anyone who knows me knows that’s not going to happen.”
In reference to remarks he made about being inclusive in his appointments, Page said he is not “against” people in current positions of leadership, but believes a wider variety of Southern Baptists should be included.
“I am not talking about a revolution, a cleaning of the house,” Page said. “I’m just saying, instead of using the same people year after year, let’s make a clear effort to involve some wonderful people.”
Page said he owed no allegiance to anyone and recognized there were many who may not support him. “I’m just a normal pastor of a somewhat normal church,” he said. “I believe we can do together some great things for the Lord.”
An Associated Press reporter asked Page if his election should be regarded as a “moderating” of the SBC, and Page said he would not use such a term, preferring “a broadening of the base of support, and we pray, of involvement.” As for the reporter’s speculation of “the SBC showing a kinder, gentler face” through Page’s election, the new president said he hoped that would occur.
Page said he is an inerrantist, believing in the Word of God. “I’m just not mad about it,” he said.
Adding that he will attempt to speak the truth clearly, Page said he tries to be “kind” and to be reach out to both believers and unbelievers.
“Too long Baptists have been known for what we’re against,” Page said. “It’s time to say, ‘Please let us tell you what we’re for.’”
A London Guardian reporter asked Page how he viewed the distancing of the SBC from some Baptists around the world. Page said he knows of Baptists across Europe and other areas with whom Southern Baptists share common ideology, noting that some operate within official Baptist structures, while others do not.
Georgia Christian Index Editor Gerald Harris asked Page for additional information on his background and experiences. The 53-year-old pastor said he first professed faith in Christ not far from the hotel where he’s staying while in Greensboro. He described his childhood church, Southside Baptist, as a congregation some might call fundamentalist. “A lady and her husband invited my sister and me to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. They spoke about the love of Jesus and reached my heart.”
Born in Robbins, N.C., Page later lived half a block from the Greensboro Coliseum where he was elected SBC president. “This is home to me. It’s hard to imagine all this happened here in my home state.”
Page graduated from Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., and then earned his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, a school he chose because of its emphasis on evangelism and missions. After briefly serving in youth and music ministry, he was called to pastor First Baptist Church of Possum Kingdom Lake.
In addition to serving several other congregations in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia, Page soon celebrates 30 years in the ministry as he leads Taylors (S.C.) First Baptist Church.