Bart Barber handily won the SBC presidential election. The Old Guard got snubbed a second time, despite going to huge lengths to win.
So far, the 2022 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has been quite a surprise in a lot of ways. First and foremost, on Tuesday the denomination elected a new president for the next two years. To get to their ballots, attendees navigated a veritable minefield of SBC faction warfare between the Old Guard and Pretend Progressives.
The Old Guard expressed some very strong feelings about this election. But the meeting’s attendees had other ideas. This faction fought hard to win, and they’ve dishonestly positioned themselves as the SBC’s saviors. But we know they’re not, and the multiple snubs from SBC’s voters underline that fact.
SBC 101: The two current factions fighting for control of the SBC
Two different factions currently squabble for control of the SBC. Both factions tend to view their plans and goals in terms of the so-called Conservative Resurgence. This massive schism steered the SBC into its current alarmingly-conservative waters between the 1970s and 1990s.
The Old Guard: They think the schism didn’t go nearly far enough. They want to pick it back up again so they can continue to drive out all suspected liberals and progressives in the SBC. Their response to the SBC’s scandals with racism and sex abuse is to demand that Southern Baptists just Jesus harder. Tom Ascol was their major candidate in the presidential election this month. Their secondary candidate, Voddie Baucham, never actually made it to the election ballot—for some strange reason.
Pretend Progressives: NOT “the New Guard.” Also not progressive (or liberal) at all. They’re largely identical to the Old Guard in terms of theology and the SBC’s culture wars. That said, they act nicer to sex abuse victims, even if they sometimes act completely contrary to their kind words. They think the Conservative Resurgence was great, but that it’s over now, and ya know, maybe the Old Guard’s overreacting a little. Also, they do seem to think a denominational response to sex abuse and racism needs to happen. However, so far they’ve proven largely unwilling to make the massive changes to the SBC’s power structures and culture to do it. They chose Willy Rice as their first candidate in the election, but after Tom Buck forced him to drop out by revealing a serious confidence, they ran Bart Barber instead.
These are not the names the factions use for themselves, obviously. In fact, I don’t think they have names for themselves, which is why I had to come up with something in the first place. But the Old Guard does have some impressive insults for their enemies. These include “SBC elites,” which is hilarious considering how little difference there is between them all, and “Democrats” and “liberals,” which makes them postmodern by their own warped misunderstanding of the term.
The Old Guard went on the offensive this week
Gosh, you wouldn’t expect a modern-day annual meeting of a Christian denomination to cast some procedural votes to become an arena filled with demons and angels duking it out over ultimate stakes between good and evil, would you? But here we were. The Old Guard was talking this meeting up like Anaheim, California was the scrubby fields of Armageddon itself, according to the Washington Post:
“You don’t advance the kingdom of God by lining up with the kingdom of Satan,” John MacArthur, a dean of conservative evangelical preaching, told the audience, referring to issues including the role of women and addressing racism. “You will never advance the kingdom of God by being popular with the world. If you think you will, you’re doing the Devil’s work. How can you negotiate with people who hate Christ, hate God, hate the Bible and hate the Gospel?”Washington Post
This incendiary rhetoric is par for the Old Guard’s course these days. But it seems to have shocked the sensibilities of news sites like Raw Story and Salon. Both sites declared that this faction had gone “full MAGA” to appeal to SBC voters.
I’ve been saying for many months now that the Old Guard is feeling the burn these days. They’ve watched their territory shrink by the week. They keep losing their dust-ups over how to handle the SBC’s crises (regarding racism and sex abuse, mainly). The Pretend Progressives just can’t seem to lose!
And now, they knew that they needed to win the 2022 election for SBC president to maintain any semblance of power.
So yes. Characterizing their enemies as literal Satanic minions was the very least they were prepared to do to win.
The Old Guard pulled out the stops to scare SBC voters
Of course, John MacArthur and his pals weren’t content to merely characterize their enemies in the SBC as literal Satanic minions who wanted to “negotiate” with heathens who totally literally “hate” Jesus, Yahweh, the Bible, and “the Gospel.” (That’s Christianese for the general message of evangelicalism: join us and obey our commands, or our imaginary friend will torture your ghost forever after you die. For some inscrutable reason, they call this message “the Good News.”)
They also wanted to frighten SBC voters with a vision of a defanged SBC that had fallen to the Satanic forces of—shudder!—liberalism.
“Pretty soon it will be women preachers, social justice, then racism, then [critical race theory], then victimization because the world is a ball and chain, and when you’re hooked, it will take you to the bottom. They hate the truth,” MacArthur said to a crowd that flipped, through the night, between pin-drop silence and cheers of “That’s true!”Washington Post. (Challenge round: spot all the logical fallacies and cognitive biases this guy keeps using!)
MacArthur thundered his divisive message to a pack of ultraconservative culture warriors. And his desperate hope was for them to outnumber their enemies in the vote for SBC President.
A bad day for an already beleaguered faction
The Old Guard was already having a tough time this week.
On Monday, a bunch of SBC pastors came together as usual for what they call the Pastors’ Conference. It’s just a thing pastors attend to get some rah-rah and companionship ahead of the Annual Meeting proper. But one of the things these pastors do is elect a president just for this conference itself. Really all the President of the Pastors’ Conference does is decide on speakers and an agenda for the next couple of Pastors’ Conferences.
The Old Guard arrived ready to fight. For this role, they nominated their previous other candidate for the SBC presidency, Voddie Baucham. Very obviously, they wanted to win something, anything.
They’d already lost their bid to put three Old Guard extremists onto the Executive Committee. A bunch of them had quit in a huff last fall over how their enemies wanted to handle the sex abuse crisis.
The next day, the SBC as a whole would vote on the president of the entire denomination. And the Old Guard had already lost a couple of minor dust-ups on the way to that vote.
Meet our four candidates
Other candidates were involved here. The other two were Frank Cox and Robin Hadaway.
Missionary superstar Wade Akins nominated Hadaway early on. I guess he was hoping that the SBC’s voters would be sick of faction warfare and elect him as an outsider.
At the very last second, someone nominated Frank Cox. Cox is a pastor from Lawrenceville, Georgia, which is a faraway suburb of Atlanta. I haven’t the faintest why someone nominated him, nor why he thought it’d be a good idea to run.
These two fellas ran against Old Guard extremist Tom Ascol and Pretend Progressive Bart Barber.
Tom Ascol dreams of a Republic of Gilead of his very own. He is one of the scariest, most authoritarian people jockeying for power in the SBC right now.
Interestingly, Bart Barber replaced his faction’s original candidate, Willy Rice. One of Ascol’s minor power-grubbing hangers-on, Tom “Anger Management Issues” Buck, forced Rice out of the race by threatening to reveal a serious secret about one of Rice’s deacons. Rice thwarted him by simply revealing it.
Rice had hoped to remain in the race by simply issuing an apology. But the uproar was (appropriately and rightly) too great for that.
Then, Bart Barber stepped into the open candidacy spot instead.
(Barber was regarded as a stronger candidate anyway. So, I hope the Pretend Progressives remember to send Tom Buck a thank-you note and muffin bouquet for interfering like he did!)
A four-way race that the Old Guard needed to win
In these cases, the SBC runs a first vote to winnow out two candidates. And as anybody might have predicted, Frank Cox and Robin Hadaway got eliminated.
In the runoff election to follow, Bart Barber got 61% of the votes to Tom Ascol’s 39%.
I wish I could have seen Ascol’s face when he realized he’d lost.
Maybe Jesus doesn’t wanna save the SBC, Old Guard dudes
Tom Ascol and his pals formed a loose organization called the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN). They stress that it’s not a new denomination or anything. But a look at its “Anaheim” page reveals that its entire stated purpose is to save the SBC from itself.
That page is full of emotionally-charged language that seems custom-designed to get conservative Baptists primed for battle and scared of demons and liberals (which might as well be the same thing, to them) around every single corner. Just check it out:
The SBC is drifting in a liberal direction. Critical Race Theory has crept into our seminaries, women preaching is becoming more accepted, some have begun to soften on LGBTQ issues, and plummeting baptism numbers reveal that the Great Commission is no longer the central focus of our denomination.Conservative Baptist Network, “Anaheim” page
So, let’s not tell these guys about the Million Baptism Challenge in 2005.
Actually, let’s do exactly that, because they are making a fact-based claim here that can actually be tested.
The assertion: focusing on the SBC’s serious flaws and crises detracts from recruitment, while ignoring those flaws and crises allows the SBC’s recruiters to focus on recruitment. And that focus, in turn, brings in more recruits.
So let’s see how the SBC did right after the predecessors of today’s Old Guard got almost everything they wanted, which included ignoring sex abuse and racism.
The million-baptism challenge that couldn’t
Back in 2004, the then-president of the SBC, Bobby Welch, issued a huge challenge to his sprawling flock. He wanted them to bag a million baptisms the next year.
Yes. A million.
The SBC has never had a year where they recorded a million baptisms. The most they have ever had, I think, was 445k in 1972. In the 1990s and 2000s, they flirted with high 300k/low 400k numbers.
But a million? No.
This challenge became a sort of referendum on Jesus’ approval of the Conservative Resurgence. Recruitment had been the whole stated reason why that schism had happened at all, as one Christian site reminds their readers:
What has been labeled the “conservative resurgence” that gained control of the Southern Baptist Convention beginning in 1979 was based in large part on the argument that allowing the convention to drift unchecked toward liberalism would result in lost zeal for soul winning and fewer baptisms.Good Faith Media
And, uh, the SBC failed utterly.
Utterly and completely.
In fact, they bagged fewer baptisms in 2006 than they’d managed in 2005. (2004: 387k; 2005: 371k; 2006: 364k; 2007: 345k. With one exception, a slight jump in 2009, baptism numbers only decreased from then on out.)
So, the facts do not support the claim that CBN’s page makes.
In reality, the Old Guard is wrecking the SBC
It’s important to remember that the Old Guard largely owned the SBC for many years, thanks to staffing most of the Executive Committee. This top-ranked committee handles the SBC’s day-to-day operations, decides on budgets for its various sub-groups, and speaks for the denomination in most respects. Thus, the Old Guard largely set the entire agenda for the denomination regarding its current crises. They decided not to address sex abuse, and they decided not to worry about entrenched racism.
This all happened on their watch.
During their control of the SBC, it fell into complete disarray. They not only did not save the SBC, as CBN’s Anaheim page claims to want, but it sparked a decline that still has not bottomed out.
Giving the Old Guard control of the SBC again would not save it, any more than this faction’s predecessors saved it after they won the schism slapfight. It would only keep them in money and power for a bit longer as the gravy train runs further off the rails.
I don’t think the other faction could save the SBC either, don’t get me wrong. But at least they might make things right by the many victims of the SBC’s breathtaking hypocrisy.
How will the Old Guard respond to these losses?
It’s hard to say quite yet.
But here’s ol’ Tom Ascol bellowing about how his enemies in the SBC are totes Satanic minions on Tuesday:
Tom Ascol isn’t done yet, I don’t think, and neither is his faction. He’s still thrashing in the water as he sinks, lashing out at anybody he possibly can. In that tweet above, the dude’s literally implying that the SBC’s voters were tricked by Satan into voting for his enemy faction’s candidates. (The ways of a man are always right to him, hmm?)
So I’m guessing he and his pals will have some entertaining finger-pointing and vilifying to do soon. Heck, we might even see the CBN peel away from the SBC, though that’s a real outside shot, given the huge money-making machine that the SBC still is. I don’t think CBN is willing to give that up quite yet.
But that still leaves a lot of room for this faction to maneuver.
The Old Guard lost a major battle today, but their war is still far from over.