The SBC's Old Guard announces presidential candidates
And they tell us everything we need to know about the schism heating up right now in the SBC.
To shamelessly borrow from the great Lord Tennyson: In the spring, a Gen X columnist’s fancy lightly turns to this year’s Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In election years, these meetings get extra-exciting for observers of this embattled denomination. And this year’s election is going to be extra-dextra-exciting because it occurs during one of the SBC’s schisms. This year, the Old Guard and Pretend Progressives will clash for temporary ownership of the SBC. Winner take all. (Losers? Well, we’ll get to that at a later date.)
Let’s meet the two candidates offered up by the Old Guard.
By the way: The SBC itself doesn’t have names for its factions, as far as I can tell. The faction names are just how I perceive them.
A quick overview of the SBC factions
The Old Guard consists of regressive Southern Baptist leaders who express unalloyed horror at all the social progress the SBC is making lately. In particular, they want to clamp down hard on female pastors and Critical Race Theory (CRT). Guys like Al Mohler live here, and possibly Paige Patterson (though he has extremely close ties to their subfaction).
An especially regressive, extremist subfaction of the Old Guard seeks to clamp down extra-hard on any hint of social progress. These guys would be right at home in the Republic of Gilead. Names to know: Tom Ascol, Mike Stone (who ran for the presidency last year and lost by a narrow margin to Ed Litton).
The Pretend Progressives are not a “new guard.” They’re just the ones opposing the Old Guard. And they’re doing it by pretending to want social progress. They don’t want that at all, however. See, progress would require entirely more overhauling of the SBC’s leadership and processes than they’d ever be willing to do. It’d also require them to abandon their culture wars, and none of them want to do that. Don’t be silly! Rather, they use social progress as a convenient tool to attract support from the many SBC-lings who genuinely want progress. This group has been winning most of the SBC’s battles lately. Names to know: J.D. Greear (former president of the SBC), Russell Moore (though he’s left the SBC), Ed Litton (the current president of the SBC).
Their subfaction really does seem to want real progress. They know that this progress requires overhauling, and they’re willing to do it. We find a lot of Black SBC pastors here, including Fred Luter (the only Black man who’s ever been elected president of the SBC), along with various survivors of the SBC’s sex abuse mega-scandal. Alas, they hold almost no power within the denomination.
How to put forth a candidate, SBC style
The SBC is a massive corporation that tries to operate like a down-home country chapel. As a result, their processes reflect a lot of cronyism and opaque, smoky-backroom, behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing. Nowhere do we see this truth more clearly than in how the SBC’s presidential elections work.
To become the president of this massive corporation, the SBC’s rulebook sets forth only one requirement. In fact, it is the same requirement they set for every other position in their organization:
Officers of the Convention, all officers and members of all boards, trustees of institutions, directors, all committee members, and all missionaries of the Convention appointed by its boards shall be members of Baptist churches cooperating with this Convention.Article VIII, SBC Constitution
“Cooperating,” by the way, means that the church pays its dues in full, especially to the all-important Cooperative Program (CP), and also doesn’t do anything too off-limits. That last bit includes being too nice to gay people as well as being racist out loud or embarrassingly protective of sex abusers in ministry.
The pastors of cooperating churches tend to nominate candidates for this election. But as we’ll see, that’s not the only route to candidacy.
The Old Guard goes for the throat
This was absolutely hilarious. Check this out:
Normally, the SBC’s official news website, Baptist Press, breaks news of candidates.
This time, the Old Guard thumbed its collective nose at that fine SBC tradition. Instead, they broke their news on an extremist, conservative, Trump-fanboy media site called The Daily Wire. If you know about Ben Shapiro, the guy who expressed all that outrage over “WAP,” he helped found that site.
As a result, Baptist Press had to scramble to get info about the candidates onto the SBC’s official news website.
When I saw that, I just laughed so hard. Very little could better express the Old Guard’s utter contempt for the denomination’s direction than this move did.
They big mad, y’all. Beeeeeeeeg mad.
In this corner, the Old Guard candidates
The Old Guard advanced Voddie Baucham as a candidate. Baucham, a famous Black Southern Baptist preacher, might not be eligible as he’s not actually a member of any SBC churches right now. So, do you remember the SBC’s one requirement? Their, in fact, only requirement? He falls short of it. He’s currently a missionary and the Dean of Theology at a Zambian university. He doesn’t have an SBC church handy. As he put it:
“I am a missionary sent by an SBC church, supported by an SBC church, reporting to an SBC church, but am technically not a member of that SBC church because my family and I entrusted our souls to a healthy, indigenous, local Baptist church at the behest of our SBC church. Hence, it appears my commitment to missions and biblical church membership has rendered me ineligible for any office in the SBC,” he added. “At least that’s the way I read it.”Voddie Baucham in Christian Post
So, the SBC has to figure out what membership means for foreign missionaries in his situation.
Meanwhile, the extremists want Tom Ascol.
Tom “Republic of Gilead AHOY!” Ascol.
One of the most authoritarian leaders of the most authoritarian faction of the most authoritarian denomination in America.
I just can’t.
Oh, and the other candidates
As of this writing, two other candidates have announced nomination.
Superstar international missionary Wade Akins has nominated Robin Hadaway. It’s hard to tell exactly where Akins stands in the factions. His 2005 book has some very recognizable Old Guard names in it, but he hasn’t done much with them in the past 15 years. Hadaway, also an international missionary, is an interesting dark horse candidate. If the voters at the Annual Meeting care about recruitment enough, he might get some votes. I suspect they’ll have other things on their minds, though.
In addition, a North Carolina pastor is nominating his pal Willy Rice, who is the pastor of a Florida megachurch. He sounds like a Pretend Progressive, since he’s planning to carry forward the sex abuse investigation that this faction champions.
This situation with four nominees isn’t that unusual. Last year, the SBC had four candidates running (the 4th that time, Randy Adams, got almost no coverage at all–and almost no votes).
Chances are, the SBC will handle this 4-way the same way they did last year. Since no candidate got 50% of the votes, they dropped the two lowest (Al Mohler and Randy Adams), then had a runoff between Mike Stone and Ed Litton. Litton narrowly won with 52% of the votes.
The Old Guard platform: GET DEM GOL DANG LIBRULS OUTTA MAH SBC
In every single way, the Old Guard is lashing out at their enemies. As I said, the Pretend Progressives are not liberals in any way, shape, or form. They are not even moderates. They’re culture warriors who still hold to all the culture-war ideals of the Conservative Resurgence.
All the Pretend Progressives are doing is trying to be nicer about their -isms. Some of them aren’t Trump fanboys. Some of them even know that CRT gives scholars a good framework for assessing racial bias in legal and social systems, so it should be taught in seminaries. A few even think it’s okay for women to teach, as long as they’re properly harnessed to complementarian ideals. And they’re at least willing to give sex abuse survivors a platform.
That is as far as that faction goes. But to the Old Guard, their enemies might as well worship in the nude every morning in front of a pants-suited golden statue of Gloria Steinem. Check out this Baptist News writeup about the Old Guard:
One of the major wedge issues between current SBC leadership — which is conservative by any external standard — and the groups supporting Ascol and Baucham is fear that the SBC is sliding into “liberalism” and its leaders are being too influenced by a “woke” agenda that is feminizing men and challenging male authority.Baptist News
Liberalism. Woke agenda. Challenging male authority.
They seriously are saying this about their enemies.
It’s starting to look like the Old Guard just says this stuff about anyone who stands, politically, to the left of Stormfront.
The Old Guard is in it to win it
That narrow victory I mentioned is likely why Litton didn’t choose to run this year. He certainly could have. Almost all incumbent presidents have done so, if they haven’t hit their term limits. It was probably wise of him to refuse, though, since in the year he reigned the SBC’s newest schism has only heated up.
The Old Guard’s enemy faction, the Pretend Progressives, need a much stronger candidate to win this year than this literal who–no offense, Litton seems nice, but he is–from a tiny Mobile suburb that I guarantee almost none of you have ever heard of in your life. Y’all, I lived in Mobile for three years in my early teens, and I had never even heard of it until I wrote about Ed Litton’s election. He just came out of nowhere.
The alternative might be for the Pretend Progressives to knock down the Old Guard hard enough that nobody would want to vote for them even if they were the only party in the election. I’m hearing what Willy Rice is laying down in his message to the SBC:
We must respond with transparency, courage, and, as necessary, deep contrition to the sexual abuse crisis. God is watching and so is our mission field. We cannot dodge or obfuscate our responsibilities at this moment. We are all awaiting the Guidepost report and the report of the Sexual Abuse Task Force. I am hopeful that it will provide us a way forward, but it will be important that our leaders accept this challenge head-on in a way that restores trust and confidence and treats people everywhere with the dignity and respect they deserve.Willy Rice, oh so subtly
Didja catch that oh-so-subtle reference to the Guidepost report? Yeah. The Sexual Abuse Task Force is releasing it shortly before the Annual Meeting. This committee is firmly in the pocket of the Pretend Progressives, and the Old Guard despises it and has tried to block and stymie everything its members have ever tried to do–which especially includes them hiring Guidepost at all to do any investigations.
Wanna bet what that report will say about Old Guard antics?
Whatever happens in June, it’s gonna be good. This race is only starting, and the Old Guard is already getting frantic.