Southern Baptists May See Presidential Showdown

An Oklahoma pastor may join the Southern Baptist Convention’s presidential race, possibly marking the first contested election in 12 years for the nation’s largest denomination.

One nominee for SBC president has already been announced. Last week, Atlanta pastor Johnny Hunt confirmed that he would nominate Arkansas pastor Ronnie W. Floyd at the Southern Baptist Convention meeting on June 13 in Greensboro, N.C.

Floyd, pastor of both First Baptists Church in Springdale and the Church at Pinnacle Hills, has already received the backing of some key SBC figureheads, including the ultra-conservative Paige Patterson – president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a main architect for the denomination’s conservative resurgence 25 years ago.

Floyd may be one of at least two nominees for the goodwill position, marking the first time since 1994 where contestants would compete to win office.

Another possible nominee is Wade Burleson, a two-time president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid.

Burleson had come under scrutiny in recent months for criticizing new policies by the International Mission Board that would exclude missionary candidates not baptized in a church that holds to eternal security or those who practice “private prayer language.”

Burleson, an IMB trustee, was voted off the board for criticizing the policies on his online blog, but was soon reinstated by the eventual unanimous rescission of the original vote.

In a May 11 blog entry, Burleson said he “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.”

While the Oklahoma pastor neither accepted nor rejected the requests, he affirmed in a separate internet entry that “there will be another” candidate in addition to Floyd.

“Who will the other candidate be? I'm not yet sure, but this one thing I know – there will be another one,” Burleson wrote Tuesday.

Burleson’s nomination symbolizes a growing movement against fundamentalism within the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination that has been littered with conservative-liberal conflicts for decades, and a shift toward broadening the views of the evangelical church.

“We must stop narrowing the parameters of cooperation in the area of missions and evangelism,” Burleson wrote in a May 16 entry about the most important issues the next SBC President must address. “We cannot disenfranchise committed, conservative Southern Baptists who hold to the integrity of the Scriptures but differ on the interpretations of minor doctrines of the sacred text.”

Other issues include expanding the list of those who lead the SBC to include “more than just a few who are recycled in their appointments,” and including more young leaders in the denomination.

The election of officers will be part of the June 13-14 SBC annual meeting in North Carolina. The current SBC president, Florida pastor Bobby Welch, will be completing two-one-year terms of service.

The last contested SBC presidential race was in 1994, when Florida pastor Jim Henry won over Alabama pastor Fred Wolfe.