The nation's largest Protestant denomination has a new president to lead them for the next year: North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear.
The 45-year-old pastor won with nearly 69 percent of the vote, easily outdistancing Dr. Ken Hemphill, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Greear succeeds Memphis pastor Steve Gaines, who had served two one-year terms. On his selection as president, Dr. Greear said he's excited about the future.
Greear on anti-Pence motion
On Tuesday, SBC messengers defeated a motion (by Garrett Kell of Alexandria, MA) to amend the agenda to replace Vice President Mike Pence's address (scheduled for Wednesday morning at 11:00) with a time of prayer. After his election as SBC president, Dr. J.D. Greear was asked by a reporter to share his stance on that motion:
"Well, you heard lots of different opinions out there if you were out there on the convention floor this morning. I think what you're looking at there is a difference, a question of interpretation. There are some who are saying that Pence's appearance is a way to honor those who are in authority – that we would give the same opportunity to a Democrat who was in power if they asked for that thing. So it's a part of honoring [them] and part listening, and it's not meant to be a partisan endorsement.
"There are others who say that You can say that all you want, but it still looks like a partisan endorsement by having him there.
"I think you see there's a difference of opinion as to how to interpret the event. The thing about interpretations is that you've got to ask who's going to interpret it what way. I think what we have to ask is, how is this going to be interpreted by everybody who's here and everybody who's listening. We respect the decision of the messengers – so they decided that they wanted to listen to him. I think that we owe it to them to be charitable ... that they are having Pence for the reasons that they say they are having Pence, which is to show honor to him and not to give endorsement.
"At the same time, we need to show empathy to those who hear a different story and a different narrative and understand why they see this as an endorsement no matter what they say. These are the two things that need to shape the conversation going forward – empathy and charity in these types of things.
"What has to be absolutely clear in this ... is that the Southern Baptist Convention we are a convention that believes that the scope of our leadership and authority ought to be by the Bible itself, especially those of us who lead churches. It means that we might have political opinions – strong political opinions; we may even think biblically informed political opinions – but we need to limit ourselves to finding what the Bible says and where God does not connect the dot in His Word, then we don't connect the dot and that we don't want to do anything that implies that all Christians should be Republicans or all Christians should be Democrats. We recognize that in our Convention we're going to have godly people, gospel people walking with God on both sides who can agree on issues that are clear in scripture: the sanctity of life would be one of those; God's love for the refugee – those kinds of things. We can be clear on what the Bible says, but we might differ on what the best way to approach tax policy or universal approach to healthcare or whatever a right stance is on global warming or any number of those things.
"So I want us to speak with one voice about where we can be clear on what the Bible says."
"I don't think [my election] represents some kind of repudiation of the past, but I do think there's a sense in which there's some new things are happening," Greear shared. "What you hope you've heard is there's no change in Southern Baptist beliefs, no change in Southern Baptist focus on mission. We do hope to have a gospel culture that is more reflective of what we say we believe – a culture that is manifested in transparency, in humility, in charity, in generosity."
Baptist Press story: J.D. Greear seeks unity, diversity
Will Hall, director for the office of public policy with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, says everyone should pray for Greear as he leads. Southern Baptists, he says, need to be on guard for liberalism creeping into the denomination, but says "soul-winning will solve everything" – and he trusts Greear will pay attention to that.
"He has said that his focus is going to be on evangelism," says Hall, "and I think we should take him at his word on that – but also hold him accountable for that."
Greear leads The Summit Church, which boasts nine campuses and a membership just under 10,000. He holds master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
'A rush to judgment'
Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding the termination of Dr. Paige Patterson as president – then as president emeritus – of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary isn't over.
Today, messengers to the convention will consider a motion by Arkansas pastor Tom Hatley for the executive committee of the seminary board of trustees to be dismissed from their duties. A former trustee chairman of the International Mission Board, Hatley says the way Patterson was fired was a "horrible situation."
"[When l led the IMB], I knew what it was like for pressures to come at you, for people to demand somebody's head on a platter," he tells OneNewsNow. "And I knew how to walk that through processes, do investigation, take the time to breathe and pray."
Those kinds of procedures, says Hatley, were not followed. "This was a rush to judgment done without Dr. Patterson even in the country, without even a phone call to his lawyer, with evidence that was very spurious and later disproved – and yet they've done nothing to try to correct their error."
He argues that the only choice is to release these people and put new leaders in place.
"And by doing that we can turn the page and move on," says Hatley. "Otherwise, this could become the new norm of how our agencies operate with political agendas in the dark of night: 3 a.m. decisions while people are out of the country – that cannot be allowed to become the new norm or we'll just dissolve into chaos and no longer be a witness for the Lord."
The vote on Hatley's resolution will take place at 2:45 pm today (Wednesday).
Patterson had been scheduled to preach at the Dallas gathering, but he withdrew on Friday saying he chose "to do what I can to contribute to harmony within the Southern Baptist Convention."