Southern Baptists are mourning two men who each led the Southern Baptist Convention during a pivotal time in its history.
Evangelist Bailey Smith, who helped sustain the denomination’s return to conservative theology (known as the Conservative Resurgence) at its outset, died Jan. 14 at home in Georgia. He was 79.
Smith’s election as SBC president in 1980 was the second victory for conservatives following the landmark election of the late Memphis pastor Adrian Rogers in 1979.
Smith was pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., when he was elected SBC president. He followed a call to vocational evangelism in 1985, conducting area-wide crusades, church revivals, and overseas ministries. First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., led by Pastor Johnny Hunt, hosted one of Smith’s conferences.
“I believe that time will tell that there has been no man alive any more passionate about winning souls for Christ than Dr. Bailey Smith,” Hunt said.
Six days prior to Smith’s death, fellow former president Jimmy Allen died in Georgia at age 91. Allen, the denomination’s last moderate president, was known for his gregarious personality and engagement with cultural issues.
Allen was a confidant of President Jimmy Carter and once met with Ayatollah Khomeini on Carter’s behalf during the Iran hostage crisis. A hallmark of his SBC presidency was Bold Mission Thrust, a campaign adopted in 1978 “to enable every person in the world to have the opportunity to hear and to respond to the gospel of Christ by the year 2000.”
He led the SBC’s Radio and Television Commission from 1980-90 and the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Christian Life Commission from 1960-68.
While SBC conservatives and moderates alike came to applaud Allen’s thinking on race, biogra-pher Larry McSwain told Baptist Press, his “progressivism” in other areas like theology and U.S. politics “probably triggered some reaction” from Southern Baptists involved in the Conservative Resurgence.
Among Allen’s deepest personal struggles were the deaths of several close family members stemming from AIDS. He detailed the experience in the 1995 book “Burden of a Secret” and became an advocate for AIDS patients.