The candidates for president of the Southern Baptist Convention are taking decidedly different approaches to the election in the short time before the SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans. The newcomer to the race, Mike Stone is on the road and raising his concerns about volatile issues facing the denomination, while the incumbent, Bart Barber, tweeted May 3 that he would be unable to participate in panel discussions, interviews, or podcasts prior to the convention. That has left Stone free to set the agenda for public discussion, especially on social media. And it has left reporters searching through Barber’s earlier interviews and posts to reiterate his views on key issues.
In his nomination announcement, Stone identified three urgent issues: evangelism, sexual abuse reform, and the “unsustainable” economic trajectory of the SBC Executive Committee, which spent half its $12.2 million in assets in a single year. He announced a commitment to a national evangelism strategy. He expressed support for the dismissal of Saddleback Church over its ordination of women pastors. And more recently he has expanded on his views of women.
Stone described his Georgia congregation as “the strictest of the strict complementarians” in a forum at Baton Rouge church May 16, one of several stops he is making ahead of the June 13 election. And he equated “soft complementarian” that he said is creeping into the SBC with egalitarianism.
“I don’t think that every church has to necessarily adopt that strict of a [complementarian] policy to be in cooperation with the SBC, although I would encourage them and wish that they would, but certainly at the pastoral level our Baptist Faith and Message has been very clear on that,” Stone said in the forum streamed online. Stone favors a proposed constitutional amendment to make it clear that women cannot serve in pastoral roles.
Stone also advocates appointing a new sexual abuse task force that will stop “just automatically believing and publishing all accusations” and “stop claiming responsibility for things that happen in independent, autonomous Southern Baptist churches.”
Without naming names, he was critical of some appointees and direction of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, which was appointed by incoming SBC President Barber last summer as a successor to the task force that explored the EC’s handling of abuse claims and began to implement their recommendations. That includes a tracking system and continued involvement of Guidepost Solutions through a new organization, which SBC messengers are expected to consider in New Orleans.
This is Stone’s second run for president, the first in 2021 against Ed Litton and Al Mohler. Many of his criticisms are aimed at incumbent Barber, an avuncular Texan who is eligible for a second one-year term. It has been customary for incumbents to run unopposed.
Barber’s May 3 tweet took him out of pre-election debate. But as the issues have not changed since the pivotal February EC meeting, his previous comments on women, Saddleback, and abuse tracking and reform will have to suffice.
Barber has stated previously that he agreed with the EC decision to dismiss Saddleback and the other churches that had women as pastors. As for clarifying the definition of pastor in relation to gender, he supports a process to update the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), whereas Stone favors a constitutional amendment as a more direct approach.
As reported by TAB Media, in a May 10 video on Twitter, Barber expects motions to be made at the annual meeting asking the next SBC president to appoint a committee to review the SBC’s constitution and bylaws and suggest changes regard the definition of “cooperation.” This also could lead to a review of the BF&M for updates or clarifications.
“I’m supportive of the idea of having a task force and reviewing these things, particularly when it comes to the structure of our governing documents and the meaning of cooperation,” Barber said.
With a high regard for the congregational nature of Southern Baptist polity, Barber supports allowing messengers to vote on an amendment initially proposed last year that would add wording to the constitution disqualifying from “friendly cooperation” a church that affirms, appoints, or employs a woman as a pastor of any kind.