In what may be the SBC’s most significant political development in more than twenty years, convention messengers broke the insider hold on the powerful office of President and elected an outsider with no national connections, agency endorsements or loyalties to the recent controversial policy changes at the IMB. South Carolina Pastor Frank Page took just over 50% of the three-way vote on the first ballot, leaving no doubt that his election was a resounding rejection of the candidacy of Arkansas megachurch pastor Ronnie Floyd, who had received the anointing of the insider group, the endorsement of at least one agency head, and the leadership of the Holy Spirit (according to Floyd in one interview.)
What does the election of Frank Page mean? Does it signal significant change in the SBC? I hope so, and here are the areas that I believe may be affected.
1) It means that the value of Cooperative Program giving has survived the recent flood of designated missions funding in SBC, and denominational leaders are not going to be able to equate designated giving to their church programs with giving to the Cooperative Missions program.
2) It means that candidates for denominational leadership will not be able to assume that their leadership credibility is tied to the size of their church, but not to their Cooperative Program giving. I have no doubt that it was Floyd’s CP giving numbers that told thousands of messengers he was not the leader for this time.
3) It means the commitment to the funding of Southern Baptist mission efforts matter when leaders are going to be elected to preside over the selection of trustees who will make decisions about those efforts.
4) It means we have passed the time when an insider group, controlling the denominational information flow, can point at a designated candidate and be assured of his election. The “new media” has made its debut in SBC life. Blogging, in particular, is now a medium that thousands of SBC pastors and leaders trust more than the official channels of information. Welcome to the new world, gentlemen.
5) It means that Calvinists will vote for a man who has a published volume critiquing Calvinism WHEN the stakes of denominational leadership are high. The recent trustee controversy at the IMB was a signal to many Reformed SBCers that a level of exclusivity and conformity was on the way that they could not support. Frank Page isn’t a Calvinist, but when it comes to missions and the intrusion of political agendas into missions, his values are the values of a majority of SBC Calvinists.
6) In fact, the Greenville Convention may have signaled that SBC Calvinists have come to the table for real, and as long as they talk missions, evangelism and cooperative integrity, they will be welcome. This is a moment that will define much of what SBC Calvinism will be in the SBC’s future. I hope they make the most of it.
7) This election reasserts the ordinary pastor, and not the megachurch pastors, as the true leadership of the SBC. Younger leaders are gaining a profile in the SBC, and broadening the basis of leadership and input are becoming a prominent themes. It is clear that Page received the support of many who feel the leadership of the SBC had become small, ingrown and largely unresponsive to many ordinary church concerns.
8) I pray and hope that this election marks the return of a kind of seriousness and depth to SBC leadership that has often been missing in the past. “Superstar” pastors are not the only voices we need speaking to the blue collar pastors, struggling church planters, dedicated laymen and zealous young people of the SBC. Southern Baptists have an image problem that they richly deserve because of the men they have pushed to the front. Add in the cheesy, shallow denominational hype that the SBC produces in unending promotions and programs, and there is a yearning for leadership that talks to all of us in a way actually says something significant in a way that honors the Spirit, the Gospel and the Church.
9) This election seems to indicate that something is happening within SBC conservatism itself. It is not a theological moderation, but it is a broadening of spirit and a humility in orthodoxy long missing from SBC leaders of the Bailey Smith variety. The SBC is a denomination that has shown little capacity for self-criticism, moderation or humble affirmation of other Christians. Could it be that the winds are blowing a new way, and the old arrogance of the SBC is going to be replaced by a glad-hearted conservatism that might actually experience revival, rather than just print materials about it?
10) This election may signal that state conventions are going to be more significant in the election of national leadership. Page is well known in South Carolina, the number of voting messengers was not huge, and Floyd’s national profile was as much negative as it was positive. Will future leaders fit the “Page Profile” of commitment to the CP, theological depth and seriousness in approach? Again, I’m hoping and praying that it’s so.