My take on SBC presidential politics

Now that the Democratic presidential primaries are over we can turn our attention to some real presidential politics, namely, the race to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Frank Page concludes his second term next week in Indianapolis. He was the long shot winner of two years ago in Greensboro, when very few of the “movement conservatives” in the SBC gave him much of a chance. In fact, some lobbied pretty boldly against him. I am sure I am not the only person who got emails questioning his conservative credentials and warning about the return of the CBF if he were elected.

Two years ago from this very day I wrote a pointed critique of Page’s book, Trouble with the Tulip. What he had written raised serious doubts in my mind about his understanding the doctrines of grace. I have been told that this book was revised and was reprinted in 2006 and now more properly distinguishes between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. If what I have heard is true, then it would serve as one more example of the kind of humility and meekness that has characterized Dr. Page’s presidency.

It has been refreshing to have had a president who didn’t travel around the country declaring how great the SBC is and who did not ignore the huge problems that we are facing. It has also been encouraging to have a leader who did not see it as his duty to beat the drum for the entrenched powerbrokers of SBC.

Prior to the Greensboro convention two years ago, I commented on the announced candidacy of Johnny Hunt. In no way could I have imagined what that blog would ultimately become. Due to the arrival of a couple of fomer Muslims who began launching theological scud missiles in the comments, the point of the original post was quickly forgotten. What I wrote then, however, I still believe today.

Though I am not very interested in SBC presidential politics I have been somewhat amused at just how much the process leading up to the election next week has mimicked our national presidential politics with promotional websites, endorsements and stumping. There are six candidates (so far!) who have announced that they will be nominated. You can read their answers to a Baptist Press survey here. A number of people have asked me who I am endorsing. The answer to that question is easy. No one. I am not even sure who I am going to vote for.

It is not that I don’t care at all. I just don’t care about this election very much. The things that make me care at all have to do with some of the institutions and agencies of the SBC–primarily, the International Mission Board. It doesn’t take much denominational awareness to recognize that there are many in the SBC who would love for Jerry Rankin, the President of the IMB, to take an “early retirement.” I wish his detractors would simply come out publicly and lay their cards on the table rather than shoot at him from the shadows.

The Board of Trustees adopted new policies on baptism and private prayer language a couple of years ago. I think the former policy is unwise and points us in the direction of Landmarkism and the latter is unnecessary and probably was intended, in part, to embarrass Rankin. This action by the IMB BoT, in my mind, may be the most important issue to be considered in deciding who to vote for in the presidential election.

Who would I want to be the next president? The following considerations will inform my vote.

I think that having Frank Page as president has been good for the SBC. I would not want to see a man elected who would feel compelled to catapult us back to the trajectory we were on three years ago when the denominational kingmakers strategically crowned the next man-in-waiting a few months before the convention. Anyone who is being endorsed by status quo champions would by that very fact make me a little suspicious.

I would be hesitant to vote for anyone who thinks that the new IMB guidelines are good policy. The case has yet to be made that the new baptism requirement squares with Scripture, Baptist history or contemporary needs. Avery Willis, Johnny Hunt and Les Puryear all have expressed concerns about those policies.

I would someone who is a convictional conservative. Though some have cast the election in terms of a candidate that conservatives will vote for (Frank Cox) and candidates that others will vote for, I don’t see it that way. To my knowledge, all of those running are theological conservatives. They are not all “party men,” but they are all, I think, inerrantists.

It will be interesting to see how all of this pans out. No doubt there will be more than one vote because it is highly unlikely that any one of the six will get a majority on the first ballot.

If you are going to be in Indianapolis, it would be great to say hello to you. I will be at the Founders Breakfast on Tuesday morning.

I am Tom Ascol, and I approve of this message.