SBC Messengers Reelect Texas Pastor Bart Barber to a Second Term as President - Word&Way

SBC Messengers Reelect Texas Pastor Bart Barber to a Second Term as President

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) — Texas pastor Bart Barber was elected to a second year in office during an afternoon session of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting.

Barb­­­er received 7,531 votes, 68% of the 11,014 vote total, beating out Georgia Baptist pastor Mike Stone, a more conservative challenger, who received 3,458 votes, or 31%.

It was the first time in a decade that a sitting SBC president had faced a challenge and only the second time since the late 1980s. The president of the United States’ largest Protestant denomination, in an unpaid role, oversees the annual meeting and promotes the SBC’s mission and beliefs. Presidents are elected for a one-year term and generally run unopposed for a second term.

Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber speaks during the first day of the SBC annual meeting at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, La., on June 13, 2023. RNS photo by Emily Kask

Barber was an unlikely candidate for president when he first ran in 2021. At the time, he was mostly known for his quirky Twitter videos and an uncommon expertise on SBC governance. He had also played a key role on the board that ousted SBC legend Paige Patterson from his role as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.

Pastor of a church of relatively modest size, Barber became a candidate for president after Florida megachurch pastor Willie Rice, who had been considered a favorite, dropped out after news broke that his church had ordained a church leader with a history of sexual misconduct.

Ironically, Rice ended up nominating Barber’s challenger, Stone, for president.

Stone, who lost a previous election in 2021 by a narrow margin, has close ties to the Conservative Baptist Network, which has criticized current SBC leadership and claims that the denomination has become too liberal.

During a series of campaign events, he cited rising legal costs, due to dealing with a sexual abuse crisis, that have reduced the reserves of the SBC’s Executive Committee. Citing an Executive Committee auditor, he said that those costs were “unsustainable.”

“For Southern Baptists, unsustainable should be unacceptable,” he said in announcing his candidacy. Stone also had been critical of the SBC’s abuse reforms, saying that local churches should deal with abuse.

Tuesday’s election marked the third year in a row that a CBN-backed candidate has lost the presidential race.

Stone congratulated Barber on his reelection on Twitter, saying, “May God continue to grace you with wisdom, discernment and strength. That will continue to be my prayer for you as you lead.”

Barber, for his part, has been outspoken in his support for the abuse reforms as well as his efforts to encourage Southern Baptists to support those reforms while listening to those who had concerns.

The election and annual meeting come at a difficult moment for Barber, whose mother died after a long illness days before the meeting started.

The nomination speeches for the two candidates painted starkly different views of the state of the convention. Florida pastor Willie Rice painted a view of a convention in trouble, citing the cost of abuse reforms and feuding between rival factions.

“A cancel culture has replaced a gospel culture,” he said.

Then he challenged messengers to send a message that things must change.

“If you want to send a message, chisel it in stone,” he said.

Houston pastor Jarret Stephen nominated Barber, saying he had led the convention well. He said that giving was up, more missionaries were being sent out and the convention was working to address the issue of abuse.

“He is not owed a second term, but I say unequivocally he has earned it,” said Stephen.