A Southern Baptist Pastor Praises Fred Luter and Tells What he Would Like to See in the Next SBC President

Bryant Wright prays for Fred Luter after his election as the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (Photo: The Christian Post)
Bryant Wright prays for Fred Luter after his election as the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (Photo: The Christian Post)

by Dave Miller

As far as I am concerned, we could change the bylaws and make Fred Luter SBC President for life. I got to travel to Israel with him back in October and it is my humble but correct opinion that the closer the next president is to Fred Luter in temperament, passion and deportment, the better we all will be. Of course, I felt the same way about Bryant Wright. He was a good man and did a good job. And I have an unabashed man-crush on Frank Page and I thought Johnny Hunt did a great job as well. But the Luter administration has been refreshing in many ways and I am sorry that it will come to an end when the gavel falls to close the 2014 SBC Annual Meeting.

I have a somewhat suspect track record in picking SBC presidential candidates. I got on the Frank Page bandwagon as a blogger (because of his sterling support for Cooperative Program causes) and traveled to Greensboro to vote for him. We were all shocked at his victory, and absolutely floored that it was a first ballot victory. His election has been a turning point in the SBC’s history and I am thrilled he is now our CEO. But I was not thrilled about Johnny Hunt’s election; had I gone, I would have voted against him. He proved me wrong and did a great job as SBC president. Then came what was probably the most contentious election in recent memory, because it coincided with the GCR vote. In 2010 there were four men nominated. One was a close friend of mine, Leo Endel, who was nominated by my DOM (a member of my church). I advocated Leo because he was exactly what we need as a convention, in addition to being a close friend. We knew his candidacy was not likely to be successful. It wasn’t. The other candidates were Ted Traylor and Bryant Wright, both seen as supporters to one degree or another, of the GCR. Jimmy Jackson was the candidate of those who opposed the GCR.

I was confident in my predictions! Jimmy Jackson would have the most votes in round 1, coalescing the anti-GCR vote. Ted Traylor and Bryant Wright would split the pro-GCR votes and one of them would get into a runoff with Jackson. I assumed it would be the well-known Ted Traylor. To prove that I am not a prophet, I was wrong as I could be. Jimmy Jackson did not even make the runoff, which was between Traylor and Wright. I fully assumed that Traylor would win that (and I voted for him). Lo and behold, you do NOT have to own a tie to be SBC President. Bryant Wright took the office with a fairly comfortable majority (55%). I was shocked. But, as I said before, Bryant Wright became, in my opinion, an excellent SBC President, and if I had it to do over again, I would certainly vote for him (though I’d still start with Leo, and none of the other candidates would have been a disaster.)  Of course, there was no drama the last two years as we elected Fred Luter unopposed as our president. We pretty much knew when we left Phoenix that the next year in New Orleans was going to be Fred Luter’s year.

Now, this year, there is absolutely no clear front-runner that I am aware of. I’ve heard some talk that this man or that might be nominated, but nothing substantial or specific. I am not going to name names, because I honestly don’t know of anyone who is planning to be nominated. My goal for this post is to speak in the theoretical, not the specific. I would like to reflect on the kind of person we need before we start getting into deciding between Pastor A and Dr. B. So here are my reflections about what we need in an SBC president in Baltimore in 2014.

1) We need a convictional Baptist.

This ought hardly need to be said, but the president needs to believe what we believe. He needs to wholeheartedly assent to the BF&M 2000, our statement of faith. Of course, people tend to define convictional Baptist in different ways. I’m just saying he needs to be theologically within the parameters of the BF&M in every significant way.

2) We need a Cooperative Program Baptist.

Now, I understand that there is not a strict rule to qualify for office. A man can be nominated for SBC president whose church gives almost nothing to the SBC. They have that right. But I also have the right NOT to vote for such a one. I don’t really know the cutoff I would use, but I think the president of the SBC ought to be from a church that is identified with our denomination. If the church’s website hides the fact of their affiliation with the SBC, then that would be a problem for me. If the church gives a percentage pittance to missions through SBC causes then I will not likely support that man.

Someone can be a great Christian, a great pastor, even a convictional Baptist, and still not be qualified to be SBC President. That office ought to be for someone who is passionate about ministry through convention causes. I will only vote for people who are such.

3) We need a Calvinism non-combatant.

The last two years have been a time of progress in the Calvinism wars. Leading up to New Orleans, it is safe to say that there was some animosity in the soteriological struggle. There has been a lot of progress in the last couple of years. The election of Fred Luter was not about Calvinism in any way. The Calvinism study group led by Frank Page was a real step of progress.

I do not care that much whether the next SBC president is a Calvinist or not. Since I got re-engaged in SBC affairs there have been four SBC presidents (Page, Hunt, Wright and Luter). None of them was a Calvinist and I would vote for any one of them again. but I do care about whether a person is a combatant in the Calvinism wars. At this point, a divisive president could undo everything that Dr. Page and others have accomplished in recent years.

I’ve heard two names floated in private conversations. One is an ardent Calvinist and one has been an ardent anti-Calvinist. Both are good men and I’d love to hear either preach. But I’d rather not see either of them be the next president because if we have a combative president it could be destructive to our convention’s future. If the next president is non-Calvinist, he needs to be like the last 4 have been, accepting of and willing to work with Calvinists. He needs to not view Calvinists as enemies of the gospel or of the convention. If the next president is Calvinist, he needs to welcome non-Calvinists as full partners in convention work. Calvinist or non-Calvinist, he needs to be willing to work with anyone who belongs to Christ and is part of this convention’s work.

I realize that a person’s pre-election rhetoric does not always predict his behavior as a president. Calvinists were wary of both Frank “Trouble with Tulip” Page and Johnny Hunt prior to their elections, because they were known as non-Calvinists. Both have been used of God to build bridges between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the time since.

But I pray that we will not revert to schismatic behavior and try to find agenda-driven candidates who will promote “my side” over “your side.” Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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Dave Miller is the pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa. He grew up in Cedar Rapids, the son of one of the first Southern Baptist pastors in Iowa. His family spent four years as missionaries in Taiwan, and then settled in Florida. Dave served as the 2nd Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012-2013 term. He attended Palm Beach Atlantic College where he met his wife Jenni and graduated with a B.A. in Communications. He then attended Dallas Seminary before he transferred to Southwestern Baptist Seminary and graduated with a M.Div. in 1981. He has four children.

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