Updated: Mar 3, 2022
Elitism and Power in the SBC - Part 2
In August of 2021, I wrote a post entitled, “Elitism and Power in the SBC.” It was meant to serve as a reflection on things I was noticing in the Southern Baptist Convention. But, it seems that the reflection piece has become somewhat prophetic.
In the post, I note that there seems to be a path to power within SBC leadership, and that those on the path are noticeable by a few defining characteristics: Pastoring a large, influential church, knowing the right people, serving on the right committees, giving prestigious sermons, making sure you are positioned righly and in the line of succession, etc.
I also noted that one thing that is often overlooked is the man’s shepherding characteristics. Is he a faithful New Testament Elder?
Anyhow, toward the end of the post, I stated,
“...if all of this is, in fact, true, we can look at those who are the “up and comers” in convention life now and perhaps predict who might be on the rise. These are the people who come from/lead large, influential churches, who are sitting on various committees, being appointed to SBC task forces, serving on Boards of Directors, delivering prestigious sermons, traveling to various meetings and speaking engagements throughout the year, making nominations, speaking regularly from the floor of convention meetings, and are active in some of the factions at work within the convention, etc.”
Two Developments of Note:
First, on Monday, March 1, 2022, current SBC President, Ed Litton, announced that he will not be seeking a second term as SBC President — an uncommon move given that most Presidents serve two terms. In a video posted to Baptist Press, Litton cites “a desire to develop a strategy to bridge our divides and bring about a Gospel-driven unity and reconciliation and the need to lead as a pastor rather than from the office of president…”
Litton’s Presidency began on shaky ground and got off to a rocky start. He was voted in at the 2021 convention after a second round vote; and even that vote was close. Of the nearly 16,000 messengers in attendance, Litton won the Presidency with just 6,834 votes, winning only by a few hundred votes.
Shortly after his election, a plagiarism scandal involving Litton emerged. It was revealed that Litton had plagiarized several minutes of a sermon from then SBC President, JD Greear. And while Greear said that Litton had gained his private permission, Litton still failed to cite Greear in the sermon. But, to make matters worse, Litton’s church almost immediately removed some 140 sermons from the Church’s website.
-One of the platforms that Litton ran on for the 2021 election was “racial reconciliation in the Church.” So, it seems odd to cite the very same cause as the reason for not running.
Litton has had a contentious year for numerous reasons, but his announcement and his given reason for stepping down seems disingenuous at best.
A New Nominee...
Second, on Tuesday, March 2, 2022 (the day after Litton’s announcement), Baptist Press announced that Dr. Willy Rice, Pastor of Calvary Church in Clearwater, Florida would be nominated for the 2022 SBC Presidency.
Clint Pressley, pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist in Charlotte, NC, will nominate Rice. Hickory Grove, is itself an SBC megachurch, and Pressley is well known in the Convention.
The Baptist Press reports that Calvary is a Florida MegaChurch with 3,600 people in weekly attendance across 3 campuses. Here are Rice’s qualifications as reported in the article,
“Rice, a current trustee for the North American Mission Board, served as president of the Florida Baptist Convention from 2006-2008, served as president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference in 2015, chaired the 2010 SBC Committee on Committees and chaired the 2016 SBC Committee on Nominations. He also delivered the convention sermon at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting where Litton was elected.”
Notice how the article does not focus on Rice’s biblical qualifications…it only highlights how he has climbed the SBC ladder, he has held the requisite positions, served on the right committees, and given the right sermons.
The article goes on to note how much the Church has grown numerically under Rice, some of their current ministry plans, and how much money the Church has given to convention causes.
All good things. But, all extra-biblical, politically minded things. "This man has grown a large church, therefore he can lead our convention."
Why not a No-Name Shepherd?
It is peculiar to me that a convention of churches like the SBC so quickly adopts worldly means of leadership and measurement. The Bible has given us what we need to know to discern where a man is godly or not...and it has nothing to do with how big or small his church is. On the contrary, it has everything to do with his heart and character.
Instead of looking at things like church size, committee service, sermons preached, etc., we ought to be looking for men who are faithfully watching over the souls of their people, shepherding them throughout their lives, consistently reproducing themselves in others, weeping with the hurting, comforting the brokenhearted, admonishing the wayward, and leading the faithful.
Why doesn't someone nominate an older man with a lifetime of faithful shepherding behind him? A man who is known to his people as a careful overseer? A man with a proven track-record of faithful pastoring and shepherding.
Why don’t we focus on those things?
Why doesn't the Baptist Press write an article stating, this man is qualified because, "He smells like his sheep."
The path to power in the Southern Baptist Convention seems obvious: Just look at those on the important committees, those preaching the big sermons, the ones rubbing shoulders with all the important people…and then look at the people around them.
Perhaps it really is that easy to figure out who will be leading the SBC for years to come…And if that’s the case, can we really expect much to change?
** A personal note: I happen to know Willy Rice—albeit on a limited basis—and from what I know, I have great respect for him. Should he gain the Presidency, I will support him. My point here has nothing to do with Willy Rice, the man. I am only pointing out some larger, concerning trends within the SBC Convention.