The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), America’s largest Protestant denomination with approximately 13.7 million members, elected Texas pastor Bart Barber as its new president on June 14 in a run-off election at its yearly meeting in Anaheim, California. The delegates to the annual meeting, known as messengers, also adopted two recommendations of the denomination’s Sexual Abuse Task Force designed to improve the denomination’s procedures for better responding to allegations of misconduct on the part of clergy or church volunteers.
More than 8,000 messengers are attending the two-day meeting, which ends on June 15. In the election for president, none of the four original nominees for president obtained a majority of votes cast on the first ballot, triggering a run-off vote between the top-two vote-getters – Barber from the First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, and Tom Ascol, the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida.
Barber, 52, was announced the winner of the run-off with 61% of the vote. Barber succeeds Alabama pastor Ed Litton as president.
Among other items of business the convention took up, the messengers also approved two recommendations on sexual abuse put forward by a special task force formed in the wake of a scandal involving widespread sexual abuse within the SBC involving church leaders and volunteers, and the denomination’s mishandling and suppression of sexual abuse allegations by its leadership.
The first recommendation approved the creation of a group to study changes necessary to safeguard churchgoers. The second approved the creation of a website that tracks pastors and other church workers who have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.
The chair of the task force, North Carolina pastor Bruce Frank, told the convention the vote on the two recommendations was a “Kairos moment” for the Southern Baptists.
“Today we will choose between humility or hubris,” he said. “We will choose between genuine repentance or continually being passive in our approach to sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. We will choose between doing the best for the glory of God and for the good of people, or we will choose, again, business as usual.”
Both recommendations received an “overwhelming majority” of the votes cast.
The convention will wrap up its two-day meeting with the consideration of a series of non-binding resolutions that will express the collective position of Southern Baptists on a variety of subjects, from missionary work in rural America to the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade.