SBC Executive Committee Chair David Sons seemed relieved to announce he would not seek reelection to the post, but the ensuing vote to choose a successor could be interpreted as descriptive of a divide in denomination politics.
The new chair is Philip Robertson, pastor of Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville and Alexandria, Louisiana. He was elected on the third balloting, after his opponent Russ Barksdale of Arlington, Texas, withdrew. The first two votes were evenly split, but below the 42 votes required to win.
Robertson is a leader in the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN), whereas Barksdale, who just retired after 25 years at his Texas church, was positioned as less identified with a movement within the denomination. Sons nominated Barksdale as someone not mired in the decisions over handling abuse, the investigation that followed or waiving attorney-client privilege, which was at the heart of several heated EC meetings. Sons described himself as “weary” from the past three years, with “wounds that have yet to fully heal.”
“The challenges this committee has been tasked to do have been unprecedented in Southern Baptist history,” Sons said as he nominated Barksdale, who was fresh on the scene. But Barksdale withdrew rather than prolong the voting — and the division.
“I don’t think there’s as much encampment on the EC,” winner Robertson said about the perceived division. “We need to seek to make the EC reliable again,” he said.
Looking to the future
Going forward, Robertson wants to see a balanced approach to handling the issues. As for trustees serving as advocates for various positions, Robertson said he would prefer the EC to take a more neutral stance and take the issues to the messengers.
“I’m sure there are some on the extremes who would say the EC doesn’t need to exist at all,” he said. “And then there are probably some who would like to see the EC be even more engaged, if you would, in different issues than they are.
“The reality is the Executive Committee serves as the convention at interim. But my heart is, whenever possible, we need to trust the messengers and let these positions be dealt with by the messengers. … My heart is to be a bridge builder,” he said.
“I have convictions, obviously, but I genuinely believe that the men and women who serve with me are good and godly people.”
Robertson told reporters he had not planned to run for the chair if Sons wanted to serve another term.
Additional officer roles
Sons had served only two months as chair, stepping up from vice chair after Jared Wellman stepped down in order to be nominated for EC president and CEO. That nomination failed when presented to the full board of trustees, mostly over questions about the process that had allowed Wellman, as chair, to serve on the search committee that eventually nominated him.
Anthony Dockery, pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church in LaPuente, California, was elected vice chair on the first balloting, and secretary Pam Reed of North Carolina was reelected unopposed.
Elected to chair the various EC committees were:
- Committee on Southern Baptist Relations — Adron Robinson of Illinois
- Committee on Convention Finance — Adam Wyatt of Mississippi
- Committee on Convention Events — Carolyn Fountain of Louisiana
- Committee on Missions and Ministry — Todd Stiles of Iowa
Even as he takes the wheel in a season of critical debate over women in ministry and tracking abuse claims, Robertson sounded an optimistic note. “As I tell our people, there’s a reason why the windshield of your car is 200 plus times larger than the rearview mirror. We do occasionally need to be able to look behind us, but primarily we need to look ahead of us.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was written by Eric Reed and is part of the team coverage of Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting and Executive Committee events by staff members from The Baptist Record, Baptist & Reflector, Baptist Message, Illinois Baptist, The Alabama Baptist and The Baptist Paper.