North Carolina’s leading Baptist wants the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to demonstrate a commitment to the value and importance of women in churches and Christian organizations.
Milton Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said, “We need a leader who shows that he understands there is equality between brothers and sisters in Christ in the family of God.”
He spoke to the Biblical Recorder in a wide-ranging interview May 24 about the upcoming presidential election at this year’s SBC annual meeting in Dallas, Texas.
While emphasizing that he believes the Bible reserves the role of pastor for men, Hollifield said females are not second-class citizens.
“Women should know and believe that if God has raised them up, they will be given the opportunity to serve on committees and certain places of leadership,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to prove, ‘I’m good enough for first string.’”
Hollifield lamented recent news stories about abuse and sexual misconduct, in addition to the way women sometimes encounter “condescending attitudes.”
“It’s wrong,” he said.
There are two announced candidates for SBC president this year: J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, and Ken Hemphill, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and administrator at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C.
Hollifield also said SBC leadership should lead the way in increasing the diversity of committees and leadership appointments – along the lines of ethnicity, gender, age and affiliated church size – by reviewing the procedures and expanding the publicity of the nominating process. He suggested new communication strategies and meeting schedules to enable more involvement from lay people with full-time jobs.
“We need to help people understand this is not a sewn up process and decision,” Hollifield said.
“… Somehow we’ve got to come up with a way of convincing Southern Baptists, whether they are in North Carolina or all across the Southern Baptist Convention, that your opinion really does matter. You know people that others serving on a committee do not know, and we really need help finding people who can serve in roles of leadership.”
When asked whether he thought this was a pivotal year in the life of the SBC, Hollifield said the candidates, in terms of their character and experience, were the type of high quality leaders that Southern Baptists have come to expect.
“However,” he continued, “I’m most concerned about the message this campaign – which has the appearance of a secular political campaign – is sending to the [younger] generation of pastors.
“… I’m afraid they are going to see this, not as just two men running for the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, but as a matter of whether their candidate wins or loses, and if they lose, they may question how much they are valued as future leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention. That makes it a pivotal campaign.”
Many Southern Baptists are focused on the amount of financial support each candidate’s church gives through the Cooperative Program (CP). Hollifield praised both The Summit Church, where Greear is pastor, and First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C., where Hemphill is a member.
“Under the leadership of Steve Scoggins, First Baptist Church in Hendersonville has done well in their support of the Cooperative Program,” he said, “and I wish we had more churches like The Summit. … I thank God for what both of them give.
“They’re both great churches.”
Asked about the high level of criticism endured by Greear during this year’s SBC presidential campaign, Hollifield defended Greear and attempted to correct apparent misunderstandings.
Some Southern Baptists believe Greear’s theological positions call into question his evangelistic fervor.
“I think they are misreading where J.D. Greear stands,” Hollifield said.
Greear said on social media recently, “For the record, I believe Jesus died for all people, that every person can and should be called to repent and believe, and that you haven’t fully preached the gospel if you haven’t called for that response.”
Hollifield said Greear had “demonstrated in his own personal lifestyle and in the church he pastors, that he very much believes in the importance of sharing the gospel with all people.”
Referring to The Summit’s partnership with the state convention, Hollifield said he was grateful for their participation and described them as an example for other churches.
“They work with us in evangelism. They share our ideas about church health and revitalization,” he said. “… I consider them to be a model church for how they practice discipleship. Disciple-making is at the heart of our strategy in this state convention. Not only are they doing it in wonderful ways through their church, but they are also willing to help us promote discipleship in other churches.”
Hollifield recounted how The Summit’s leadership had expressed a commitment to increase their involvement in Southern Baptist life, noting that Greear had served on the state convention’s board of directors as a “team player” and had planned to increase The Summit’s CP giving years before recent SBC elections.
“They have lived true to a commitment they made,” he said.
According to the state convention’s most recent data, The Summit is the highest CP-giving church in North Carolina.
For more SBC coverage, visit BRnow.org and follow the Biblical Recorder’s social media accounts during the annual meeting June 12-13.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – K. Allan Blume, editor, and Seth Brown, content editor, contributed to this report.)