In what is being called an “unprecedented gathering,” the three announced candidates for Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president spent just under two hours answering questions and interacting with one another in a candidate forum May 4. Tom Ascol, Bart Barber and Robin Hadaway covered topics such as Critical Race Theory, a need for reform within the trustee system among SBC entities and institutions, a call for transparency with SBC leadership and more.
“The heart behind it is to help people who don’t know about the SBC to see a little bit better how it works,” said Joe Wooddell, a member of FBC Keller and co-moderator of the event.
He said he hoped the event would help people gain an understanding of what the SBC president does, “… and to show that we can have a civil exchange in Christian love and goodwill and still adhere to truth.”
Tony Richmond, associate pastor at FBC Keller, helped moderate the forum. Candidates were given five minutes at the beginning of the forum and five minutes at the end to share freely about their personal lives and ministries as well as the topics on their minds.
The candidates were asked what their primary focus would be if they were elected SBC president.
Tom Ascol said he would place an emphasis on spiritual reformation. “I mean, quite honestly, brothers and sisters, I think we have lost the fear of God in our churches and in our convention,” he said.
He continued the call to reformation by saying that there should be a renewed focus on the law of God. He pointed to how the same God who gave the gospel, gave the law. “If we would do that, then we would not be so confused or easily manipulated on concepts like love and justice, which we are a lot today.”
Ascol also called for structural renovation in the SBC. “We need to train our trustees to understand that they are not unpaid political relations departments for the entities that they serve. They hold the entities in trust for the churches and they need to be given the tools and the understanding of how to do that.”
He also spoke of the need to redirect the work of the Credentials Committee when it comes to churches that affirm practices that are not in line with the Baptist Faith and Message.
Barber said he would use the influence of the role to call people to listen to one another and be kind to one another as they discuss the challenging issues of the day. “If we don’t have civility, transparency and accountability aren’t going to help us very much,” he said.
“I hope to serve as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in a way that emphasizes and respects the voice of the messengers, moderates the meeting in a way that protects their rights, [and] helps them to do the best they can to bring their point of view. But then when we make the decision as the messenger body, we move forward to go with one another and we treat one another with Christian kindness and love and respect.”
Hadaway said his focus would be to call Southern Baptists to remember the mission. “We were founded to support our North American missionaries, our international missionaries, and that’s still our primary task.”
“I want to return the joy and the missions vision to the SBC, all at the same time, doing the things necessary to address the issues that might come up,” Hadaway said.
Around 80 people were in person for the event, including former SBC president and former longtime Lifeway Christian Resources President Jimmy Draper. Around 340 people tuned in online.
Baptist Press will publish a fuller story on the forum soon.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Porter serves as associate vice president for convention news at the SBC Executive Committee.)