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In Another Win for Abuse Reform, SBC Elects Bart Barber as…… | News & Reporting

In Another Win for Abuse Reform, SBC Elects Bart Barber as…… | News & Reporting

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) made two major decisions toward the cause of abuse reform at its annual meeting on Tuesday. The first was approving a database and new task force to oversee denominational changes. The second was electing Bart Barber as its next president.

A rural Texas pastor and denominational committee leader, Barber defeated opponent Tom Ascol in a runoff on the first day of the meeting, garnering 61 percent to 38 percent of the 5,600 votes.

Ascol, the Florida pastor who leads Founders Ministries, had been backed by the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN) and adopted its “change the direction” slogan against supposed liberal drift in the conservative evangelical denomination.

For the past two years, the presidential race has reflected divides in the SBC. A faction led by the fundamentalist CBN resisted the call for robust abuse investigation and criticized some of the proposals that resulted from it.

Barber’s victory is seen as a promising sign that the recommendations for abuse reform—to be considered by a new task force appointed by the president—will move forward in the year ahead.

“It’s a win not only for the convention but for sexual abuse reform,” said Josh King, lead pastor of Second Baptist Conway in Arkansas. “Bart is going to be much more supportive and going to facilitate the direction the convention was going” at this year’s meeting.

His wife, Bible teacher Jacki King, acknowledged that the vote still revealed a “pretty distinct divide” in the denomination, but “a majority are saying this is the way forward, that we have to rectify the ways we’ve gone wrong and care for survivors.”

When Southern Baptists were debating what the SBC could do under its polity of autonomous churches, Barber pledged to seek justice for survivors, writing, “The same Bible that teaches us about local church autonomy teaches us more clearly and forcefully about loving one another.” He also condemned efforts to reject the investigation’s findings due to Guidepost Solutions’ affirmation of LGBT pride month.

He will offer comment to the media at a press conference Wednesday morning.

Barber succeeds Ed Litton, who broke precedent by not seeking a second year as SBC president. He inherits the recommendations for the denomination to respond to the landmark abuse report that came out last month.

The folksy pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Barber is also a Southern Baptist historian, having studied at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he wrote his dissertation about a historic schism among Baptists in his home state of Arkansas.

He was among the Southwestern trustees who called for the 2018 dismissal of past president Paige Patterson due to his mishandling of abuse.

“Being Baptist isn’t something he does; it’s who he is,” wrote Dave Miller, Iowa pastor and the editor of the SBC Voices blog. “He’s all in. He loves our seminaries. He loves our missions program. He loves our churches. He loves who we are and what we do.”

Barber served as the chair of the committee on resolutions for this year’s annual meeting, and his colleague Matt Henslee was president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference.

Henslee, who nominated Barber, told CT that Barber’s election “shows that we are united in the gospel and the call to make disciples.”

Glenn Nicolas, pastor of Light By the Bay Church in the San Francisco area, voted for Ascol, whom he followed online and through his Founders Ministries podcast, and also felt the lingering effects of the divide in the 13.7 million-member denomination.

Nicolas said he’s leaving the first day of the annual meeting—his first—with concerns over the presidential votes and the decision on abuse reform, which he fears could encroach on church independence.

“It feels like a stone in my shoe,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to do. … But, yes, God is still sovereign.”

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