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Presidents of three Southern Baptist Convention seminaries circled the wagons around Ronnie Floyd, the only announced candidate so far for SBC president, amid growing demand for a challenger from outside the denominational establishment.

The previously announced candidate, Johnny Hunt, withdrew last month. Hunt said May 7 he intends instead to nominate Floyd, pastor of FirstBaptistChurch in Springdale, Ark., for the post. Floyd indicated in a Weblog he would accept nomination.

The announcement unleashed a barrage of criticism against Floyd’s poor record of support for the  Cooperative Program; a little-used fire-truck-themed children’s baptistery decried in terms ranging from manipulative and nonchalant toward Baptist heritage to blasphemous; appearances on the predominantly Pentecostal Trinity Broadcasting Network; and a 1997 Broadman and Holman book titled The Power of Prayer and Fasting viewed as theologically suspect.

A former member and leader of the SBC Executive Committee, Floyd’s highest-profile event, the 1997 SBC Pastors Conference, was viewed widely as a bust both program-wise and financially.

Floyd’s decision to include an Indian evangelist named K.A. Paul on the Pastors Conference program drew an unprecedented rebuke from the SBC International Mission Board. A Baptist newspaper editorial said Paul’s message violated ground rules with a veiled request for support of his independent ministry and implied criticism of IMB mission strategy, urging funding of indigenous church planters in lieu of appointed missionaries.

Others rushed to the defense of Floyd’s nomination. Seminary presidents Paige Patterson, Danny Akin and Al Mohler all endorsed his candidacy. Avery Willis, retired senior vice president for overseas operations at the International Mission Board, added his support.

One agency head, Morris Chapman of the SBC Executive Committee broke ranks, saying he believed endorsement of a candidate by agency heads creates potential for conflict of interest and could undermine respect for their institutions.

Contested presidential elections are nothing new in the post-“conservative resurgence” SBC. Maverick candidate Jim Henry defeated the presumptive nominee Fred Wolfe in 1994. An unannounced and unknown nominee made a surprisingly strong showing against current SBC president Bobby Welch in 2004.

But interest is unusually high in this year’s June 13 presidential election in Greensboro, N.C. Controversy over an IMB trustee who blogged about his disagreement with tightening doctrinal requirements for missionaries and details of politicking by trustees convinced many–including young conservatives of the generation since the conservative movement–the time has come for a more open and less politicized method of electing denominational leaders.

Names of possible challengers have come and gone. Wade Burleson, the blogging IMB trustee at the center of the debate, reiterated Wednesday that he isn’t particularly interested in being president, but said he would be willing to be nominated if no one else comes forward to “address the issues that I, and others, have articulated these last few months.”

One voice recently weighing in is David Montoya, who as a young pastor in Arkansas worked alongside Floyd in a political machine built by conservative leaders Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson to capture the SBC from moderate control during the 1980s and early 1990s.

“When I was in Arkansas, Ronnie Floyd instructed me to find as much information as I could that could be used against Mike Huckabee, who at that time was a pastor in Texarkana and who Ronnie would be running against for president,” Montoya, now 51 and a pastor in Texas, wrote in a comment on the SBC Outpost blog.

“At that time he also wanted to get rid of Executive Director of the Arkansas Baptist Convention Don Moore, because Don had him put up in a Holiday Inn when Ronnie was scheduled to speak in Little Rock.”

Admitting that “Ronnie could have changed,” Montoya said later in his own blog he was sorry he responded to comments on SBC Outpost “without praying” and in “an attitude of anger.”

“Even though everything I stated I stand by as true, and Ronnie Floyd knows it was true, what I did was a failure on my part to only make positive comments on that particular blog,” Montoya said.

“Ronnie Floyd is not the enemy,” Montoya said. “He is flesh and blood and so–no matter how I feel–is someone God loves and commands me to love. This is hard considering what Ronnie tried to do to me.

“Yes, I was instrumental in his defeat for the presidency of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, and I do not regret doing so. I believe Ronnie would have hurt Arkansas. I believe he has and will again hurt the SBC if he is president. I will pray that God does not let this happen.”

Montoya’s history with Floyd is long and full of intrigue.

A protégé of now-SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission head Richard Land at CriswellCollege, Montoya got involved in the pro-life movement and Ed McAteer’s Religious Roundtable as a young pastor in Kerrville, Texas.

He moved to a church Amity, Ark., where Joe Atchison, a director of missions in northwest Arkansas, recruited him as one of five lieutenants to organize conservatives in the state.

Later, Montoya says, Atchison got FirstBaptistChurch in Gravette, Ark., to call him as pastor so he would be closer to Springdale. As he started going to meetings, he says, he discovered the conservative resurgence wasn’t all about theology as he had been told.

As conservative leaders in Arkansas grew more comfortable around him, Montoya says, conversations were less about theology than personal agendas, settling scores, off-color language and jokes, and money.

When he asked, “Why are we doing this? It has nothing to do with the Bible,” Montoya says he was told he would understand when he got older.

He went to Floyd and called Paige Patterson, who told him, “Just trust these guys.”

One thing the takeover group taught him, Montoya says, was to “make tape recordings.” He did, secretly recording a strategy meeting and handing the tape over to a moderate leader after resigning from the resurgence movement in a letter to Floyd.

The tape was widely distributed, debunking official claims that there was no political organization.

Montoya worked for Floyd’s defeat as president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention in 1989 to Mike Huckabee, who later left the ministry to enter politics and win election as governor.

“They wanted me to make Mike Huckabee look like a liberal,” Montoya says of the Arkansas group.

He said at one point Huckabee went to Atchison and former Southwestern Seminary trustee Ken Lilly and asked why they opposed him, since he also was biblically conservative.

“Because you don’t have enough blood on your hands,” was Lilly’s response.

Montoya has signed a statement called the “Memphis Declaration” protesting narrowing and exclusionary tactics, but he was not among the 31 original signers attending an invitation-only meeting May 2-3 where the statement was drafted.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Previous related stories:
Church-State Group Files IRS Complaint Against Arkansas Church
Arkansas Pastor to Be Nominated for SBC President
Blogging IMB Trustee Might Be Nominated for SBC President
Presidential Race a Possibility for SBC in Greensboro
Proposed SBC Resolution Affirms ‘Principled Dissent’Group Calls for Greater Cooperation Among Southern Baptists, Other Christians

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