Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention president Frank Page termed Tuesday’s first-ballot election in a three-way race “a defining moment” in the denomination, marked by appreciation for the past but emphasizing broadened involvement and stronger Cooperative Program support in the future.
Page, 53, pastor of the 4,000-member First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., won 50.48 percent of the vote, a total of 4,546 ballots. The two other candidates split the remaining vote, with Tennessee pastor Jerry Sutton garnering 2,168 (24.08 percent) and Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd 2,247 (24.5 percent).
Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., the first candidate to announce for the presidency, was endorsed by three seminary presidents before another candidate declared for the race. Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. entered the race late, amid complaints that Floyd’s church modeled weak support of the Cooperative Program unified budget.
That is at a time when convention leaders desperately seek to turn around per-capita rates of denominational support that have declined from 10 percent of undesignated receipts in 1980 to about 6 percent today.
Earlier Tuesday messengers approved a recommendation by the SBC Executive Committee urging churches to give an increasing percentage of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program for five straight years and encouraging election of convention officers that “lead by example” in sacrificial and proportional support of the unified budget.
The convention debated setting a 10 percent challenge but voted it down amid concerns that prescribing a certain amount would infringe on local church autonomy.
Page told reporters he would rather not use a specific percent in encouraging CP support but agreed denominational leaders should demonstrate a “missional mindset” by supporting cooperative missions. Page’s church is the leader in dollar-amount gifts to the unified budget of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Both Floyd and Sutton are strongly identified with the “conservative resurgence” party that has handpicked most SBC presidents for the past 26 years. Page, meanwhile, was a dark-horse candidate supported by a network of bloggers seeking more inclusive leadership and less-stringent doctrinal requirements for missionaries.
“There is a deep need to involve a much larger constituency, and that includes younger leaders,” Page told reporters following the Tuesday afternoon vote.
Page described himself as an “irenic conservative.”
“I’m an inerrantist. I believe in the Word of God,” he said. “I’m just not mad about it.”
He denied allegations he isn’t really a conservative or that he is moderate or liberal. “I just urge people to major on the majors,” he said. “There are areas in which we can disagree.”
Page said he would not describe his election as a sign that the SBC is moderating. “I would use the word broadening,” he said. But he added that he hoped it would cast the denomination in a more favorable light.
“For too long Baptists have been known for what we’re against. It’s time to tell people what we’re for.”
Page said he supports the conservative resurgence and would appoint only people to committees who accept the inerrancy of Scripture.
“I do not believe the convention elected me to undo the conservative resurgence,” he said.
But in addition to conservative theology, he said, he would seek leaders who model a “sweet spirit,” “evangelistic heart” and support for the Cooperative Program.
Page is a graduate of Gardner-Webb College, who earned an M.Div. at Southwestern Seminary in 1976 and a Ph.D. in 1980.
This year he celebrates his 30th anniversary as a pastor. Former pastorates include 10 years at Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., and Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.