Delegates to the annual gathering of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., International (NBCA) on Wednesday, June 25, elected the group’s first new president in 11 years.
Samuel Tolbert, who had been the NBCA’s first vice president, easily defeated the incumbent president and another candidate.
Tolbert, pastor of Greater St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana, received 1,290 votes (63.4 percent) to win election to lead the second largest black Baptist convention in the U.S.
Tolbert appeared in the EthicsDaily.com documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims.”
Calling his election “a decisive victory,” Tolbert noted that “people are trying to come together so we can move forward.”
“I look forward to us working not only in our convention but partnering and collaborating with other Baptists and other Christians around the world,” he said.
George Brooks, the NBCA’s fourth vice president and pastor of St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville, came in a distant second with 379 votes (18.6 percent).
Brooks managed to narrowly beat Stephen Thurston, the incumbent president. Thurston, pastor of New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, received just 365 votes (17.9 percent).
EthicsDaily.com reported prior to the election that NBCA figures expected Tolbert to win and Thurston likely to place third.
Thurston, who narrowly first won office in 2003, was initially not expected to run for a third term and did not enter the race until after the other two candidates.
Tolbert described his agenda now that he is president as leading the NBCA to push “a Christ-centered urban agenda.”
In particular, Tolbert expressed his hopes that the NBCA will do more to address issues of incarceration and develop strategies to help local churches minister to those incarcerated and their families.
“I think we have a special role to play as it relates to our communities where our churches are located,” Tolbert explained as he noted high rates of incarnation in minority communities in the U.S.
“The church cannot sit quiet and wait for the government or some other agency to come up with policies,” he said. “We have a crisis calling us, and we have a mandate upon us.”
Tolbert argued churches must “not to just blame the government” but figure out “what do we do to prevent this high incarnation rate, and what do we do to deal with the people who are already incarnated, and what are we going to do with people who are returning from serving their sentences.”
He added that he calls them “returning citizens” and not “ex-convicts” because with the latter “you label with a target on their back already.”
Tolbert also connected his focus on “a Christ-centered urban agenda” to increasing a “missions focus both at home and abroad” and to helping local churches as they minister by training church leaders on issues such as technology.
Formed after a controversy in 1915 regarding control of the National Baptist’s publishing house, the NBCA split off from the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBC USA).
As the president-elect, Tolbert’s first job for the NBCA was to recommend officers and members of his cabinet to lead the NBCA’s executive committee. His choices were unanimously approved by NBCA delegates.
Tolbert and the other officers will be officially installed in September, although he will immediately start transitioning into the role.
Tolbert is already working to use the September gathering in Baton Rouge to jumpstart his agenda for the convention.
In addition to installing officers, the September meeting’s “primary focus” will be to have a time for “strategic planning sessions.” Tolbert seeks input from pastors and church members.
He hopes that sessions for discussions at the September meeting—along with data collected from market surveys and needs assessments—will help the NBCA better serve congregations.
Tolbert hopes the strategic planning process will help the NBCA “figure out how we as a convention can meet the needs of the congregations because I think we’re going to have to become relevant in what we do in meeting the needs of the congregations if we’re going to survive.”
He said that the information and opinions collected will help the NBCA “go forward to carry out what I believe is the mandate of the kingdom with missions, education and evangelism not only at home but in our missions fields abroad.”
Tolbert’s term lasts for five years, at which point he could be re-elected.
However, he hopes that the NBCA will change its constitution to set a two-term limit. In the past, presidents have often served longer than his proposed 10-year limit, which he thinks will help bring in new leaders.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, praised the Louisiana pastor for his election as NBCA president.
“When it comes to serving the community, Rev. Tolbert has dedicated himself to serving those in the religious and civic communities in numerous ways here at home and across the world,” Landrieu said in a press release. “His passion to make a positive impact on his community and around the world is a testament of his strong character, his deep faith and his exceptional leadership abilities.”
“My friend, Rev. Tolbert, will be a splendid president,” said Robert Parham, executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.
“Sam is church-centered with both feet on the ground. He’ll provide positive energetic leadership in global Baptist collaboration that advances the common good in concrete ways.”
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.