ST. LOUIS (Christian Examiner) – Some would say there hasn't been a full out campaign for president of the Southern Baptist Convention since 1989 in Las Vegas, but one pastor says it's time to throw in the wild card, admit it's a political process, and allow the nominees to press forward.
Passions ran high in 1989 during what is commonly referred to as the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. Conservatives had elected Jerry Vines in 1988 in San Antonio and were set to elect him for a second straight year.
Moderates couldn't win against Vines in 1998 even with Texan native Richard Jackson, the mega pastor who led North Phoenix Baptist Church in explosive growth; and so in 1989 moderate supporters launched an unprecedented campaign for Daniel Vestal, who later became the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Claiming he would not have the same platform as Vines, Vestal purchased 30 minutes of time on local television KRLR-TV to broadcast his views.
Veteran observers, according to a 1989 story in Baptist Press, said the purchase of commercial television time marked "a new escalation of decade-log political/theological struggle in the 14.8-million-member denomination."
Ironically, Vestal had said earlier in 1989, he aimed to "depoliticize" the SBC meetings.
Dave Miller, an Iowa pastor and a contributor to SBC Voices, says, "It's time to break with tradition," in a blog entry with that title, admitting electing officers to the SBC is a political process, and encouraging electioneering.
"It has been a long-standing tradition in the SBC that candidates for president of the SBC do not campaign for office," Miller writes. "Could we dispense with something at the starting line? The Southern Baptist Convention is a political body."
Miller said he also hopes "our politics are biblically-based, gospel-derived, Christ-honoring, and ethically-transparent."
Noting three points, Miller there may have been an unwritten rule, but what worked in the SBC of 1874 is "not effective in 2016":
First, Miller said, "We need to move past the celebrity and personality decision toward an agenda and platform decision." Defining the role of an SBC president, he said the president makes appointments to the Committee on Committees, presides over the annual meeting, represents the SBC, and has other duties.
Second, Miller asserts campaigning is "already legal," and there are no changes in bylaws or policies required in order for this to occur.
Using as an example a rap video promoting the candidacy of J.D. Greear made by the wife of a staff pastor, Miller said it is "pretty funny" and referred to it as a "joke."
"How was the SBC harmed by this?" he asked.
The rap video Miller referenced features Ashley Unzicker, wife of Todd Unzicker, a staff member at Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina where J.D. Greear is senior pastor – and cites information about the church's attendance and Great Commission Giving.
The promotional video, which began circulating March 14 features a number of Southern Baptist personalities, including three SBC entity heads: David Platt, president of the International Mission Board; Russ Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and, Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Platt recently denied he knowingly endorsed Greear for the position, state he was not aware Greear's request for a video clip was for the purpose of creating a campaign ad.
Miller's third point is that at its roots, "politicking" has always been a part of the SBC.
"[B]logging and social media has given the grassroots of the SBC more of a voice than we've ever had before," Miller said that is the reason there is complaining.
"We bring into the sunshine what used to be kept in the dark," Miller said. "My point is that we need to bring what has always been going on behind the scenes into the light."