Next SBC president: Why geography matters

Meredith Flynn —  January 13, 2014

Baltimore_blogCOMMENTARY | Eric Reed

The calendar says the season is winter, and the snow bank outside your house would seem to confirm it, but there’s another we must consider: it’s SBC presidential nomination season.

Somewhere today in a church office or study, there’s a man praying about nominating his friend for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention. And somewhere else, that possible candidate is asking God whether he should allow his friend to make that nomination public. Rarely does one nominate himself to run for SBC President. It is the work of prayerful men, considering the needs of the convention, and the qualifications of their closest friends to lead to meet the needs of the time. As with the committee that selected Paul and Barnabas (“It seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to us”), nomination is a work of the Holy Spirit and prayerful men.

It’s also a function of geography.

For example, Fred Luter was elected SBC president in his hometown, New Orleans, in 2012. Orlando’s Jim Henry presided over a convention in Orlando. And in Houston, favorite son Ed Young, Jr., was re-elected to a second term.

Consider the location of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention. It’s in Baltimore.  Not since 1910 has the annual convention been held in Baltimore.

On the East coast, 40 miles from Washington D.C., a Baltimore convention is likely to draw a different crowd of messengers than if it were held in Texas or Florida. For one thing, there’s no “Six Flags over Baltimore” to draw the messenger who likes to pair the convention with a vacation. The serious-minded will travel to Baltimore. (Forgive us, Baltimore, if we underestimate the drawing power of crab cakes and historical sites, but without Shamu, how shall we entertain the children?)

And consider the nearest neighbors to Baltimore: the closest SBC seminaries are Southern in Louisville, Kentucky, and Southeastern in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Many of the churches in the region surrounding Baltimore have their pastors and leaders supplied by these schools. They are likely to be very well represented at the meeting in June.

While we don’t know yet who will run, we should note that it has been three years since there was a contested election for SBC president. Any match-up that pairs a Reformed candidate against one who identifies himself as a “traditionalist” – the labels used in the Calvinist theology debate of recent years—will likely test the peace loosely stitched by leaders of those camps just before the 2013 convention.

A cursory tour of the blogosphere shows no suggestion that Baltimore 2014 will be for Calvinists what Houston 1979 was for Conservatives – opportunity to bolster their leadership role in the denomination with thousands of close-by voters. But with strong centers of Reformed theology in neighboring states and many adherents in the region, Baltimore may be the best location for a Reformed candidate to mount a campaign.

Meredith Flynn


Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

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