There are three winners at the conclusion of the SBC presidential race: Steve Gaines takes the position and the responsibility; J.D. Greear takes the mantel as most Christ-like, and Southern Baptists leave St. Louis unified behind a single presidential candidate.
Greear’s action, withdrawing his name from the race after two ballots failed to produce a winner, was a first for longtime observers of the convention. Greear guaranteed two things: many of his supporters who are young and are new to SBC life are more likely stay engaged if they do not feel pushed out by the older, traditional constituency Gaines represents. And Greear guaranteed himself a place in SBC leadership for decades to come.
Would anyone be surprised if Greear ran unopposed in 2018? The 50% of SBC messengers who had backed Gaines could easily support in the next election the young man who did the very mature thing.
Deferring to the older candidate is indeed a mature move. And, in this case, it’s wise.
Both Greear and Gaines cited the need for unity in the denomination in this decision. “For the sake of our convention and our mission, we need to leave St. Louis united,” Greear said.
Gaines said he, too, had considered withdrawing. He quoted a close friend who said to him after the first day of the annual meeting, “We’re in a mess, aren’t we.” After two ballots, Gaines was still four votes short of a majority, because 108 ballots were disqualified by improper markings. Messengers at the best-attended convention in a decade or more were split right down the middle.
“It’s tricky,” Greear joked as he stepped to the podium to make his announcement, referring to a rap music video produced by a member of his church that some had construed as endorsements by several SBC-entity heads. The crowd laughed.
But it would be tricky to lead the denomination with the membership divided into two camps: established and traditional epitomized by Gaines, and younger and Reformed led by Greear.
For the sake of unity, Greear withdrew.
Gaines had offered to make the same move.
At 43, Greear will likely have another opportunity to be SBC president. Perhaps at 58, it is Gaines’s turn. With his mid-South megachurch platform, Gaines is likely to lead the convention in renewed evangelism, which Floyd and others have said is so vital.
And Greear has a little longer to bring his half of the SBC populace into leadership to form a new mainstream and identity, rather engage in a tug of war with the old guard over theology and tactics. “We are united by a gospel too great and a mission too urgent to let any lesser thing stand in our way,” Greear said.
The two men hugged on the platform, as Gaines was declared the winner by outgoing president Ronnie Floyd.
He could have as easily said, We all win.
– Eric Reed