The 2018 election for president of the Southern Baptist Convention looks a lot like what happened in St. Louis two years ago. But one thing is different about the race between J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill—public campaigning is making a comeback.
Hemphill in particular has received support from some Baptist state executives, including Missouri’s John Yeats and Louisiana’s David Hankins, the latter who was part of the group that appealed to Hemphill to throw his hat in the ring. In a statement on his personal website, Hankins called Hemphill “thoroughly Southern Baptist” and noted his commitment to the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified method of support for missions and ministry.
“Dr. Hemphill values and promotes the work of the LBC and the other state conventions and has been a lifetime advocate in word and deed of the CP, without which we cannot carry out our ministries,” Hankins wrote.
In announcing he would nominate Greear, Florida pastor Ken Whitten noted Greear’s own commitment to missions, while pointing to the 44-year-old’s ability to bridge the SBC’s generation gap.
“We bleed missions. We bleed evangelism, and we bleed the Gospel of Jesus Christ…J.D. Greear will give us the opportunity to impact another generation while continuing to honor the former generation of Southern Baptists.”
While endorsement statements, especially from nominators, aren’t out of the ordinary, more public forms of campaigning have been largely absent during the past several SBC elections. This year, however, some leaders are speaking more openly about which candidate they endorse, and the conversation has shifted to debating the propriety of SBC electioneering.
The Louisiana Baptist Convention drew fire from Greear supporters and others when it was reported that the convention initially hosted Hemphill’s campaign website, kenhemphill2018.com. After posts on some Baptist blogs expressed concern about the perceived use of Cooperative Program funds to facilitate a website for one candidate, Hemphill told Baptist Press the site wasn’t funded by CP dollars, but that it would be moved to an independent server to avoid “any impression that it was inappropriate.”
“If anyone got the impression the website was funded with CP money,” the candidate said, “I’m sorry, because I would never do anything to erode confidence in CP giving.”
Campaigning was also an issue during the lead-up to the 2016 election between Greear and Memphis pastor Steve Gaines. That spring, a member of Greear’s church produced a rap video parody to Run D.M.C.’s “It’s Tricky.” Ashley Unzicker’s video about the intricacies of leading the SBC featured several SBC leaders, including International Mission Board President David Platt and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, rapping the song’s repeated refrain, “It’s tricky.”
North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder newspaper reported critics of the video said it functioned like a campaign ad, and the leaders who appeared in it were endorsing Greear for the presidency.
The buzz around the issue of campaigning could serve as a new way to operate when it comes to SBC elections, said one Baptist blogger. Iowa pastor Dave Miller, who edits SBC Voices, put forth some guidelines for “limited campaigning” in a recent blog post. In it, he wrote Baptists need to be honest about the convention’s political nature.
“There are actually people who will get upset if you say that the SBC is a political organization, as if that is somehow antithetical to being spiritual. But we get together and have meetings where we make motions and vote and hold elections. That, my friend, is called politics. Hopefully, those politics can be done by the fruit of the Spirit not the works of the flesh, but it’s still politics.”
Check back here for more updates on the Southern Baptist Convention June 12-13 in Dallas. Read both candidates’ introductions on Baptist Press here: