In an unusually contested race, Southern Baptist messengers elected Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines as their next president this morning.
Gaines replaces Ronnie Floyd, who has served the maximum two consecutive terms. SBC presidents are elected one year at a time; the post is largely honorific, except for its ability to fill certain leadership positions.
The SBC actually meant to elect a new president yesterday. But a rare tight race between the top two out of three candidates—North Carolina pastor J. D. Greear (45%) and Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines (44%)—led to a runoff vote. (A candidate must receive just over 50 percent of the vote to win.)
The runoff vote was also too close to call, with Gaines receiving 49.96 percent of the votes and Greear receiving 47.8 percent. (More than 100 ballots were disqualified, yet were included in the determination of the total number of votes needed for a victory.)
This morning, in a surprise move, Greear pulled out.
“I spent a good amount of time last night praying, and believe that for the sake of our convention and our mission we need to leave St. Louis united,” he told the messengers. “In this room, we have various minor points of difference between us … but we are united by a gospel too great and a mission too urgent to let any lesser thing stand in our way. And one of the candidates leaving the convention with a 51 to 49 victory on a third ballot is just not going to serve our mission well. So I am respectfully withdrawing my candidacy as president.”
Gaines and Greear both said they felt the urge to pull out after the runoff vote to preserve denominational unity. They prayed together, and decided that Gaines should take the leadership position. The messengers approved the move with a near-unanimous standing affirmation.
Gaines’ theology is conservative; that is, he is “a traditionalist on evangelism, the need for personal commitment to Christ in salvation, and the commonly held Baptist soteriology of the past century,” noted Eric Reed, editor of the Illinois Baptist. Greear’s leadership is more contemporary and more reformed.
SOURCE: Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra