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The Southern Baptist Convention concluded last week after a contentious week filled with controversy.

Representatives from Southern Baptist Churches across the nation gathered in Anaheim, California, for the 2022 SBC annual meeting.

The SBC presidential election was also held this session, with the outgoing President, Saraland pastor Ed Litton, leaving the convention under a good amount of criticism surrounding the sexual abuse scandal in the SBC.

The election came down to a runoff between two candidates, Florida pastor Tom Ascol and Texas pastor Bart Barber.

After his election, Barber said his first priority would be to assemble a panel of people — Southern Baptist leaders and experts — to accelerate sex abuse reforms in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

While there was not much criticism of Barber, Ascol has long been critical of what he called the suspected liberal tendencies in the SBC.

“We’ve got a bad culture in the SBC,” Ascol told 1819 News. “I’m as convinced as ever that we don’t really fear God.

“I don’t think we have enough people that are facing up to how serious the problems are, and the challenges are in our culture that has not infiltrated our Southern Baptist spaces.

“I just don’t think we’re in a healthy place right now. I know there are a lot of people that disagree with me on that, but it hasn’t changed my mind at all.”

Barber won the election with a vote of 3,401 to 2,172.

A major controversy at the convention revolved around Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. The pastor of Saddleback, Rick Warren, was accused of ordaining women into the pastorate, which most believed to be a violation of the SBC’s governing document, The Baptist Faith and Message. 

Some had recommended a committee be established to study the minutia within the word “pastor,” a proposal that did not proceed and most determined to be a waste of time.

“We spent 30 minutes debating whether or not we could define what a pastor is,” Ascol told 1819 News. "If we can’t define that, then we’ve got worse problems than any of us know.”

Thomas Glander, a member of Beulah Baptist Church in Muscadine, Alabama, was present at the convention.

“Rick Warren was completely expected to be disfellowshipped,” Glander said. “It didn’t happen because the committee didn’t make the recommendation to end fellowship with Saddleback. So, it will have to go on to the executive board in the middle of the year, or it will carry over to the next convention.

“The committee wanted another task force to study the meaning behind the word 'pastor' in the Baptist Faith and Message. And I was like, ‘it’s pretty clear.’ It was just [the committee] trying to get around making a decision, I think.”

The SBC has recently released an investigatory report about church leaders who had been convicted or accused of sexual misconduct and abuse. The SBC voted to keep and maintain a database of offenders in the future to assure that abusers will not be permitted to relocate and join another church.

The report came after a bevy of criticism of SBC leadership for keeping a number of accusations under a shroud of secrecy.

“Well, obviously, the investigation brought things to light, but most things in the report were publicly known,” Ascol said. “What made it so impactful was putting it together in one place so you could hear all the stories.

“There were a few things in the report that I had not known about previously, but the rest of it was public record. We need to deal with it. That is part of the bad culture that I’m talking about. We have a bad culture that can do those things and cover up those things and feel like that is the best path forward. That is just indicative of deeper problems.

“Those things have happened in a context that is much deeper and much more serious than anything that we’ve come to grips with. It is not going to be fixed by programs or a task force or new committees; it’s only going to be fixed by God coming and humbling us deeply and bringing about real repentance.”

“I’m glad that things that were covered up come into the light,” said Matt Mason, Senior Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills.

On the final day of the annual meeting, the convention overwhelmingly approved two sex abuse-related resolutions. One apologized for “the harm our actions and inactions have caused to survivors of sexual abuse,” and for not heeding survivors’ warnings. The other called for all states to criminalize sexual relationships between pastors and those in their care.

Some in the SBC believe they have seen a liberal drift in the SBC and Southern Baptist Seminaries. For that reason, many saw the upcoming election as a way of halting the suspected drift.

Many of the more conservative Southern Baptists found themselves disappointed in the outcome of the convention and the election, leaving them feeling disillusioned.

Ascol said he had received several calls from pastors who were disheartened by the convention, wondering if they should leave the SBC.

“My counsel to everybody is ‘don’t make any decisions right now, give yourself a couple of months, evaluate, and decide what is the best expenditure of your time and resources.' The SBC has a lot of wonderful things about it, and I would like to see those things harnessed and become even better, and I’d love to see the bad things rooted out.”

Mason thinks that some in the convention are far too quick to apply the liberal accusation.

“There’s a lot of labels being thrown about people drifting towards theological liberalism,” Mason said. "Some of the people that I know that are on the receiving end of that kind of language; they’re just not. It’s not true.”

While Ascol has developed a reputation for being among the more strident critics of the SBC, he said he still has a continued faith in the institution and a desire to see it thrive.

“If you’re going to stay in the SBC, then stay to try to make it better. And if you are not willing to do the hard work, which is going to involve some very pointed, energetic, confrontational types of relationships, then you probably shouldn’t stay in," Ascol said. "You’d just be frustrated if you have these concerns, and you’re not trying to directly, pointedly address them in the way that our Baptist polity allows.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email craig.monger@1819news.com.

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