Southern Baptists Convene In Dallas To Elect A New President

Jun 12, 2018
Originally published on June 12, 2018 8:16 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Southern Baptists are going to be in Dallas today electing a new president. This convention comes at a time when their denomination has been rocked by scandal. Baptist women accused male church leaders of being insensitive to abuse or even engaging in abusive behavior themselves. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: In the past few weeks, a Southern Baptist seminary president has been fired, another church leader resigned after admitting a personal indiscretion. This, in the largest Protestant group in the country, a politically powerful denomination that has endeavored to build a reputation for holiness.

ED STETZER: Southern Baptists recognize that they're at a moment of crisis on multiple levels, and there is an opportunity here to address some of these issues.

GJELTEN: Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, has been to about a dozen Southern Baptist Conventions. This one, he says, stands out.

STETZER: There's certainly more talk in the corners. It's like, where are we and what kind of denomination do we want to be?

GJELTEN: Representatives of Southern Baptist congregations, called messengers, will choose a new president. The leading candidate is J.D. Greear, a 45-year-old preacher from North Carolina with a megachurch, a successful radio ministry and an uplifting message.

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J.D. GREEAR: There is a God who is so powerful that he constrains every molecule in the universe to work for his purpose and your good. There's no way that you can despair if you know that.

GJELTEN: His challenger for the presidency is Ken Hemphill, a more traditional theologian and, at 70, the candidate of the older Southern Baptist generation. But Greear presents himself as the leader who can restore the reputation of his church. Here he is in a recent video posted on Facebook.

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GREEAR: In the last few weeks, a dizzying amount of revelations have come forward that really have revealed a deep problem in our heart of our leadership, the heart of our convention. I think people are discouraged. I believe God's trying to get our attention.

GJELTEN: Among Greear's priorities, more women in positions of influence and more people of color in church leadership. Tom Gjelten, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.