St. Louis (Jennifer Davis Rash) — In what some predicted as a potentially divisive annual meeting, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) messengers walked out of the Wednesday morning session a bit stunned but encouraged to watch the future leaders model putting the convention’s unity over potential personal agendas.
Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn., was named president following a motion by J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., to elect Gaines by acclamation.
Many of the 7,269 registered messengers filed into the convention hall as the time neared for the supposed second runoff ballot.
“Only in the Southern Baptist Convention could you have a runoff between two people and still not have a winner,” Greear jokingly told those in attendance as he announced his withdrawal from the race.
Both Greear and Gaines felt compelled to withdraw after yesterday’s first runoff ballot failed to produce a clear winner, they said. After some time of prayer last night, they reached out to the other to express their desire for unity and not to have a president elected after two ballots and likely with a split vote. They both offered to withdraw. They talked and came to the conclusion that Greear would be the one to withdraw. Neither elaborated on how they made the decision between the two.
Gaines and Greear commended each other and expressed confidence in each other’s ability to lead. Greear garnered a standing ovation with his announcement, and the crowd followed it with another standing ovation for Gaines’ election.
Ronnie Floyd, outgoing SBC president, said, “We must celebrate the work of God in this pastoral moment.”
And Alabama Baptist messengers leaving the convention hall at the end of the morning session could be heard saying, “Wow,” “It was definitely a move of God” and “I’m so glad I was here.”
Randy Pittman of Samford University said, “It was the perfect example of servant leadership. It was extraordinary.”
Edwin Jenkins, interim director of missions for Morgan Baptist Association, said he had never seen anything like the election itself nor the way it was resolved in the 40-plus years he has been attending SBC annual meetings.
“It was beautiful,” Jenkins said, “the self sacrifice for the sake of everyone involved, for the good of the cause. And they both did it, saying, ‘I will allow this to be the way.'”
The Alabama Baptist will have a full report of the SBC annual meeting in the June 23 issue.