Last week, I was asked by Iowa pastor and editor of SBCVoices.com, Dave Miller, to give his nomination speech for 2nd VP of the SBC in New Orleans. It was an honor to do so. Dave was not supposed to win. He threw his hat in the ring on Friday evening, June 15, with the convention starting just a few days later. Also running for the position was Eric Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church, Oxford, MS and author of the infamous Traditionalist statement on Baptist soteriology. The convention was in Louisiana, the home state of Eric's father, David Hankins, the executive director of Louisiana Baptists. We were effectively playing on Eric's home turf, and home states and origin mean a lot in Baptist politics. I called a friend of mine on Friday to ask him what he thought about Dave running for 2nd VP and me giving the speech. This guy knows his stuff when it comes to Baptist life. He said that he thought Dave would get beat badly. I tended to agree because everyone knows a blogger/pastor from Iowa can't win an SBC office, but I liked the insurmountable odds and more than that, I liked Dave. I was hoping for 15-20% of the vote, honestly. Nothing against Dave, but I thought I knew enough about Baptist politics to know that you don't beat an establishment candidate at the last minute on his home turf. You just don't.
Well, Dave won. He had 40% of the vote on the first ballot leading to a runoff because Brad Atkins, pastor and president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, also entered the race on Saturday. In the first ballot Dave got 40%, Eric Hankins got 35%, and Brad Atkins got 25%. After I gave my speech, I left the Convention Hall and went and did some other things. I did not expect Dave to win, so when I heard about how he was leading in the first ballot and it was headed to a runoff. I was surprised, but still did not give it a lot of thought. I went to get some coffee with a few guys across the street and got a text message telling me that they were voting again for the final election. So, I ran back over to the hall to cast my ballot for Dave. Later, I heard that Dave won with 60% of the vote to Eric Hankins 40%. I was surprised.
Since then, I have had a few conversations with people who were speculating as to what the election meant. Was it a repudiation of Hankin's Traditionalist statement on Baptist Soteriology? Did the Calvinists rise up and elect Dave? Was it a triumph for social media in the SBC? Was it because Dave was from outside of the South? Maybe it was some of that, but I doubt that 75% of the messengers know what is happening on Baptist blogs and with theological statements that people are signing. A lot do, but probably most do not.
Here is what I think happened:
1. Baptists love missions – Dave is the son of missionary and pastor parents.
2. We want to diversify – Dave pastors in Iowa. We know we need to expand leadership outside the South.
3. Dave's church led Iowa in CP and Lottie Moon giving – that resonates.
4. Baptists love the idea of unity – Dave is a unifier and that was clearly stated. Even though, as Jerry Rankin said on his blog, realized unity is often just an illusion in the SBC. We tend to attack and divide from one another. But, I think that deep down, Baptists WANT to be unified with other Baptists. Dave's election was an appeal to the better angels of our nature. If we aren't there yet, we want to be.
5. We want to cooperate in missions – Dave calls for that. We want this for the same reasons that we see in #4, even if we do not always do it.
6. [EDIT] – Blogs/Twitter – While not the reason that Miller won, social media did stir up support and get the word out to a percentage of messengers who would not have known Dave or knew what he stood for. It was not a majority, but enough knew Dave from his role in Baptist Blogs to give him some identity. Plus, there was a big "get out the vote" campaign for Dave on Twitter that did not hurt.
I do not think that Dave's election was a repudiation of Hankins or the Traditionalist document or an affirmation of Calvinism or anything like that. I am not in favor of the Traditionalist document nor am I a Calvinist, but I don't think that those issues really came into play because I just don't think that most of the messengers keep up with all of that as much as we here in blogland would like to think they do. I think that they saw a guy from Iowa who was doing a good job of calling us to work together who had a heart for Christ and for missions. I think that Dave is who Baptists want to become and who we hope to see more of in non-Southern states.
Dave talks about a new Baptist majority. I think that we might just see one and I think that it might look a lot like Dave Miller – regular guys who are working hard for the Kingdom in out of the way places with a focus on Christ, a love for the lost, and a desire to work together. I am not trying to pump up Dave here – I am talking about us, what we want and who we hope to be. I think that the election of Fred Luter goes along the same lines. Rev. Luter is imminently qualified, but I think that we are also saying that it is time to stop being a white denomination and truly be multiracial. We believe that Rev. Luter is the person to help us do that.
In a year when we voted to allow for an alternative name to help us in ministry outside the South (Great Commission Baptists), we elected our first African American president, we voted to pass a resolution on unity in the gospel according to the BF&M, and we elected a 2nd VP from a small church in Iowa, I think that the message is clear: Baptists want to unify around Christ and His gospel, we want to be diverse both ethnically and geographically, we want to cooperate in missions to the ends of the earth, and we want to stop arguing about small things. Those are pretty strong statements and I think that Dave Miller's election was part of it. I hope we live up to them.