My first Southern Baptist Convention was in New Orleans in 1982. This year makes 26 years in a row. The record is no doubt held by Dr. Robert Naylor, who attended 63 Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings. What an incredible commitment to the SBC!
My early days of ministry were spent as an outsider in Southern Baptist circles. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would serve in various areas of Southern Baptist life. Last year the messengers elected me as first vice president. I am deeply appreciative to those who spoke well of my nomination and voted for me. It has been a blessed experience to hold the honorific position.
Serving as vice president may well be my swan song in elective service among Southern Baptists. That’s what happened to James Nance Garner in our nation’s government.
Mr. Garner was a Texan who wielded an incredible amount of power in Washington. Franklin Roosevelt asked him to resign his seat in Congress and to run as vice president on his ticket. Garner did and was elected. However, he disagreed with Roosevelt on some very major issues. When Roosevelt ran for another term, Garner was not asked to be the VP. Cactus Jack, as Garner was called, retired to Uvalde.
In 1960 Lyndon Johnson, another powerful Texan in Washington, was asked to run for vice president with John Kennedy. Johnson sought out counsel from the venerable but crusty Garner. When asked what he should do, Garner told Johnson that the vice presidency was not worth a pitcher of warm spit. Rumor had it that Garner actually was a little saltier in his word selection but that is what the press put in print. Johnson didn’t take Garner’s advice and through tragedy became president.
I don’t share Garner’s cynicism about the position. It is a privilege and blessing to have been vice president. Also, I praise God for President Frank Page. I respect Dr. Page as a Godly man who is exemplary in conduct and warm in spirit. He is a personal soul-winner. He sets a high standard for all of us to follow as he follows Christ.
We have a number of choices in this upcoming SBC presidential race. I do not know all of the nominees personally. I do know how I will determine my vote. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission urged us four years ago in the U.S. presidential election to be a “Values Voter.” My values will determine who gets my vote.
Southern Baptists do not have official parties and tickets. However, if I were to run as a VP on someone’s ticket there would have to be some shared values with my running mate.
We need a president who supports the continuation of the course set by the Conservative Resurgence. The battle for the Bible will never be over. A second value is to have a president who is committed to appoint people with strong convictions about what it means to be a Baptist. This means the Baptist Faith and Message must be the minimal basis for service on boards and committees.
There are issues not in the BF&M that must be addressed for Southern Baptist service. This is not narrowing the parameters; it is driving down long-held stakes. Alcohol use as a beverage and promotion of the modern-day tongues movement are hot buttons. If we broaden our parameters on these issues, we do it to our peril. We must maintain our distinctiveness or lose our identity.
Finally, let me say that support of SBC missions and ministry through the Cooperative Program is important. To have a litmus test of a certain percentage is counterproductive. To support a candidate who has not demonstrated an appreciation for the Cooperative Program is like electing a chairman of the board at Ford who drives a Chevrolet. Doctrine trumps the CP, but CP distinguishes us from other types of doctrinally sound Baptists. A president must show good faith progress in the area of Cooperative Program giving.
Thank you, Southern Baptists, for allowing me to serve as first vice president. It has been one of the most affirming experiences in our Lord’s service. My prayer is that God will raise up leaders who will take us forward as a convention to greater accomplishments for the glory of God.