By Barbara Denman
ST. LOUIS (BP) – Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines was elected by acclamation as Southern Baptist Convention president after fellow candidate J.D. Greear withdrew his candidacy June 15 in a display of unity.
Greear’s withdrawal followed a runoff vote that didn’t produce a majority winner on Tuesday (June 14). His decision avoided a second runoff and left Gaines elected by acclamation as president of the SBC during the annual meeting in St. Louis.
Greear told the convention he prayed the night before and believed “we need to leave St. Louis united.” He made the motion for Gaines to be elected by acclamation.
Gaines said he, too, had decided internally Tuesday night to withdraw but agreed to serve as president after a conversation with Greear. “There’s no way God is not doing something in all of this.”
“I just wanted Jesus to be lifted high” and the convention to be united, Gaines said.
Gaines, Greear and New Orleans pastor David Crosby originally were nominated for convention president.
In the first ballot cast by 5,784 messengers, Crosby received 583 votes or 10.08 percent; Gaines received 2,551 votes, or 44.1 percent of the votes; and Greear received 2,601 votes, or 44.97 percent. None of the candidates received 50 percent or more of the votes, forcing a runoff.
Then in the runoff ballot, with 7,230 messengers registered, 4,824 ballots were cast. Gaines received 2,410 votes or 49.96 percent while Greear received 2,306 votes or 47.80 percent. However, 108 votes were considered illegal because the wrong ballot was used or an indistinguishable mark was made.
Roberts Rules of Order require that the 108 illegal votes be counted to determine a majority. To be declared a winner, Gaines or Greear needed to win 50 percent plus 1 of ballots cast, or 2,413 or more votes.
Had the second runoff election taken place, it would have been the first time in SBC history that a second ballot for the same two candidates in the presidential election would have been necessary, said chief parliamentarian Barry McCarty.
The new SBC president succeeds Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Ark.
During the 11 years Gaines has pastored Memphis-area Bellevue, the congregation has averaged 481 baptisms per year, according to the SBC’s Annual Church Profile database. Previously, he pastored churches in Alabama, Tennessee and Texas.
Bellevue voted to give $1 million during its 2016-17 church year through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified channel for funding state- and SBC-level missions and ministries. That will total approximately 4.6 percent of undesignated receipts, the church told Baptist Press.
Gaines was nominated by former SBC President Johnny Hunt, who emphasized the church’s baptismal record. “During the past 11 years, Gaines has led Bellevue Church to baptize thousands of new converts, Hunt emphasized. “It is in light of our overwhelming need to get back to evangelism, personal soul-winning in our SBC,” that he nominated Gaines to lead the denomination, he said.
“For such a time as this, when baptisms are at a 15-year low, we need Steve to lead us in a great soul-winning resurgence,” Hunt said. “It’s time to make soul-winning a major priority.”
Among his denominational service, Gaines has been a member of the Committee on Nominations, a trustee of LifeWay Christian Resources, a member of the committee that proposed a revision of the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000, chairman of the Resolutions Committee, and president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference, Hunt noted.
Calling Gaines “a great prayer warrior,” Hunt said, “He is one that knows the only hope for our nation, and for this denomination, is a great movement of God. He has a real passion for stewardship — his church giving $1 million this year to the Cooperative Program.”
In winning the election, Gaines is the fourth president from Bellevue Baptist Church, following Southern Baptist legends R.G. Lee, Ramsey Pollard and Adrian Rogers.
Greear, 43, was nominated by Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, as a younger alternative to the two other candidates, saying his election would signal the next generation of leaders they “have a place at the SBC table.”
“Some people feel like the days are dim for the future of our convention — baptisms are down, missionaries are coming home and churches are closing,” Scroggins said. “We have to get younger and more diverse. J.D. Greear has a church full of diversity and ethnicity.”
“J.D. is the right man and this is the right time for the baton to be passed from one generation of SBC leadership to another,” Scroggins said. “His election will send a signal to an entire generation of Southern Baptists that their time has come. He would bring together churches of all sizes and people of all ethnicities and encourage thousands of pastors in their 20s, 30s and 40s that they can and should and must get involved.”
Former SBC President Fred Luter nominated fellow Louisiana pastor Crosby, saying, “I have known David Crosby for the past 20 years. He has had the reputation of a man of high morals and high values. He leads not only by his preaching and teaching, but also by his lifestyle. He is a man of character, compassion and of concern.”
During his 20 years at First Baptist Church of New Orleans, the church has given between 7 and 15 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program, even as the church worked to rebuild and relocate in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“I have seen up close and personal for 20 years how God has used David in the city of New Orleans,” Luter said, “and I believe God will use him in the save way in our beloved convention.”
Elected as first vice president was Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., who ran opposed; and as second vice president, Malachi O’Brien, pastor of The Church at Pleasant Ridge in Harrisonville, Mo., who was one of three nominated for the post and won in a runoff.
John L. Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention since 2011, was reelected to a 20th term as recording secretary, nominated by Jason Duesing, provost and professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological: while Jim Wells, a church consultant and retired Missouri Baptist Convention staff member was reelected to a 15th term as registration secretary, nominated by Missouri pastor Eddie Bumpers.
The Committee on Order of Business recommended Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Cal., as the 2017 convention preacher; Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas as the alternate; and Mark Blair, Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova., Tenn., as music director. All three were elected.
The 2017 SBC will be held June 13-14 in Phoenix, Az.