• Mike Stone Announcement

    • Willy Rice
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    • June 5, 2023
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    In just a few days at our Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, I will nominate Mike Stone to the office of SBC President. Such an announcement would have been unthinkable for both of us a short time ago. I wish the status quo were an option. It’s not.

    Two years ago, when Mike ran for SBC president and lost a narrow election, I enthusiastically supported my friend Ed Litton. I rejoiced when Ed won. I didn’t know Mike but disagreed with him on several issues and especially felt concern over the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN). I found some of their voices to be overly divisive and unnecessarily caustic. 

    I strongly support both of our mission boards, love their leaders, and believed then (and still do) that the overwhelming consensus of Baptist leaders are rock solid in their biblical convictions. “Conservative” (when one means biblical fidelity and moral conviction) is not an adjective to describe a subset of our people, it’s who we are. As Mike said before the Nashville convention, “there were no liberals being nominated. “  

    I am not a part of the CBN. I do not endorse everything they have said or written, but neither do I think every concern they have expressed can be ignored and summarily dismissed.  Mike and I have spoken at length about this. Mike does not represent the CBN and if elected, Mike will not be a CBN President; he will be the SBC President and he will serve us all.

    In the last months I have come to know Mike Stone on a personal level. I have found him to be a man of courageous conviction, a pastor with a shepherd’s heart, and somebody who understands the SBC and the issues of this hour that we face. He is an independent thinker and, more than most, he is his own man. He is also willing to run for SBC President again, and this time I will support him and hope he is elected.

    Why the change? Why now? I have reluctantly but clearly come to believe that our convention is facing an existential crisis that could irreparably damage our cooperative work. I am not sure if, on the present course, the Cooperative Program survives much longer.

    Mike has long been a strong supporter of our cooperative work. In the 20 full years of Pastor Mike’s tenure at Emmanuel, the church has given an average of 8.6% of undesignated receipts through the SBC Cooperative Program. The rural South Georgia church has given over $2.6 million through the CP during this time, frequently ranking as one of the top contributors in the Georgia state convention. His church’s recent move to Great Commission giving is indicative of two things: His commitment to our collective Baptist mission and his deep concern over our current trajectory. Others share those same concerns.

    The sexual abuse reform movement began with the best of intentions, at least for most of us. But I now believe that movement, as currently engineered, threatens the very fabric of our fellowship.

    For reasons I’ve written about before, I was an enthusiastic proponent of this reform movement. At long last Southern Baptists were having an open conversation to deal with issues of sexual abuse and possessed the will and momentum to act. Like so many, I supported such efforts believing we were going to address child sexual abuse and predators. But where we’re at isn’t what I signed up for.

    I didn’t sign up for left wing, feminist critical theory, cancel culture, politics. I didn’t sign up for leaked emails, taped conversations, endless lawsuits, and character assassination. A movement that should have united Southern Baptists to attack a problem has instead divided us into attacking one another. Godly believers have been maligned and attacked as somehow supportive of sexual abuse and of sexual abusers simply because they advocate a different approach to dealing with this critical issue.

    I will nominate Mike Stone because Mike is one of the few people who understands what has gone wrong and knows how to right the direction. Mike is a sexual abuse survivor. He knows firsthand the horror of such a violation. He also knows what it feels like to be unfairly attacked. He is one of the few guys I know who possess the strength to stand in this current moment and the wisdom to know what to do.

    Mike has assured me he will build on the work of sexual abuse reform and will lead Southern Baptists in a united effort to address this issue. The very best thing Southern Baptist churches can do to protect those under our care is to equip our churches and our pastors with the necessary skills and training to prevent sexual abuse.

    The proposed ministry check database that would include people who have merely been accused has become a massive point of unnecessary and unproductive controversy for understandable reasons. While the current ARITF has backed off that at this time, they have clearly stated that they are “committed to implementing” that approach “once it can be fully developed.”

    If the convention chooses to empower the next President to appoint another task force to continue the work of sexual abuse reform, Mike has assured me he will only appoint people who identify with Southern Baptists, who care about the work and health of our churches and will guide us to a thoughtful approach that can unite our churches, not divide them. The work of sexual abuse reform will not be torpedoed; it will be accomplished, and it will be accomplished in a way that unites us and follows appropriate legal guidelines. Mike will not advocate approaches that circumvent legal protocols and violate our ecclesiology or our theology.

    The most recent audit of our SBC Executive Committee bluntly stated that our current course is financially “unsustainable.” We have drained millions of dollars given by Southern Baptist people for missions on unnecessary litigation and administrative costs because of our unwise approach to this issue. As Mike said, “Unsustainable is unacceptable.”

    I wish the status quo were acceptable, I really do. Ronald Reagan once said, status quo is Latin for the mess we’re in. Over the last year I’ve spoken with many pastors who are frustrated, and I have become convinced that the very foundation of our cooperative work is being torn. Many of them are afraid to speak up or step out for fear of the gaslighting and public attacks on their character. They have been silenced in their own convention.

    Entire state conventions have talked about designating cooperative program funds and others are waiting in the wings. I’ve never heard such talk in my life. Those frustrations are ignored at our own peril.

    While all of this is happening within, around us our culture is imploding under the weight of a depravity that is nothing short of demonic. We are facing not just a few headwinds, but a storm that will test us as never before. This is no time for the pastel colors of nuance. This is time for the bold colors of conviction and courage. Our nation and our world need the largest body of evangelical believers in America to stand boldly united in sound doctrine and courageous convictions.

    The quiet parts have now been said out loud…this is unsustainable. The old alignments and descriptions are obsolete.  A new and urgent hour is upon us. The time has come for a bold, if difficult choice. The direction must be changed, and the drift must be stopped. That is why next week I will nominate Mike Stone to lead us as our next SBC President.