As a follower of things political in the SBC, I have been watching with significant interest the preliminaries to the 2008 SBC Presidential Election in Indianapolis:
- The indomitable Wiley Drake became the first announced candidate on Aug 13, 2007, when Robert Bosworth, who attends Drake's church, made public his intention to nominate Drake in Indianapolis. (HT: ABP) We've heard very little about Drake's candidacy since then, and it is possible that things have changed. But until a formal withdrawal from "the race" takes place, we'll consider Bro. Wiley to be in the running.
- Speaking of "the race," Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary faculty member Bill Wagner has engaged the campaign for the presidency in as formal a race-oriented way as any candidate in convention history. Wagner has a campaign staff, a campaign website, and his own Gingrichesque contract with the SBC. Wagner's campaign faces an uphill climb much more significant than the physical journey across the Rockies that he'll need to make in order to reach Indiana from California, but he's in the running.
- I had found my candidate when, on January 2, 2008, Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and among the SBC's leading statesmen, announced that Dr. Robert Jeffress would nominate him for the office. (HT: SBC Today, where you can find excellent interviews with all of the confirmed SBC Presidential candidates) After he had suffered the slings and arrows of many on the leftward periphery of the convention, Dr. Mohler's campaign was brought to an abrupt end by a cancer scare (see here).
- Dr. Frank Cox of Lawrenceville, GA, announced on February 7, 2008, that famed evangelist Junior Hill would nominate him for the presidency. Cox gave a very encouraging interview to SBC Today and is clearly the frontrunner at this point. His nominator is unparalleled. He is a Cooperative Program champion. He has a devotion to God's Word and a gracious personality that resonates with Southern Baptists across the convention. With Dr. Mohler's withdrawal, Frank Cox has become the man to beat.
Will those be the only candidates? I think not. None of these are acceptable candidates for the Burleson Coalition (although I satirically suggested that Bill Wagner would make a good candidate for them, but I doubt that they will cast their vote for Dr. Wagner). Sources close to Burleson and sympathetic to his movement have been reporting in local associations in diverse locations across the country for several months that another candidate would be coming—a small-church pastor with high-profile endorsements. I now believe that I know who that person will be: Les Puryear.
If Puryear runs, it will be among the most fortuitous positions from which to seek the office in recent memory. Historically, potential candidates have used the Pastors Conference as a forum from which to gain press coverage, name recognition, and a forum for identifying with a platform. Puryear himself inquired about the possibility of advancing "a small church pastor" to lead the Pastors Conference until he learned about the exorbitant cost that the president of the conference incurs each year. Besides, format changes in the Pastors Conference have made it not nearly as effective as a political pre-meeting for the convention.
But Puryear won't need the help of a Pastors Conference—he has gained press coverage, name recognition, and a forum for identifying with a platform by creating his own conference. Rather than having to pony up cash for it, he has managed to obtain sponsorship from unwitting CP entities for the meeting.
At Puryear's conference, the current President of the SBC as much as endorsed Puryear. According to the North Carolina Biblical Recorder:
"It's time to have a small church pastor as president of the SBC," said Page, just two months from concluding his second one-year term as president. He encouraged participants to "nominate someone in this room."
Now, just today, Puryear has cryptically declined to sponsor a motion in Indianapolis, saying:
You say that you're looking for someone to present your motion as you will not be able to do so. I am not the one to do it as will become more clear next week.
From all of this evidence, it seems clear to me that Les Puryear is going to announce for SBC President next week. Now, a bit of political analysis:
- Who will nominate Puryear? That is the $64,000 question. Has the presiding officer of the convention ever attempted to nominate his successor? I suppose that I ought to know, but I do not. Junior Hill will be a difficult nominator to beat, but if Puryear can line up enough support—maybe make certain that sympathetic platform personalities mention his conference from time to time during the convention meeting—then the cumulative effect just might be formidable.
- Will Burleson, Cole, and the SBC Outpost gang endorse Puryear publicly, or will they work from behind the scenes? Clearly he's the best candidate for their movement among the announced options so far. Puryear has made careful and public efforts to distance himself from Burleson in the immediate past, and with Burleson's polarizing persona, that's probably the wisest move at this point. But count on this: Les Puryear's committee appointments would be precisely the kind of appointments that Wade Burleson would make.
- Is it really possible for a blogger to get anywhere in public office-seeking in the SBC today? When I started blogging, I just presumed that it would be impossible ever to run for anything and very difficult ever to move to another church because of blogging. That works fine for me, because I'm at the best church in the SBC. Less information on the wire about you is generally better, as is less involvement in controversy. For example, how will the convention respond to Puryear's assertion that no true Christian can ever be in unrepentant sin? Is Puryear an Antinomian? If he were not a blogger, it is doubtful that anyone would even know about his more peculiar views, but there's all sorts of information on the wire about Puryear and all of the rest of us who blog. I'm not sure that any of us bloggers will ever be elected to anything for that reason. Better to keep one's head low and one's mouth shut if one aspires to office.
- I think that future SBC Presidential candidates may be less likely to give interviews to blogs because of this. Puryear has solicited and received interviews from the other candidates as a blogger, not as a challenger to the election. If much more of this happens, candidates may prove to be skittish about dealing with bloggers as though they were professional journalists who, even if biased in their questioning, are certain not to be running themselves in elections. If Puryear had been forthright with these men about his intentions to run, would they have granted the interviews? I'm not suggesting that Les broke any rules—the blogging rules haven't been written yet. I'm just suggesting that circumstances like this will be the kinds of conflict of interest that will lead bloggers to try to establish some sort of an ethical code to cover advocacy blogging.
Part of me hopes that Puryear is running. It would make me feel a lot better about something that has been bothering me. Over at SBC Impact a couple of days ago, Les posted an attack piece against me just out of the blue. It referenced a post that was ancient by blogging standards and twisted my words in bizarre ways. When I confronted Les with the misrepresentations, he wouldn't even discuss the specifics. As the tone of my comments surely revealed (I'm not that good at hiding such things), I was a little hurt by the whole event. Even though we've disagreed on some things, I thought that Les and I had a decent online relationship, and I couldn't understand why he would take a gratuitous slap at me and then refuse even to discuss the matter.
It didn't make sense for a friendly acquaintance and blogger to do that, but for a politician to do it? With that post Les tried to style himself as "middle of the road" (until Peter Lumpkins made him regret that wording) and then avoided saying anything substantive in the follow up that could come back to bite him later. That's one strategy that a candidate for the SBC presidency might follow…a business decision. "It's not personal; it's business." And I feel better about that. Because the business of elections will be over soon enough, and all will be back to what it was before.
I'm still not going to make an endorsement. I don't know for certain that Les will run—these are just my suspicions 99% confirmed by Les's statement on his blog today. Also, I don't know that Les will be the last candidate if he does run. I'll make an endorsement before we get to Indianapolis, but for now I'm keeping my options open.
But since "Joining God in His Work" has made it a point to interview all of the SBC candidates, I'll really be interested in reading Les's interview of himself. :-)