In Another Win for Abuse Reform, SBC Elects Bart Barber as President

Texas pastor beats Conservative Baptist Network–endorsed Tom Ascol in a runoff.

As Bart Barber, a tall Texas pastor in a suit and tie, walked outside the convention hall in Anaheim, Southern Baptists stopped to congratulate their new president. They shook his hand, patted his back, and took pictures. When Barber put his name in the ring for SBC president, there was similar enthusiasm from friends who texted asking if he was excited to go for the position.

But his feelings are heavier than that. He knows the baggage that comes from leadership—his predecessor Ed Litton was attacked by opponents enough that he didn’t seek a second year in office. It was the first time in 40 years that an SBC president didn’t get reelected for another term.

“This is not the first difficult season serving Southern Baptists for me. Every way that I have served Southern Baptists has left scars,” said Barber, who fought as a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee to oust Paige Patterson over his response to abuse. His eyes got glassy during a Wednesday press conference, and his speech slowed to deliberate words. “But this family of churches is worth it. It’s worth enduring slings and arrows.”

Though Barber doesn’t fit the SBC president mold—he pastors a rural congregation and not a megachurch—he’s active and vocal on Twitter, with nearly 17,000 following his folksy commentary and analysis. There, he told reporters, he’s seen how “the coarseness, the crass discourse that’s out there in the world has come into our family of churches.”

He inherits ongoing denominational divides and the monumental task of moving abuse reform forward. His first priority is appointing the task force responsible for recommending next steps and creating …

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