For 23 years, Dr. Bart Barber (pictured) has pastored First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas. He's one of the first pastors from a relatively small, rural church to be elected president of the SBC, which he says makes him a consensus builder.
One of Barber's first tasks as president will be to steer the denomination through the sex abuse scandal in which it finds itself. He says most people have pointed to the Southern Baptist model of independent churches in voluntary cooperation as a weakness when it comes to rooting out abuse.
"Predators have realized the vulnerabilities of our system," he stated during a press conference on Wednesday. "It's time for Southern Baptists to realize how nimble and resilient our Baptist polity can be to put sexual predators on notice that Southern Baptist churches are a dangerous place for them."
But as Barber notes, there's more going in the SBC than just the sex abuse scandal: attendance and baptisms in its churches have been declining for years.
"We know as Southern Baptists that a great many of our churches don't have as many people attending as we used to," he acknowledged. "[It's] that local church emphasis that's going to carry the way through – not the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, but the pastor and the Sunday school teacher and the deacon and the godly laywoman and layman in our churches; [those] are going to be the ones who are going to have to carry the gospel forward and grow our churches."
And Barber says political involvement is important for a Christian, as long as it's in its place.
"Christians need to have opinions about politics and we need to be engaged in politics," said the new SBC leader. "We just need to make sure that in the dance between theology and politics, theology leads in that dance – always."
Related story from Baptist Press:
Churches have been 'hunting ground' for predators, new SBC president says