Every year, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) holds elections for several important offices. Perhaps the highest-profile of these is that of the denomination’s president. As we close in on their 2024 Annual Meeting, five SBC leaders have tossed their hats into the Thunderdome to fight for that role.

Five (or so, barring removals and additions) will enter, but only one will leave.


(From introduction: Jared Wellman’s failure to win Executive Committee presidency; The Invader Zim scene where Gaz can’t eat anything without tasting pig.)

(This post went live on Patreon on 4/9/2024. In theory at least, by the time you see this note the audio ‘cast will be there as well. On 4/8 and 4/9, I couldn’t get it uploaded. But I’ll keep trying.)

Meet the two current SBC factions

On March 28, the SBC’s official site, Baptist Press, announced the then-four candidates expecting to run in the SBC’s upcoming presidential election (archive). Tom Ascol held a social-media meeting for them that day, which is when we got to hear the opinions and plans that the candidates hope will get them elected. Each of these men has his own opinion about how to rescue this massive denomination from its years-long iceberg collision, with all four using that topic as a party platform.

Generally speaking, each candidate belongs to one of two informal, unnamed factions fighting for supremacy in the SBC. A while ago, I dubbed them the Old Guard and the Pretend Progressives. In terms of beliefs, there isn’t much difference at all between them (archive). Instead, the factions differentiate themselves mostly by how they want to tackle the SBC’s huge sex abuse crisis.

The Old Guard are hardliners who want to ignore that crisis and focus like lasers on recruitment. They are the veterans and emotional descendants of the SBC’s civil war back in the 1980s-1990s, which SBC-lings call the Conservative Resurgence. In fact, they tend to think their predecessors didn’t go nearly far enough in yanking the denomination to the political right. At present, Tom Ascol is one of their leaders.

Meanwhile, the Pretend Progressives are counting on winning by acting like they totally want to do something meaningful about that sex-abuse crisis. Of course, a very few Pretend Progressive leaders really do want reform and substantial action taken. Poor dears. The joke’s on them.

Back when racism was more of a flashpoint, the factions fell along similar lines there. Old Guard guys insisted that all SBC-lings needed to do to deal with racism was to Jesus harder, while Pretend Progressives talked about doing more real-world stuff to combat the denomination’s endemic racism problem.

Segue: Come and see the best hypocrisy parade in the entire Christ-o-sphere

One of the most hilarious aspects of this factional fight has been the sheer murderous venom the Old Guard keeps spewing online about their enemies. So much for Jesus’ certainty that his followers would amaze heathens with their love and kindness toward each other!

No, forget that noise. When the leadership and mastery of a huge money-making machine like the SBC is on the line, the Old Guard are in it to win it—not to follow their god’s direct orders. By contrast, the Pretend Progressives have been the very picture of kindness toward the other faction.

Check out what one Old Guard site had to say in 2021 about Pretend Progressive Russell Moore:

Superhero in his own mind

Yes, Dr. Moore is just like QAnon. Only, he is less committed to protecting children from abuse since Russell Moore quit; Trump was forced from office. [sic] [. . .]

The abuse victims he mentioned in his letter were props. [The letters Moore sent after quitting his SBC job]

He’s doing what lifelong Democrats always do—they label their conservative opponent as racist, misogynist, and whatever other calumny they can manufacture.

And this letter is a mix of calumnies blended with narcissism and victimhood.

In other words, one might think it written by a self-absorbed soy boy rather than a minister of the Gospel.

How can someone possibly read these hypocrites’ nasty, hate-filled, overblown histrionics without laughing out loud? Calling Moore a “Democrat” when he’s anything but, accusing him of “whin[ing]” and being a “self-absorbed soy boy,” and more and worse besides, all to score a political win—it will never be not-funny to me. Considering how much hardliner evangelicals say they despise moral relativism, it’s shocking how much of it they display. It’s like words just don’t mean anything anymore to them!

Can you feel the love, brethren and sistren? Are you blown away yet by this TRUE CHRISTIAN™ display of kindness and love?

Despite all the hateful rhetoric the Old Guard can possibly summon, however, the Pretend Progressives have been demolishing them in elections for about five years now. That fact has only made the hardliners more vicious.

And now, let’s meet the current SBC president candidates

The current incumbent president, Pretend Progressive Bart Barber, has served two terms now. Since he isn’t allowed to run again, the field has opened wide for five candidates:

Most of these guys are pastors, which is normal. Indeed, most SBC presidents are pastors. Now, you might think a massive business operation like the SBC might prefer leaders with some actual corporate-level business experience. But that’s not how the SBC rolls. Instead, they go wild for guys with successful churches. After all, scaling up to many millions of SBC-lings and tens of thousands of churches can’t be that much different from leading a little Baptist church, right? Right?

In my opinion, the only two serious contenders here are Keahbone and possibly Moore.

The Old Guard deny the very existence of the SBC’s sex abuse crisis

As I mentioned, the Old Guard simply wants to ignore the entire sex abuse crisis. During his turn at the mic, Jared Moore went one step further and denied that such a crisis even exists.

“It’s [sex abuse] such a heinous sin … [but] the short answer is no, there is not an abuse crisis in the SBC,” said Jared Moore, while acknowledging individual high-profile cases of abuse.

Moore did correctly point out that “there is no tangible proof that children are safer today in the SBC than they were five years ago [before abuse reforms].” And yet somehow, he couldn’t make the leap from that to serious and meaningful reform being needed. Instead, he implies that because the Pretend Progressives haven’t made children safer, the entire effort needs to be wadded into a ball and tossed into the trash can.

We should apply the same reasoning to his take-no-prisoners anti-abortion stance. After all, everything he advocates regarding abortion doesn’t lower abortion rates (archive). Worse, his position only leads to more dangerous abortions—which leads in turn to more women’s deaths. In fact, the agitation of forced-birthers might only increase the number of abortions. And religious affiliation doesn’t have much at all to do with abortion rates. Often, the very women demonstrating in front of a clinic become its clients in time!

Unfortunately, the SBC’s own leaders chose to become involved with its sex abuse crisis

I’m not a lawyer, but I’d venture to guess that SBC leaders’ longstanding habit of keeping track of ministers accused of sex abuse means that they knew about the abuse for years. And knowing about sex abuse and not doing anything about it sounds really iffy to me, legally and morally speaking. Sure, their god does that all the time. But most people are a lot more moral than that. Out here in Reality-Land, if we find out someone’s being abused and do nothing, that’s not only immoral but possibly also illegal.

Moore’s fellow Old Guard member David Allen agreed that the sex abuse crisis isn’t really a crisis at all. No, no, it’s just “a serious issue” that requires SBC leaders’ attention. But that doesn’t qualify as a “crisis” to King Him! He insisted that sex abuse was a problem that SBC member churches themselves needed to deal with. All the SBC mother ship should be doing is “training, abuse prevention[,] and survivor care.” Then, he said that really, their god needed to tell them what to do anyway:

“We’re going to need heavenly wisdom … to address the issue,” [Allen] said.

Too bad Jesus hasn’t seemed very interested in helping anybody except the abusers and shieldmen themselves.

The Pretend Progressives sell their case to the SBC’s Old Guard, and fail yet again

At the mic, Mike Keahbone tried hard to sell the Pretend Progressives’ opinion to an audience that was likely mostly Old Guard guys (and, of course, hosted by one of that faction’s leaders).

In terms of SBC leadership amid the sex-abuse crisis, Keahbone has been a powerful voice for survivors and reformists. When the Executive Committee hired Guidepost to do a full investigation into sex abuse in the SBC, Keahbone was right there to defend that expensive decision—while the Old Guard freaked out about Guidepost tweeting one single time in support of LGBTQ rights. They quit their jobs in a huff rather than be examined so closely by people they did not and could not control.

Once again, Keahbone defended the Guidepost hiring decision. He expressed his thanks to Jesus that the report found that “there wasn’t a systematic process that made all these things happen.” (O RLY?) Then, he lamented that not much has been done about that crisis:

“I don’t look at the dollars as … wasted. I think it was necessary for us to see where we were at and what was going on. I praise God that, so far, it looks like there wasn’t a systematic process that made all these things happen. But what it hasn’t addressed is the definite abuse that we’re seeing in lots of churches all over the country.”

Afterward, Pressley sorta-kinda agreed. Yes, sex abuse is a crisis. But no, it isn’t happening in every single church. That doesn’t mean churches can relax their newfound vigilance, though!

I don’t think any Old Guard minds were changed here.

Foiling Tom Ascol, Pretend Progressive-style

When Tom Ascol spoke after that, he tried to make the Pretend Progressives look ineffective and wasteful:

Discussions over funding have suggested that all Southern Baptist churches, guilty or not of harboring sexual abuse, should support training and any kind of remuneration to sexual abuse survivors, Ascol said, later acknowledging that nothing official had been proposed. Do the candidates support that?

He might have been referring here to the SBC’s formal apology to one abuse survivor. That was—and still is—an extremely big deal for the denomination. The Old Guard, in particular, was not happy about that apology.

Immediately, Keahbone yanked up him short. And he did it with such style, too. I liked his response:

“That’s not what’s being asked [of churches],” Keahbone said. “It’s not even on the table. The beauty of Southern Baptists is the voluntary cooperation. If a church wants to help, they should be able to. If they don’t, they don’t have to.”

Naturally, since the Old Guard has a lot of trouble with comprehension, both Old Guard candidates came down hard on the idea that all SBC churches needed to fund training and awareness efforts to prevent sex abuse. Keahbone had literally just said that wasn’t “on the table,” but I guess they wanted to get the word out in a definitive way.

Then these two Old Guard idiots accidentally said the quiet part out loud.

For the Old Guard, The Big Problem Here isn’t actually sex abuse

Moore and Allen voiced what every Old Guard member is likely thinking nowadays:

“The SBC is a voluntary association of churches, and my church is not responsible for what a church 1,000 miles away did,” Moore said.

“I think it’s a bridge too far,” Allen noted. “I think that’s a form of corporate guilt … and unwise and even opens the door to lawsuits.”

And there it is.

That’s why Ronnie Floyd quit his Executive Committee leadership role in such an abrupt huff. And why the SBC’s lawyers quit too. From the very top of SBC ranks down to the trustees in the Executive Committee, this is the one concern that has all of them quivering in their boots:

What happens when these abuse survivors decide to sue the denomination for not properly controlling ministers in their churches? How much culpability will the SBC as a denomination bear for that abuse?

Don’t mess with SBC money

The Pretend Progressives don’t seem all that concerned about lawsuits. But the Old Guard seems to think of little else besides that. I’m sure they’re thinking as well of all those Catholic dioceses that are declaring bankruptcy over sex-abuse survivors’ lawsuits (archive).

I’ll tell those Old Guard guys something for free, though:

The SBC-lings who will be voting for SBC President come summer have demonstrated for years that they want their leaders to care more about survivors than about the denomination’s image and reputation, and to care far more than they care about the SBC’s monetary position.

In fact, they’re so incredibly interested in reform and meaningful response that they’ll elect even glacially-slow-moving Pretend Progressive leaders over hardliners who seem callously indifferent to survivors’ needs and stories. When I read SBC-lings’ blog posts and social media, I can all but taste their revulsion over the mere idea of prioritizing recruitment over making churches safe for everyone.

After talking about sex abuse, conversation drifted to women pastors and financial transparency. The factions were a little more divided with these issues. Of note, some pastors in the SBC think that women pastors have risen to the status of a “crisis” for the SBC. Keahbone mentioned how weird it is that SBC leaders who don’t want to call sex abuse a crisis seem way more willing to call women pastors one.

Predictions for the election

As I said, of all the candidates, Keahbone stands out as the most prominent. However, Moore has real-world political power, and he’s not shy about flinging some muck at his enemies when the need arises. His sheer aggression might win over voters, especially if they’re already Old Guard or leaning that way.

That said, I don’t think the Old Guard has a candidate in the running right now who can actually win—unless.


See, the SBC has been bleeding members for a long time. So far, the body of voters each summer has consisted of more Pretend Progressives than Old Guard. But Christianity in general has become more evangelical in character. And evangelicalism itself seems to be polarizing further and further into right-wing extremism.

If enough Pretend Progressives leave the SBC, then the Old Guard stands a much better chance of winning.

If they keep losing, though, they might start thinking of flouncing away to make their own new denomination. I’m sure that idea won’t displease Tom Ascol, who has been acting a lot like his faction’s eternal God-Emperor already.

Get your popcorn ready for this summer’s Annual Meeting, folks!

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Captain Cassidy

Captain Cassidy is a Gen-X ex-Christian and writer. She writes about how people engage with science, religion, art, and each other. She lives in Idaho with her husband, Mr. Captain, and their squawky orange tabby cat, Princess Bother Pretty Toes. And at any given time, she is running out of bookcase space.

1 Comment

Saving the SBC: Authoritarians vs Love - Roll to Disbelieve · 04/15/2024 at 2:53 AM

[…] Like other evangelicals we’ve seen lately, this CBL guy doesn’t think there’s actually even an SBC abuse crisis in the first place. Anyone saying there is cannot be trusted to have the SBC’s wellness at heart. Furthermore, only a new Conservative Resurgence can fix things: […]

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