NEW ORLEANS — Longtime Southern Baptist leader Willy Rice said Monday he intends to be the one to nominate Georgia pastor Mike Stone for SBC president at the annual meeting in New Orleans next week.
“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,” Rice said in a written statement. “This is no time for the pastel colors of nuance. This is time for the bold colors of conviction and courage.”
Rice, who had considered a race of his own for SBC president last year, called Stone “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."
Having Rice as a nominator is seen as a boon for the Stone campaign. Rice has been active at all levels of the denomination, including having served as president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference, trustee for the North American Mission Board, president of the Florida Baptist Convention, and as chair of the SBC Committee on Committees and SBC Committee on Nominations.
Stone is challenging incumbent SBC President Bart Barber, a Texas pastor who won election last year in Anaheim, Calif.
Stone had sought the presidency two years ago, narrowly losing to Alabama pastor Ed Litton who didn’t seek a second term.
Rice had opposed Stone in that election, throwing his support to Litton.
“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,” Rice said. “I am not sure if, on the present course, the Cooperative Program survives much longer.”
Rice said Stone’s church, Emmanuel Baptist in Blackshear, Ga., has given an average of 8.6% of undesignated receipts through the SBC Cooperative Program for a total of more than $2.6 million during his tenure as pastor. The church shifted to Great Commission giving last year.
“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,” Rice said. “Others share those same concerns.”
In a lengthy statement, Rice said his decision to back Stone in the presidential election also was sparked by the sexual abuse reform movement that began, he said, with the best of intentions. Rice said he had been an enthusiastic proponent of the movement.
“But I now believe that movement, as currently engineered, threatens the very fabric of our fellowship,” he said.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Rice said Stone is one of the few people who understands what has gone wrong and knows how to correct it.
“Mike is a sexual abuse survivor,” Rice said. “He knows firsthand the horror of such a violation. He also knows what it feels like to be unfairly attacked.”
Rice also pointed to an audit that found the SBC Executive Committee on an unsustainable course as another reason he is supporting Stone.
“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,” Rice said.
Rice said the SBC isn’t facing just a few headwinds, but, instead, is facing a storm.
“Our nation and our world need the largest body of evangelical believers in America to stand boldly united in sound doctrine and courageous convictions,” he said.
“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.”
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