Southern Baptist President Bart Barber draws crowd near Indy before annual meeting

GREENFIELD, Indiana (RNS) — Before the debates, decisions and elections of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, Texas pastor Bart Barber spent the last Sunday of his SBC presidency at a church outside Indianapolis that added an overflow room because the head of its denomination was in town.

At Calvary Baptist Church in Greenfield, Indiana, about 200 people gathered to hear Barber preach after seeing a new member get baptized and listening to Native Praise, a guest choir, sing hymns in Cherokee, Muskogee and English.

“Bart’s been the man of the hour for the last two years,” said Pastor Roger Kinion, senior pastor of the church 18 miles from Indianapolis on Sunday (June 9). “There’ve been a lot of difficult issues in our convention and in our society, and he has carried that torch well for us.”

Southern Baptists are expected to consider a second vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would declare that one way a church is considered to be in “friendly cooperation” is if it “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” As they are likely to hear six nomination speeches about Barber’s possible successors, they also are expected to vote on recommendations from the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force for possible next steps related to a database and funding to address abuse.

Kinion noted that he had an introductory conversation with Barber, who called from his Texas farm where he feeds cattle when he’s not pastoring his church or addressing denominational matters. Kinion told Barber he’d “fit in just fine” in the state of Indiana.

In fact, Barber told the congregation that he had 21 head of cattle. He noted: “My top performing cow — her name is Lottie Moon,” drawing laughter as he elongated the second word of the cow named after a beloved historical missionary, whose name also graces the annual mission offering of the SBC.

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But preaching, praying and singing were the main things on the agenda at the local church he visited two days ahead of the start of the annual meeting.

Before he spoke on a Scripture passage, Barber praised the choir and differentiated between Baptists’ gospel outreach to Native Americans “without coercion” and the boarding schools that were run by Catholics, Anglicans and other Christian groups, whose “forced assimilation” of Native peoples was criticized in a 2022 resolution at the SBC meeting.

“The Holy Spirit makes believers,” he said. “Men can only make hypocrites.”

Barber preached about the passage in the Gospel of Luke that says “God knows your hearts.”

“God knows the truth about you, and that ought to scare the living daylights out of you,” he preached. “If it doesn’t, you don’t know your heart, but God knows your heart. It’s scary, but it is also amazingly good news, because God knows every bad thing about you and loves you anyway.”

After his sermon, Pastor Paul George, the church’s associate pastor, asked if anyone would like to volunteer on the Monday after the annual meeting to help victims of a recent tornado about an hour’s drive away in Winchester, Indiana, where a home is in need of a cleanout of its drywall, ceilings and floors “to help these people get back on their feet.” 

Pastor Paul George, left, and Pastor Roger Kinion, right, pray over Bart Barber at Calvary Baptist Church in Greenfield, Indiana. (RNS photo/Adelle M. Banks)

Pastor Paul George, left, and Pastor Roger Kinion, right, pray over Bart Barber at Calvary Baptist Church in Greenfield, Indiana. (RNS photo/Adelle M. Banks)

George then stood with Barber and Kinion and prayed for Barber.

“We pray for our brother and pastor, Dr. Barber, as he leads our convention through this convention and that you’ll bring peace and harmony and joy; that anything that wouldn’t be pleasing to you would be put aside and laid to rest,” George said, “but that we experience unity and harmony as we seek together to serve you in this kingdom.”

Priscilla Blackfox, an Oklahoman who is a member of Native Praise and a member of the SBC Committee on Nominations, said after the service that she agreed with the hopes for unity despite the expectations of controversy during the meeting.

“We want to see the Southern Baptist Convention just to continue with unified volunteers — because we’re all volunteers,” Blackfox said. “And we just pray for God’s will to be done in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

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