ANAHEIM, CA – The new president of the Southern Baptist Convention has arrived at a historic moment with some unconventional plans to blaze a new trail.
Bart Barber pastors a small church in Farmersville, Texas, where he regularly posts Twitter videos that mix humor alongside the Baptist issues of the day, often with a decidedly rural landscape in the background.
Tuesday night he won a run-off election for president at the Southern Baptist annual meeting. Barber captured 60% of the vote with his opponent Florida pastor Tom Ascol receiving 38 percent.
Just hours before, Southern Baptists had approved historic abuse reform measures, moving forward with plans to create a database to track predators who've served in churches, as well as a new abuse task force to recommend more reform.
In May, the previous task force released an independent third-party report documenting how top Southern Baptist leadership stonewalled and mistreated abuse survivors over the last 20 years.
Barber has strongly supported abuse reform and care for survivors, and in his remarks at his opening press conference, he said abusers have taken advantage of Baptist church autonomy to go after victims by moving undetected from church to church. Barber vowed to change course.
"Our decentralized polity can become, rather than a hunting ground in which predators brutalize their prey, a place where sexual predators are put on notice that the tables have turned and where the hunter is now the hunted," he warned.
Barber also candidly acknowledged that Baptist in-fighting has wounded him over the years.
"Every way that I've served Southern Baptists has left scars. Every way that I've done it. But this family of churches is worth it," he said.
Barber said he's learned to ignore slanderous comments and move to love those who make them, but he also spoke out against online mud-slinging.
"Shooting back to try to 'own them' does not solve the problem," he said. "If it solved the problem then the United States would be the healthiest nation on earth right now."
Barber is known for his optimism that translates in-person and online.
"He's positive, he's encouraging," said new executive committee chair and fellow Texas pastor Jared Wellman. "Bart just pulls out his phone and does videos every day. He invites people into his life."
Griffin Gulledge, an SBC pastor in Madison, Georgia, said Baptists voted for Barber as a unifier.
"I think what you saw during that election is people saying, 'We're not here to fight one another. We're not here to attack one another....we're here to lock arms for our mission.'"
Barber will seek to blaze a new trail as a small church pastor committed to his flock while serving as the SBC president. He plans to be on the road less and model a different leadership style, with other small church pastors in mind who may seek the position in the future. In recent years, SBC presidents have typically come from megachurches.
"I have got two teenage kids and I've got a church full of people who -- they expect me to be the one to preach that funeral," he said.
In a country worn down from a pandemic, divisive politics, and mass shootings, Barber said it's an opportune time for Baptists to share their faith.
"I think a lot of Americans are at a point where they're saying 'What is going wrong?'" he said. "I think that people who are proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ have an answer to that that people are hungry for."