Torn by years of internal conflict between theological moderates and conservatives, the Southern Baptist Convention chose a new president Tuesday in an uncontested race that marked the control hard-liners have won over the denomination.
Tom Elliff, pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, Okla., was elected to a one-year term on a show of hands from more than 13,000 delegates at the afternoon session.
It was the first time in decades that the presidency of the 16-million-member denomination has been uncontested. Although largely an honorary position, the president has influential appointive powers.
The vote was a landslide unseen since long before the convention erupted in internal conflict in 1979 and theological conservatives surprised the denomination’s leadership by winning the presidency.
They have won every election since.
Conservative Southern Baptists hold that the Bible is literally true - “inerrant” in its science and history as well as its theology.
Moderates believe that Scripture is divinely inspired truth, while trusting the judgment of modern scholarship that some passages may be read non-literally, as the literature of their time.
Asked what he would say to the moderate faction of the Southern Baptists, Elliff summed it up quickly.
“The word would be ‘Repent and understand the scriptural content of the Bible is the word of God,”’ Elliff said.