Al Mohler’s gamble . . .

Today was Ronnie Floyd’s big day, one he’s been planning for a long, long time. Even in the press conference following his election to the Southern Baptist Convention presidency — within a few short hours, if that — Floyd disclosed that he had already begun planning travel to new work areas. He’s wanted this moment.

He’s anticipated it. He’s worked to secure it.

He even had a little iPad on hand to read prepared remarks at the opening and closing of his press conference. Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 12.22.47 AM

So it is, that in the year of our Lord 2014, on the tenth day of June in Baltimore, Md., the Reverend Ronnie Floyd of Northwest Arkansas was chosen by 1,834 messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention to serve one year as their president.

Thus, we at Baptist Blogger find ourselves wanting to borrow the signature salutation of the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza, who concludes his regular column, “The Worst Week in Washington,” with these words:

“Congrats, or something.”

So now for the election breakdown.

As of the time of voting this morning, 5,001 convention messengers were registered. To win, Floyd needed 50 percent of all ballots cast, plus one.  Apart from 63 disqualified ballots — usually due to mismarking or other messenger error — there were 3,490 ballots counted.  That means a voter turnout to elect the next SBC President was a little more than 71 percent.

Floyd took 51.62 percent (1,834 votes) to Maryland pastor Dennis Kim’s 40.7 percent (1,446 votes), in a three way race.

Not bad, right? Not so fast.

Let’s look at some history.

In 2010, the last time there was a seriously contested election for SBC President (Florida’s Ted Traylor versus the winner, Atlanta-area pastor Bryant Wright), the voter turnout for the run-off election was close at 69.7 percent.  And that was a run-off, which usually gets lower turnout because they are not scheduled and messengers must be on the convention floor to cast a ballot at the time of the run-off election.  In the end, Wright got 4,425 votes to Traylor’s 3,371 — or 55.11 percent.

Or put another way, Bryant Wright received 2,591 more votes in a contested run-off election four years ago than Ronnie Floyd received in Baltimore today. In fact, the other candidate, Ted Traylor, received 1,537 more votes in the 2010 runoff than Floyd did this year in his own three-way race, and still lost that year’s election. But enough about Bryant Wright.

Let’s look back a little further.

In 2008, the Southern Baptist Convention met in Indianapolis, Ind.  Another Atlanta-area pastor, Johnny Hunt, faced his own six-way race to become the next SBC President. At the time of voting, there were 7,196 registered messengers and 5,586 ballots cast for a 77.6 percent voter turnout. Of those, Hunt won 52.94 percent of the vote (3,100 votes) — enough to avoid a run-off election entirely. Incidentally, he was nominated by Florida pastor Ted Traylor, mentioned above.

And just for fun, let’s go back to the last time Ronnie Floyd was in the running for president (nominated by no less than Johnny Hunt). The year was 2006, and it was another three-way race. There were 11,639 registered messengers, with 8,961 ballots cast for SBC President. Voter turnout was 76.99 percent. South Carolina Pastor Frank Page — now President of the SBC Executive Committee — received 4,546 votes, or 50.48 percent, also enough to avoid a run-off.

Ronnie Floyd received 2,247 votes (24.95 percent), and then pastor of Nashville’s Two-Rivers Baptist Church, Jerry Sutton, received 2,168 votes (24.08 percent).

So what’s my point with all this math?

Today, Ronnie Floyd received 413 more votes than Dennis Kim, which means that 207 votes could have swung the election the other way, assuming the third candidate received the same number of votes and no additional messengers cast ballots.

Still, a decent win. But comparatively, the vote might be a little harder to swallow.

Consider this: Ronnie Floyd received 334 fewer votes this year to become SBC President than Jerry Sutton — the 2006 third-place losing candidate received the last time Floyd was on the ballot.  And he received 413 fewer votes than he himself received in 2006, meaning the number of people who supported him this year over Dennis Kim is the exact same number of fewer people that supported Floyd the last time he ran for SBC President — and lost.

So in winning today’s vote, Ronnie Floyd actually lost votes compared to the last time he ran and lost. And it’s by the exact same number of votes — 413.

That’s just fascinating. Here’s a chart that shows my point. (Click to enlarge)


Here’s why I think Ronnie Floyd should take today’s election very, very lightly.

It was the lowest voter turnout in a contested SBC Presidential election in the last 8 years.

He received fewer votes from SBC messengers than he received in 2006, when he lost.

He received fewer votes from SBC messengers this year than every other major losing candidate has since 2006.

In fact, Ronnie Floyd is the only man to win a contested election to be SBC President with less than 3000 votes since the beginning of the Conservative Resurgence. (Click on the chart to enlarge)

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 1.42.43 AM

Ronnie Floyd said in today’s press conference that he was “blessed and extremely humbled” to be chosen by Southern Baptists. I’m not sure the SBC Presidency can be called a blessing, but given the way the numbers shake out there’s good reason to be humble.


So why do I call it Al Mohler’s gamble?

Because there has been near unanimity among Southern Baptists that Al Mohler is their most articulate, most intelligent, most persuasive, and most formidable figure.

He’s theologian, politician, statesman and strategist. And yet, this is the outcome?

Al Mohler doesn’t strike me as a man who likes to play in the little leagues. He’s never really seemed like a man who enjoys small wins or razor margins.

So today his candidate won, but in winning, he may have lost.

Whether or not today’s election proves pyrrhic for Mohler — winning the election but losing that sense among Southern Baptists that you’re their heaviest hitter — will become apparent in time.


10 thoughts on “Al Mohler’s gamble . . .

  1. Ben,

    Wow!!! What an analysis. Your voice and perspectives are greatly missed.
    It was a joy reading you again. There is absolutely no one who understands the SBC in all of her various and sundry dimensions any better than you. I hope this means that you may be coming home.

  2. Ben,

    Great analysis. You bring perspectives and analysis to the SBC like none other. I’m not sure that there is anyone on the SBC who understands her in all of her dimensions and facets any better than you. For Kim to be largely unknown outside of Maryland his showing was remarkable. We need to hear more from you. Thanks.

  3. I voted for Kim, but am not displeased with Floyd.

    I am not certain the vote says much about Mohler.

    Kim’s resume was impressive, and Dwight’s speech was solid.

    I don’t know how these things work nowadays. Back in the days of the CR, you had to get a movement conversative to nominate the conservative candidte, especially if the moderate candidate was also personally conservative. The identity of the nominator was a seal of approval of the candidate.

    I believe the main point, on which you are correct, is that for some reason Floyd has never warmed up to the SBC messengers.

    I don’t know why that is. I suspect there is something there, but I don’t run the Arkansas orbit, so I am out of the loop. I will say, however, that I know some movement conservatives and at least one of them told me that he did not vote for Floyd. He did not vote for Floyd in Greensboro either. He did not tell me why, however. So I am left to spectulate.

    All of that to say that while the messengers recognize Mohler as a great speaker etc., I believe the messengers are becoming sophisticated enough to make up their own minds. I did. I like Mohler, but I voted for Kim. I did so because of his record and I like the emphasis and perspective his ethnic background could have given the SBC presidency. I was not sure about how he would use his appointments, but my concern there gave way to the positives I saw in Kim. The nominating speeches did not sway me one way or the other, though as I said, Dwight’s speech was great.

    I don’t know how someone gets to make a nomination speech. Did Floyd ask or did Mohler offer?

    Anyway, I like Floyd and I think he will make good appointments.

    Also, I am glad that Floyd and Mohler are close. The area where Floyd lives has some of the greatest wealth in the country (Wal-Mart, JB Hunt Trucking, Tyson chicken, Stephens bonds etc.) I am glad that Mohler will have exposure to some of the people from that area who may be in a position to give substantially to Southern.

    Finally, I got to meet Dwight and we gave each other big hugs! It was a real privilege.

    Also, I would like to say that it is good to see Ben Cole writing again. But given what we are witnessing on our southern border, I also want him fully engaged on the Hill!

    1. Louis,

      I appreciated meeting you as well. Your response here to Ben is…”on the other hand”….and I think that is good.

      When reading future comments, it is now good to know that I can put a face, name, and a few short moments of meaningful exchange of genuine fraternal greetings together.

  4. Seems to me Kim’s vote percentage is not a great thing for Mohler. But Mohler is one of he most brilliant political strategists around as we have witnessed over the years. He can protect and promote child molester protector pastors, say that NC is the only game in town if you want to see the nations rejoice for Christ, call his colleagues a form of heretic, claim they should be “marginalized” for signing a trad doc and on and on and STILL nominate someone who may not want to see the nations rejoice for Christ because he is not NC.

    Does Mohler wear a Teflon Mae West?

    Perhaps the strategist in him sees the handwriting on the wall. The backlash to the YRR movement has only just begun, is gaining momentum and he is positioning himself early for it? (He always lands on his feet)

    Will there ever come a day when folks have had enough of Patterson, either?

    Of course the SBC is dying a slow death. I did note that Floyd is big on guilt tithing sermons. They are going to be needed convention wide

  5. I remarked to one of our mutual freinds via text, “[This post] is fascinating, vintage, and sad.” I suspect you will be able to cipher each sense appropriately.

  6. Now, if Lydia would only let me take her and her husband to dinner the next time I am up her way, that would be great.

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