National Edition

Southern Baptists elect megachurch pastor to presidency

Published: Wednesday, June 11 2014 2:45 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, July 28 2014 10:57 a.m. MDT

The Rev. Ronnie Floyd, center, of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, hugs The Rev. Dwight McKissic, right, of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, after Floyd was elected the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention during its annual meeting Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Baltimore. Floyd received 52 percent of votes cast by delegates to the annual meeting of the nation's largest Protestant denomination. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

Steve Ruark, Associated Press

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The Southern Baptist Convention has elected megachurch Pastor Ronnie Floyd as its new president in a move that is likely linked to the denomination's need to stem declining membership. This year's annual meeting came on the heels of reports that SBC membership has dropped for the seventh year in a row.

The conservative denomination is on a mission to increase church attendance and baptisms even as it "faces increasing conflict with mainstream culture," reported the Associated Press. The SBC is vocal about its belief that gay sex is immoral, and the convention passed resolutions upholding that belief.

Floyd appeared to be a natural choice for president. His many years of service to the church are complemented by a record of successful evangelism. Cross Church, where he serves as senior pastor, has baptized over 17,000 people during Floyd's tenure, reported Stephanie Samuel for Christian Post.

"Floyd's election is an apparent approval of his focus on church growth and international missions," Samuel wrote.

In its collection of Fast Facts about Floyd, Religion News Service described him as a 58-year-old former Texan who graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as both a master of divinity and doctor of ministry. Floyd failed in his 2006 campaign for the SBC presidency.

On his personal website, Floyd emphasizes his long-term commitment to the SBC. The About Me section describes him as a teacher of biblical principles "that encourage and uplift thousands of people all over the world via TV, the Internet, podcasts, radio, speaking engagements and books." He's been a pastor for over 36 years.

"The vote came Tuesday morning at the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, where about 5,000 messengers were gathered from cooperating Southern Baptist churches across the nation," wrote Carol McPhail of Al.com. Floyd received 51.62 percent of the vote.

In spite of declining membership, the Southern Baptist Convention remains America's largest Protestant denomination, claiming 15.7 million members. "The president … does not legislate change but rather prods it along. The convention is an organization of churches each endowed with autonomy to lead itself," explained The Times-Picayune.

Floyd will replace two-term president Fred Luter Jr., the SBC's first African-American president.

"For a denomination founded (in 1845) on support for human slavery and with a less-than-stellar civil rights record, the SBC has made significant strides in race relations," wrote Jacob Lupfer for Religion News Service.

The SBC was 388 votes away from electing its first Asian president on Tuesday. Pastor Dennis Manpoong Kim of Silver Spring, Maryland, was Floyd's main rival, reported The Tennessean.

In his retirement from national service, Luter will continue to serve as pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. His path to SBC presidency began at the intersection of Galvez Street and Caffin Avenue, where he would "preach to anyone who would listen," explains his church's website.

Luter advised his successor to "make sure he has a good staff at his home church and commit to leading church services every Sunday," reported the Christian Post.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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