(RNS) — In the moments after the final gavel sounded to close the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting last week, Rod Martin was surprisingly cheerful.
Things had not gone well during the meeting for Martin, co-founder of the Conservative Baptist Network, which believes the nation’s largest Protestant denomination has been invaded by “woke” ideas like critical race theory.
The CBN’s candidate for SBC president, Florida pastor Tom Ascol, lost. As did the group’s candidates for recording secretary, president of the annual pastors’ convention and officer candidates for the SBC’s Executive Board. And most of the motions made on the floor by CBN members were voted down by an overwhelming margin.
None of that discouraged Martin, a tech entrepreneur from Florida and longtime Southern Baptist.
“We’ll be back,” he said.
In recent years, the CBN and its allies, including Ascol’s Florida-based Founders Ministries, a Calvinist group, and Sovereign Nations, a Christian nationalist group, have made national headlines for their claims about liberal drift in the SBC. They’ve rallied support on social media and through conferences, urging followers to change the SBC’s direction and “take the ship” of the denomination. One CBN supporter went so far as to unfurl a skull-and-crossbones flag at his church — leading the group and its allies to be labeled as pirates.
Yet their efforts to reshape the denomination have largely failed. Last year in Nashville, Georgia pastor Mike Stone, the CBN-backed candidate for SBC president, lost in a close election. And a group of CBN members quit the SBC’s Executive Committee in the fall, after an unsuccessful attempt to limit an investigation into how SBC leaders handled sexual abuse.
The week of the 2022 annual meeting began optimistically for the CBN and its allies. The group drew packed crowds for an evening with California pastor John MacArthur and Voddie Baucham, a bestselling author and anti-woke preacher, and a breakfast that featured Ascol, Martin and activist Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA.
“I think we’re going to win today,” Martin told the crowd at the breakfast, a few hours ahead of the presidential election.
But even if they did not win, he said, the stakes were too high to give up.
After the annual meeting wrapped up, Martin and other leaders blamed the group’s losses mostly on location. Anaheim, California, he said, was “tough ground” for the CBN’s attempts at reforming the SBC. Next year’s meeting will be in New Orleans, much closer to the SBC’s Bible Belt core.
“I expect the turnout to be more like Nashville,” he said.
In Nashville, their candidate lost by a few hundred votes, at a gathering that drew more than 15,000 local church representatives known as messengers. By contrast, just over 8,100 messengers made it to Anaheim.