‘We’ll Be Back’: CBN Vows to Keep Fighting ‘Wokeism’ and Women Preachers in SBC

By Bob Smietana
A ballot is held up during a vote at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (Photo by Justin L. Stewart/Religion News Service)

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.

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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.

CBN conservative baptist
Pastor Thomas Ascol speaks at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (Photo by Justin L. Stewart/Religion News Service)

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.

Rod Martin
Rod Martin. (Photo via RodMartin.org)

“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.

An analysis by Eastern Illinois University professor Ryan Burge pointed out that the SBC meetings in the Bible Belt tend to outdraw those in other places. The CBN also has a state chapter in Louisiana, which will likely aid with turnout. And Southern Baptists in the Bible Belt are more likely to identify as politically conservative than those in California — which would likely bolster the CBN cause, which is both religious and political. 

During his remarks at the CBN breakfast, Kirk labeled the group’s supporters as courageous pastors resisting the influence of liberalism in the evangelical church. He contrasted them with “cowardly pastors” who care only “about budgets and buildings and baptisms” and “complicit pastors” who march with Black Lives Matters and “hang pride flags.”

“Our beautiful faith is under attack from within,” he said.

Kirk urged pastors to stand for liberty — seeing mask mandates and COVID-related shutdowns during the pandemic as signs of government tyranny. He also told them that if “America falls” then it will be harder for Baptists to spread the gospel.

“If we don’t recognize that we all have to agree on liberty and the gospel, we’re all going to be sharing our theological disputes in prison,” he said.

Former SBC First Vice President Lee Brand, whose term expired after the SBC meeting, told CBN supporters to continue standing against worldly influences invading the denomination.

“We’re not ever going to do enough for the world to like what we have to say,” he said.

SBC CBN
More than 15,000 Southern Baptist Convention messengers attended the annual meeting on June 15, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn. (RNS photo: Kit Doyle)

Despite their election losses, CBN and its allies have had some success. Their activism helped drive up attendance for the 2021 meeting in Nashville, the largest since the mid-1990s. And that increased attendance led SBC to move the 2023 meeting from Charlotte, North Carolina, to New Orleans, as the Charlotte space was too small.

Anti-CRT activism by Ascol and Michael O’Fallon of Sovereign Nations has also helped drive the national “woke war.” The CBN and its allies played a role in a 2021 SBC resolution calling for the abolition of abortion, which would support legislation to outlaw abortion with no exceptions. A 2022 abortion resolution, also backed by the CBN and its allies, which called for criminal penalties for women who have abortions, was rejected by messengers.

The CBN’s supporters also contributed to controversy over the future of Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in the SBC. That church, led by bestselling author Rick Warren, ordained three women as staff pastors last year, leading to calls for Saddleback to be expelled from the SBC. The SBC’s statement of faith limits the office of pastor to men.

The SBC’s credentials committee, charged with reviewing Saddleback’s status, proposed creating a task force to study the meaning of the word “pastor” — given that many SBC churches refer to staff members as “pastor” even though they don’t preach. The idea of a study committee was met with an angry response and was withdrawn.

Martin pointed to the credentials committee as a sign that the SBC’s leadership has lost its way. Most Southern Baptists know what a pastor is, he said. While a woman can have a leadership role at a church, she can’t have the title of pastor.

“I don’t care if she’s the women’s Grand Poobah,” he said. “She can’t be a pastor.”

Warren Saddleback Women Pastors
Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren and others pray over the first three women the church has ordained as pastors on May 6, 2021. (Source: Facebook)

While the CBN and its allies have found support for their opposition to CRT, women pastors and abortion, some of their views on the issue of sexual abuse have been controversial.

Ascol, for example, was critical of the recent Guidepost Solutions report on abuse and has been skeptical of a series of reforms approved by SBC messengers to address abuse. Mark Coppenger, a former SBC seminary president and CBN steering committee member, has said the issue of sex abuse in the denomination has been overblown. Coppenger opposed the recently passed reforms to address abuse during the annual meeting.

“I really think Guidepost and those who are enthusiastic for what they’ve said are virtually slandering the convention,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m saying, you’ve got us wrong.”

Coppenger fears that reforms, such as a website to track abusive pastors, will open the SBC up to lawsuits from abuse survivors.

“We should address this in the local church and work with local authorities,” he said. “But don’t go overboard.”

At the end of the 2022 meeting, Martin stood outside the main meeting hall at the Anaheim Convention Center, greeting friends, shaking hands and admiring a new “Wrath of Khan”-themed gift he got from Victor Chayasirisobhon, a fellow “Star Trek” fan and California pastor who’d been elected the SBC’s first vice president.

Martin urged friends and allies to stick with the convention, despite the group’s 2022 losses, saying the SBC is “better together.”

“We have some arguments we’ve got to settle,” he said. “But we need to go to New Orleans and settle them and do it with courage, with fidelity to Scripture.” 

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.

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18 thoughts on “‘We’ll Be Back’: CBN Vows to Keep Fighting ‘Wokeism’ and Women Preachers in SBC”

  1. “Wokism” is simply the boogeyman created in the minds of thoughtless, ego-centric individuals who thrive on fear-mongering. The idea of wokeism is simply worldly indoctrination and fleshly thinking so easily imbibed by thoughtless religionists.

    News Flash – There is no such Boogeyman.

    1. “Woke” terrifies predator pastors and the much-larger number of Church officials who covered it up.
      Like the SBC officials who kept a predator list, but denied they could do it.
      You can be kicked out of the SBC (if you were small enough) for having a woman preach, but the SBC did not warn unsuspecting Churches that they were calling a rapist.
      If fear of liability and scandal outweighs your concern for the faithful, you are just another sleazy business.

    2. “Woke” was coined and used by African Americans. It is used by the left (complimentary) and the right (pejorative), and is still used by African Americans.

      For which of these do you claim there is no such thing?

      1. In Christ, there is no such thing – by any of them. There is simply truth and error.

        Simply being aware of systemic racism – and its long-term effects – is simply truth.

        White American evangelicalism desperately needs boogie-men to sustain itself – so often its grift – and mind-control – turning ignorant, often lost and needy people into mindless cult-members regurgitating the same worldly, fleshly ideas as their pastors.

  2. Critical Race Theory says that PAST racism lives on, in present institutions. In the criminal justice system, policing, placement of Interstates, housing segregation, housing policies, public schools, Gerrymandering etc.
    If you doubt it, blacken your face and hands, get in an old car with a license plate light out, and drive slowly through a white suburban neighborhood at 2:00 AM. (Good luck.)

    1. Anyone driving through a neighborhood slowly at 2:00am is suspicious.

      My white as white bread son can attest to that.

      1. Same thing happened to me, but I am as white as your son.
        But we were not pulled from the car and possibly shot. The cops could see we were white.
        The policeman in North Charleston who was caught on film, shot the black man in the back repeatedly, though he was running away, Too hot to chase him? Sure he could get away with it?

      2. Marin Heiskell

        I’ve told my story before, so I’ll just ask – can your white as white bread son attest to the police demanding he recite the address on his license because “there’s no way you can afford to live around here, this has to be fake”?
        Can he then attest to being asked what his family does to make that kind of money and “is it legal?”
        My Black brothers can.
        Fortunately, my Black father is a lawyer, and the police started stuttering when my brothers got him on speaker phone….

    2. Marin Heiskell

      John –

      You are exactly right about CRT. It is a theory by which we analyze how past racism lives on. I truly believe that many do not want to discuss it, because they believe that white people have generationally ended up richer, more educated, and overrepresented in leadership (not just in the US but around the world) because they are better – not because of the long term effects of Jim Crow, redlining, and other racist policies and attitudes.
      It actually saddens me, because being open to discussing and debating CRT could be a great way for the church to discuss how sin (and racism is a sin) has GENERATIONAL impacts just as scripture says (we see God warn the Israelites on how their sin will impact their “children’s children”). And just as we are called to intentionally flee from and eradicate sin, we should be intentionally fleeing from and eradicating racism.

  3. Most Biblical scholars (not required to claim Biblical inerrancy) do not think that Paul actually wrote the Pastoral Epistles that forbid women pastors. The reasons they give:
    1. Those Epistles reflect a form of Church organization that did not exist during Paul’s lifetime.
    2. They contradict what Paul wrote about the same topic (“There is no longer Jew or Greek” etc.)
    3. The writing styles are very different.

    1. Do those same scholars (not required to claim Biblical inerrancy) teach that Jesus is God’s only Son, that He is God, that He died on a cross for our sins, that He was resurrected, and that the only Way of salvation is through faith in Him? That there is an eternal Hell for those that don’t believe?

      Do they teach that the passages referring to homosexuality don’t mean what they plainly say?

      What other ideas do they find objectionable that they have determined aren’t true or authoritative?

      Isn’t it interesting that scholars don’t dispute passages about God’s love, mercy, or grace.

      It’s the “uncomfortable” doctrines that get explained away, in my experience.

      1. Good point, but it does not affect the question, Did Paul write those Epistles, which are used against women, or was it written in Paul’s name by someone later?
        Most Christians are taught that men wrote the Bible, divinely inspired but differing on important details.

  4. nothing wrong with women preachers. whether or not the preacher is preaching the Gospel is what is important in these Last Days.

    1. There is nothing wrong with women preachers, as long as they are preaching to women or children. The Bible is clear on this point though many will argue it is not culturally relevant today.

  5. Brian Patrick

    The SBC is broken beyond redemption. Yes, I know, the left will say that it was a lost cause to start with given that it was founded on slavery. They have a point.

    At this point, the true faithful remaining in the SBC should join healthier denominations… not that those aren’t dwindling by the day as well.

  6. In light of Eternity, metaphorically everyone in this article is deceased and what did they build; who did they serve and what was their impact and what was their overall FRUIT? Are they going to be remembered, and for what? Legalistic, religious dogma, organized religion; man-made fleshy rules mattered more than people (Proverbs 6:16-19)! Did they truly live, God is LOVE and exemplify that?

    Or, were they just another “pimp for their christ” as “only what we do for Christ will last” and the fruit of all that. Reality, of “Apostolic Foundations” vs. legalism depicted here; when it was relationship with God and what Jesus Christ did through the completed redemptive work of the Cross which the good old’ boys don’t understand. So, very sad and disheartening “to see a sick church in a dying world”; a very sick church in a dying world!

    Matthew 6:9-13

    9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

    10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

    11 Give us this day our daily bread.

    12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

    13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

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