Southern Baptist Convention pastor Mike Stone received a surprising endorsement for his presidential bid earlier this week.
Willy Rice, the pastor of Calvary Church in Clearwater, Florida, endorsed Stone despite supporting Ed Litton for SBC president over Stone in 2021. Rice has also been an outspoken critic of the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN), for which Stone serves as the steering council, The Christian Post reports.
"In the last months, I have come to know Mike Stone on a personal level. I have found him to be a man of courageous conviction, a pastor with a shepherd's heart, and somebody who understands the SBC and the issues of this hour that we face," Rice wrote on his church’s website.
"He is an independent thinker and, more than most, he is his own man. He is also willing to run for SBC President again, and this time I will support him and hope he is elected," Rice added.
During Stone’s bid for president in 2021, Rice said he "disagreed with him on several issues and especially felt concern over the Conservative Baptist Network" because he found "some of their voices to be overly divisive and unnecessarily caustic."
The Conservative Baptist Network was initially founded in 2020 amid concerns about a liberal drift in the denomination.
"I am not a part of the CBN. I do not endorse everything they have said or written, but neither do I think every concern they have expressed can be ignored and summarily dismissed," Rice said. "Mike and I have spoken at length about this. Mike does not represent the CBN, and if elected, Mike will not be a CBN President; he will be the SBC President, and he will serve us all," Rice added.
While Rice expressed his support for the SBC’s efforts to tackle sexual abuse in the denomination, he lamented the current direction the denomination is heading.
"I didn't sign up for left-wing, feminist critical theory, cancel culture, politics," he wrote. "I didn't sign up for leaked emails, taped conversations, endless lawsuits, and character assassination," he continued.
Rice, who briefly ran for SBC president in 2022 before dropping out, explained that he changed his mind about Stone because he believes that the SBC "is facing an existential crisis that could irreparably damage our cooperative work."
"A movement that should have united Southern Baptists to attack a problem has instead divided us into attacking one another," Rice wrote. "Godly believers have been maligned and attacked as somehow supportive of sexual abuse and of sexual abusers simply because they advocate a different approach to dealing with this critical issue."
Rice argued that Stone is "one of the few people who understands what has gone wrong and knows how to right the direction."
"Mike is a sexual abuse survivor. He knows firsthand the horror of such a violation," Rice wrote. "He also knows what it feels like to be unfairly attacked. He is one of the few guys I know who possess the strength to stand in this current moment and the wisdom to know what to do."
The SBC will hold its annual meeting in New Orleans next week.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.