This story was updated Sunday afternoon, April 30, to include information published by Baptist Press.
The nominee to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee has drawn public opposition over the weekend even before his nomination was publicly announced.
Jared Wellman, 39, of Arlington, Texas, and until two weeks ago chairman of the Executive Committee trustees, is the nominee who will be presented to the Executive Committee at a called meeting near DFW Airport Monday, May 1.
On Sunday morning, April 30, after BNG’s original publication of this story on Saturday evening, Baptist Press released a story confirming Wellman’s nomination and resignation as Executive Committee chairman.
He resigned from the Executive Committee “in a confidential letter to Executive Committee officers on April 17,” BP reported, citing David Sons, who has been named chairman of the trustees. “The full body was made aware in a confidential communication on April 19.”
If elected, Wellman would succeed Ronnie Floyd, who resigned as president in October 2021 in protest of Executive Committee trustees voting to comply fully with a demand from messengers to the June 2021 SBC annual meeting that Executive Committee staff and trustees waive attorney-client privilege for an independent investigation into allegations of mishandling knowledge of sexual abuse cases.
As a member of the Executive Committee, Wellman made the successful motion to waive attorney-client privilege — the motion Floyd resigned to protest.
Wellman made the successful motion to waive attorney-client privilege — the motion Floyd resigned to protest.
Wellman, pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, was one of several vocal advocates for the independent investigation at the time. He has been an outspoken advocate for sexual abuse victims and has been at the forefront of calling for greater transparency and accountability.
That advocacy has made him some enemies in the SBC, where a vocal minority has been waging a campaign against the sexual abuse study, calling into question its veracity, while seeking to torpedo implementation of reforms.
Wellman this year has been in a position to greatly influence those reforms, having been elected as chairman of the Executive Committee trustees.
That’s only one of three reasons Wellman’s nomination to become Executive Committee president faces opposition, according to the independent SBC watchdog known as SBC Platform on Twitter.
Another reason is the search committee’s apparent rejection of Willie McLaurin, who has been serving as interim president for the past year and a half. McLaurin is a well-known pastor who would have become the first-ever Black president of an SBC entity if chosen.
Also, some are crying foul over “process,” citing the fact that as Executive Committee chairman, Wellman was an ex officio member of the search committee.
This would not be the first time a denominational or church search committee nominated one of its own to fill a position, but as one prominent pastor said, given all the current dynamics, “This does not pass the smell test.”
Wellman is an articulate, personable, well-liked pastor who has served his current church since 2017. He is considered conservative yet pragmatic. In that, he represents a younger generation of SBC pastors who are institutional loyalists and seek a broader coalition than the Conservative Baptist Network and a coalition of SBC Calvinists who seek to narrow the parameters for participation.
Wellman earned a bachelor of arts degree and a master of arts degree from Criswell College in Dallas — not an SBC school but one closely aligned with SBC conservatives. He also earned a Ph.D. from South African Theological Seminary and is a Ph.D. student at Southwestern Theological Seminary in nearby Fort Worth, Texas.
Wellman’s reported nomination has placed one African American colleague in a tight spot. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, is an advocate for McLaurin but yet a friend to Wellman.
“Willie McLaurin and Jared Wellman are excellent servant/leaders,” McKissic tweeted. “If Wellman is nominated and accepts, I will enthusiastically support him. Inasmuch as his church birthed my church, I refer to him as my pastor and friend. Important questions raised here ought to be addressed, though, or the EC’s credibility will continue to be questioned, as it is being now.”
“No one in the SBC has a more stellar record of fighting for racial equality/representation, abuse victims and justice for them, and lovingly listening to opposing viewpoints.”
In a second tweet, McKissic said: “No one in the SBC has a more stellar record of fighting for racial equality/representation, abuse victims and justice for them, and lovingly listening to opposing viewpoints, as does JW.”
Yet McKissic also endorsed a hot letter issued by A.B. Vines, senior pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego, Calif., and former president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC. He wrote a public letter questioning the process that bypassed McLaurin.
By some insider accounts, McLaurin doesn’t want the job, but he has not spoken publicly about it either way. He is widely credited with stabilizing the Executive Committee in perilous times but, like Wellman, some of those actions have made him enemies along the way. By all accounts, however, McLaurin has injected a strong dose of positivity and enthusiasm in the work.
In his letter, Vines questions the search committee’s process, then he asks: “How come Southern Baptists always seems to have issues with hiring a person of color for a senior leadership position? We have made resolution after resolution, from apologies on slavery to Confederate flags. … We can change the name and write resolutions, but if the heart of the convention does not change,” there is no true progress.
He concludes: “I’m calling on you to reject this nominee, develop a transparent process and call for a new search committee.”
Two Tennessee Baptist leaders joined in a public questioning of the search process. Chris Turner, director of communications for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the state Baptist news journal Baptist and Reflector, wrote an April 29 editorial titled “So Much for Restoring Credibility.”
They begin: “The prospect of Jared Wellman being elected Monday, May 1, by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee to serve as its president/CEO does nothing to restore the credibility the organization’s board members supposedly sought.”
They continue: “Wellman is not the issue here. He seems like a likeable enough person. It’s the EC’s process over the past three months leading up to Wellman’s selection that comes with a large helping of speculation about the integrity of the search process, his candidacy and the possibility of his being named the EC’s new leader.”
They report that two weeks ago, Wellman reportedly resigned as Executive Committee chairman, but if so, that hasn’t been made public by either the Executive Committee or Baptist Press, the denominational news service housed at the Executive Committee.
“Surely the resignation of the EC’s chair would be big news across the denomination since the EC has been at the epicenter of SBC news for at least the past three years,” they explain.
They also laud McLaurin’s accomplishments as interim.
“Before his tenure as interim president began, the EC was a public relations nightmare. During his tenure, McLaurin has been well-received in a diversity of churches across the Southern Baptist Convention preaching a message of unity through the gospel and a call for a cooperative effort for the sake of advancing the Great Commission.”
As of Saturday night, April 29, neither the search committee nor Wellman had issued any public comment on public dialogue spilling out of Twitter and beyond. If indeed nominated, Wellman might have the votes to be elected. But in truth, no one knows.
The presidency of the Executive Committee is one of the most influential roles in the entire denomination. The Executive Committee serves as the coordinator of all denominational ministries and receives and disburses hundreds of millions of dollars of Cooperative Program unified budget funds annually.