By Norman Jameson
Frank Page was elected president-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee during a bizarre and shoddy exercise June 14 in Orlando.
Page is currently vice president for evangelism of the North American Mission Board and is a former SBC president. He is a man of integrity, achievement, vision and leadership and is an excellent choice for the position that Adrian Rogers once called the “most important in all of Christendom.”
Although falling short of the rhetorical heights scaled by Rogers, the role of Executive Committee president is very significant in Southern Baptist life, even though it is not well known. The Executive Committee functions as the Southern Baptist Convention between annual sessions of the SBC. Its role in recommending the Cooperative Program budget and allocations makes it both significant and a target for any who seek to influence those important duties.
During the past couple of weeks a concerted effort was made to derail Page’s election for a variety of reasons. Emails zipped among Executive Committee members and votes were tallied as if the meeting were being held in a legislative building in Washington.
Page was brought to the Executive Committee as the recommendation of its own search committee. He was on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, a fact that did not endear him to those who oppose the GCR Task Force recommendations. More significantly, those who favor the task force resented Page’s outspokenness on the panel and his firmly held position that the final recommendations must give the trustee boards of SBC entities responsibility for whatever changes they decide to implement.
Page was opposed for his audacity to hold the GCR task force to observe Southern Baptist polity and respect the process. He is even said to have threatened to present a minority report if such polity was not respected. That irked SBC elected leadership as well as the task force’s leadership.
Other issues burned beneath smokescreens, such as the feeling that Page had not invested enough of himself in the “Conservative Resurgence,” that he had not paid the price that others had during the theo/political turmoil of the 1980s and 1990s, yet was getting the reward of a top SBC position.
Of course, all of that is off-the-record, behind-the-scenes, non-attributable information gleaned from conversations with those who know, because the 90-plus-minute grilling of Frank Page by Executive Committee members took place in executive session, with no press or visitors allowed.
Committee member Stephen Wilson of Kentucky pled passionately to leave the meeting open, honoring Southern Baptists and following the lead of retiring Executive Committee President Morris Chapman. Ironically, Wilson had just returned from vacation in Ireland and did not even know Page’s election was about to be challenged.
He moved for an open meeting just on principle. Imagine that.
After about 90 minutes Page emerged from the meeting room into the lobby where press and friends waited, sweat glistening over his face. He answered a few questions while waiting for the Executive Committee to vote on his professional fate on the other side of the door behind him.
After about 10 minutes those doors opened, indicating the committee members had voted and the meeting was now open to others. Page walked in with his family, closely followed by press and friends.
Here’s where bizarre bloomed.
There was no reaction in the room. Executive Committee members had taken a break when the door opened. They were milling about, talking amongst each other. Only two people came to Page to shake his hand. I heard one say, “Welcome to Nashville.” That was the first indication that Page had, in fact, been elected.
Page’s family took seats while he wandered among the Executive Committee members, shaking a few hands. Then he returned to his family and took his own seat. Still there was no announcement, no applause, no acknowledgment that he was even in the room.
After another few minutes Chairman Randall James said he would give committee members another three minutes to gather. When they finally returned to their seats, he announced that they had elected Frank Page their new president and chief executive officer.
Only then did Page and his wife, Dale, walk forward in the midst of their applause. He promised to love them with all his heart, and work with all his might.
James did not announce a vote, although the unofficial tally was 44-30.
I trust Page’s tenure at the top administrative spot in Southern Baptist life will be more auspicious than was his election to it. And I trust that those who opposed Page over his adamant position that SBC polity be observed will observe their own recommendations in the GCR report for “shared values” of unity and trust.