By some accounts it was an orderly and kind meeting, while by other accounts it was a meeting driven by inappropriate Christian conduct.
And in the aftermath of one of the most unusual events in Southern Baptist Convention history, a notable incendiary figure tweeted a bald-faced lie about what happened and got called out.
Two days after trustees of the SBC Executive Committee declined to ratify the nominee of a search committee (Jared Wellman of Arlington, Texas) for the entity’s presidency, analysis and explanations and questions percolated among denominational insiders — much of it on Twitter.
“Though I am personally disappointed in the outcome of yesterday’s vote for president, I am thankful to serve with a group of trustees who take seriously their responsibility to our convention,” tweeted David Sons, pastor of Lake Murray Baptist Church in Lexington, S.C., and new chairman of the Executive Committee board.
“Even in disagreement, the trustees engaged one another with charity and Christlikeness. Though we had differing views on how to move forward, every trustee desires to see the Great Commission fulfilled and our cooperative efforts succeed. We’ll get there.”
That was not a view shared by Mike Keahbone, one of the search committee members.
“Though I appreciate the attempts to bring dignity to a flawed day, I believe it is important to tell the whole story. I was very disappointed with the outcome but came away just as disappointed with the way we treated each other. Disparaging comments directed at the search team, emotional rants, and an unwillingness to listen. I fell into the same trap with my body language and sighs of disbelief. We were a hot mess yesterday and there is no way to dress it up,” he tweeted.
“I was very disappointed with the outcome but came away just as disappointed with the way we treated each other.”
“I can’t take any solace in not being a rubber stamp. We can ‘not be a rubber stamp’ and still treat one another with respect and decency. There were some who were quiet and uninvolved at the mic and a few who were kind and respectful as they shared honest concerns.
“I made my share of mistakes, so I am not innocent. The important next step is for each of us to ask the Lord to search our hearts and find any wicked way in us. He may reveal none, some or a bunch. If anything is found we must repent and make things right with one another and the Lord.”
Keahbone, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lawton, Okla., concluded: “A good man was turned away yesterday; that I can live with and find a way to trust our polity. The environment in which it happened has to change. We must do better. My honest prayer tonight is that each of us will do our part.”
Current members of the Executive Committee were not the only ones offering hot takes on the implosion of the search committee’s work. A controversial and outspoken former member of the committee took to Twitter to spread a documentable lie.
Rod Martin, a layman and entrepreneur, resigned from the Executive Committee in October 2021 after the full committee voted to waive attorney-client privilege in the independent investigation into mishandled knowledge of sexual abuse cases. Martin was one of the most vocal opponents of that action and has been closely associated with the Conservative Baptist Network, a far-right group that wants to “change the direction” of the SBC in a more strictly conservative way.
As controversy emerged over the weekend prior to the vote on Wellman’s nomination, another person tweeted: “The truth is, we should have had a non-white #SBC entity head long before now. Still, we wait, but that isn’t Jared’s fault.”
To which Martin replied: “Well actually, Jared pretty much picked the committee, served for months on the committee, and then got the committee to pick him. So yeah: it IS pretty much his fault.”
This is not unusual language for Martin, whose Twitter feed is filled with far-right political posts and is known for making strident, authoritative statements on other issues. Last November, he mocked the husband of then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi after Paul Pelosi was attacked with a hammer by an intruder.
But this lie was a bridge too far for some SBC insiders, as evidenced by a response from Benjamin Cole, a Plano, Texas, layman who comments on SBC issues under the pseudonym Baptist Blogger.
To Martin, he replied: “This is a damn lie and you know it. Stop lying.”
To which Martin replied: “No, it isn’t.”
According to Cole’s social media posts, he made multiple attempts to contact Martin by phone and even invited him to discuss the issue on a May 2 Twitter Space broadcast, but Martin did not respond.
Cole spoke alone on that Twitter Space.
The search committee was chosen the same way as before, he said: Executive Committee members nominate fellow members to serve on the search committee and the top six vote-getters become the committee. That is not a process Wellman or anyone could have controlled, Cole said.
“I was there, and I saw what happened. … Jared Wellman didn’t stand up and nominate folks. He didn’t stand up and give speeches in favor of folks. He wasn’t even an officer of the committee at the time; he was a backbencher only serving in a committee role. He had no leadership position whatsoever.”
The chairman of the Executive Committee serves on search committees in an ex officio capacity, and Wellman wasn’t yet an officer then, Cole added. Rolland Slade of California was chairman. Wellman only became chair — elected by his peers — in June last year, after the committee had been working for four months.
Cole concluded: Where Rod gets his information is a mystery to me because it is absolutely patently false that Jared Wellman somehow got the committee to pick him, that he orchestrated things in such a way that he would be left as the only candidate. It’s unfair, it’s inaccurate, it’s an outright lie. Rod has zero evidence to support his claim.
“If he has any evidence, I suggest he put it out so everybody can see it. The Southern Baptist Convention is not well served by liars, falsehood and deceit.”
Even one of Martin’s allies, Georgia pastor Mike Stone, tweeted a rebuttal of Martin’s lie.
“The @SBCExecComm search team that presented Bro Jared was elected months before he was elected chairman. Whatever process issues existed, Jared selecting his own team wasn’t one of them,” said Stone, who is a conservative candidate for SBC president this year.
Other SBC leaders used social media to commend Wellman and thank him.
Keahbone said: “The highlight of my last two years on the @SBCExecComm has been the opportunity to learn and lead alongside @JaredcWellman. He is a humble, Christlike, convictional leader with a shepherd’s heart and a steel spine. I have watched Jared, both from afar and up close, navigate challenging situations with courage and compassion.
“Over his years on the EC he took difficult stances (sometimes alone or nearly alone) not because he opined for the spotlight or sought to make a name for himself, but because he believed it was the right thing to do. I never saw Jared make decisions based on popular opinion or political expediency, but always on a prayerful, rock-solid conviction to do what he believed to be right and best for our convention of churches.”
And Sons added: “Of all the people in ministry I have served with, @JaredcWellman is at the very top of the list of leaders I trust and respect. Our convention would be well served by more Jared Wellmans.”
What went wrong at the SBC Executive Committee? | Analysis by Mark Wingfield