The interim president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee — recently considered a likely candidate for the permanent post — resigned abruptly Aug. 17. A statement from the chairman of Executive Committee trustees said McLaurin had falsified information on his professional resume.
“While considering McLaurin as a candidate …, the SBC Executive Committee’s Presidential Search Team discovered disqualifying information during their process of vetting and due diligence,” said Chairman Philip Robertson. “McLaurin’s education credentials that he presented in his resume are false. In fact, in his resignation letter, McLaurin stated, ‘In a recent resume that I submitted, it included schools that I did not attend or complete the course of study.’”
“McLaurin’s education credentials that he presented in his resume are false.”
A Feb. 1, 2022, article in Baptist Press announcing McLaurin’s election as interim president said nothing about his educational credentials, focusing only on his work experience.
A Dec. 17, 2019, Baptist Press story announcing McLaurin’s hiring as vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization said: “A native of North Carolina, McLaurin holds a master of divinity degree from the Duke University School of Divinity and an undergraduate degree from North Carolina Central University.”
A new Baptist Press story published today and announcing McLaurin’s resignation filled in the blanks: “On his resume, McLaurin listed earned degrees from North Carolina Central University, Duke University Divinity School and Hood Theological Seminary. Those entries proved to be false. (Presidential Search Committee Chairman Neal) Hughes said three different search committee members did individual investigations into the validity of the credibility of McLaurin’s degrees. ‘They spent four weeks investigating and applying for answers,’ Hughes said in a letter to Executive Committee members. In the end, each institution confirmed McLaurin had never graduated from the institution.”
Baptist Press, in reporting McLaurin’s resignation letter, said: “To the Southern Baptists who have placed their confidence in me and have encouraged me to pursue the role of president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, including pastors, state partners, entity servants, colleagues, and SBC African American friends, I offer my deepest apologies. Please forgive me for the harm or hurt that this has caused.”
“Please forgive me for the harm or hurt that this has caused.”
News of McLaurin’s resignation shot across the country like a fire Thursday afternoon, igniting another blaze in a denomination already rife with bad publicity — from its lagging response to addressing sexual abuse, to the ouster of its largest church for allowing women to preach, and to its failures to elevate non-white people to major leadership roles.
On that point, McLaurin had been hailed as the first Black president of any SBC entity in history. In February, when the search committee passed over him to nominate a younger white pastor for the permanent role, accusations of racial bias emerged once again. The white nominee was tanked largely because of concerns about the process that brought forward his nomination.
Allies and fans of McLaurin said he had done such a good job in the interim role — amid enormous challenges — that there was no reason to bypass him. Since February, the search committee has been working again and reportedly was close to a public announcement that McLaurin would be the nominee.
The affable McLaurin was no stranger to Southern Baptists.
He served 15 years on the staff of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board while also serving as executive pastor at Greater Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tenn., and then senior pastor at Greater Hope Baptist Church in Union City, Tenn. He was elected to the SBC Executive Committee staff in 2020, then tapped as interim president in early 2022.
He stepped into a vacancy created by the abrupt resignation of Ronnie Floyd, who strenuously disagreed with his board’s vote to waive attorney-client privilege in a sweeping external investigation of mishandling sexual abuse allegations.
McLaurin’s can-do attitude and evangelistic approach calmed a raging storm, although he received a less-enthusiastic response from some state Baptist convention executives and megachurch pastors. SBC insiders said that was one of the reasons the search committee bypassed him the first time.
The hand McLaurin was dealt as interim president was stacked against him or anyone in that role: The SBC was hemorrhaging churches, declining in baptisms, lagging in church plants, embroiled in several doctrinal fights, and facing litigation from multiple sources.
For the last two years, the Executive Committee has spent more money than it has taken in, draining reserve funds to pay for the sexual abuse investigation and resulting legal challenges.
Whoever steps into the role next will have one more scandal on deck now and little control over the ultra-conservative movement that is gaining leverage to drive away more churches and pastors and church members by excluding women from all pastoral roles, not to mention the ongoing litigation and its costs.
What went wrong at the SBC Executive Committee? | Analysis by Mark Wingfield