In an unprecedented historical moment, trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee have rejected — by a wide margin — the nominee to become president of the powerful SBC coordinating group.
Jared Wellman, pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, received only 31 affirmative votes out of 81 cast, meaning 62% of Executive Committee members voted against him. Until two weeks ago, Wellman served as chairman of Executive Committee trustees.
The fact that he was an insider candidate — having served ex officio on the search committee that eventually “found” him — was among three reasons cited by critics before the full Executive Committee met in executive session for two and half hours near DFW International Airport.
Some of those criticisms were rooted in concerns about the search process. Wellman quietly resigned from the Executive Committee two weeks ago. That news was shared with Executive Committee trustees at the same time they received a confidential announcement that Wellman would be the presidential candidate. His resignation from the committee was not reported by Baptist Press, the denominational news service, until Sunday, April 30, the day after BNG reported on mounting criticism of the nomination.
Critics also were upset that Interim President Willie McLaurin was interviewed twice but not selected for the role. He would have become the first Black head of any SBC entity. McLaurin has received widespread accolades for righting the ship after former Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd resigned abruptly in October 2022.
Critics also were upset that Interim President Willie McLaurin was interviewed twice but not selected for the role.
Floyd resigned 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.
Floyd and other leaders of the Executive Committee had sought to contain the investigation by creating a process they could control. Messengers to the SBC annual meeting rebuked that move and demanded a fully independent investigation.
Wellman not only was a staunch advocate for the independent investigation, he was the one who made the successful motion — on the third try — for the Executive Committee to waive attorney-client privilege.
Thus, Wellman’s nomination to become president of the Executive Committee got caught up in a raging battle inside the SBC about the seriousness of sexual abuse claims and how to respond to them.
Yet the Executive Committee trustees who rejected Wellman as president largely were nominated to their positions by two former SBC presidents who also were vocal advocates for the investigation.
What reportedly tipped the scales were the additional concerns about process and bypassing McLaurin. Those three factors combined appear to have doomed Wellman’s nomination from the start.
Because debate on the recommendation happened in closed session, BNG is not able to report on the nature of the arguments made for and against Wellman.
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, an internal opposition group.
The presidency of the Executive Committee is one of the most influential roles in the entire denomination.
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.
In a sermon to his Texas congregation April 30, Wellman spoke about the intractability of modern politics.
“We live in a political world,” he said. “I was thinking about that a lot these last few days.”
He gave a hypothetical illustration related to COVID: Imagine the president of the United States had said early on he had a plan to defeat the pandemic, and everyone got to vote on it. The plan would be to “nuke the whole world.”
Reasonable citizens might say, “Well, I hate COVID over here, but over here I also am not a fan of nuclear warfare … so I’m going to vote against” the nuclear option.
In today’s political climate, such a person would be tagged as loving COVID, he said. “We live in a world that doesn’t care about the representation of truth. They only care about political wins because everything has been made political. The toothpaste is out of the tube.”
SBC spokesman Jonathan Howe said according to Executive Committee bylaws, a new search committee will be named to start the process over again.
Presumably, McLaurin will continue as interim president.
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