The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee won’t release details of its investigation into how its former interim president lied about his resume, and the person lined up to be the next interim president withdrew his name the day after he was announced.
Also, the central organizing entity of the SBC has spent down its operating reserves from $13 million to $4 million in the last two years, according to Jonathan Howe, the current interim president who was to be replaced but now will stay on.
But SBC President Bart Barber called for faith, saying the SBC has faced great challenges in the past and risen above those.
“We need for God to raise up a prophet among us,” Barber told the Executive Committee members.
He gave a history lesson beginning in the 1920s, when Foreign Mission Board treasurer George Sanders embezzled $103,000 ($1.5 million today) and Home Mission Board treasurer Clinton Carnes’ embezzled $909,000 ($13.4 million today).
“Had they done their homework, the (Home Mission) Board would have found out that (Carnes) was a career criminal,” Barber said.
At the same time, Fort Worth pastor J. Frank Norris was stirring controversy and accusing Baylor University of teaching Darwinism.
Amid these challenges, “The Southern Baptist Convention met in Memphis in 1925 to lay out a bold and courageous vision,” Barber said, referring to creation of the Cooperative Program unified budget and adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement.
“The vision of cooperation has outlasted them all,” he declared.
Lots of leadership changes
Now serving his second year as elected SBC president, Barber was the most tenured leader in the meeting. The Executive Committee has been without a president since October 2021 when Ronnie Floyd resigned abruptly in a disagreement with the trustees. Executive Committee staff member Willie McLaurin was named interim president — and became the leading candidate for the permanent role — until it was discovered in August that he had fabricated most of his resume.
McLaurin had been passed over in the first iteration of the presidential search committee’s work, when Texas pastor Jared Wellman was nominated for the post. Until a few weeks before his nomination, Wellman had been trustee chairman of the Executive Committee. That drew criticism of a lack of transparency in the process, and Wellman did not get enough votes to be elected.
In June, Louisiana pastor Philip Robertson was elected chairman of Executive Committee trustees, and this was his first full meeting to lead.
After McLaurin’s ouster, another Executive Committee staff member, Jonathan Howe, was named interim president. But he quickly came under scrutiny because he attends a Nashville church that is dually aligned with the SBC and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and his wife serves on staff there with the word “minister” in her title — a no-no according to actions taken by messengers at June’s SBC annual meeting.
Against this backdrop, the Sept. 18-19 Executive Committee began with an announcement that retired Kentucky pastor Dan Summerlin would be nominated to serve as interim president. However, the very next day, he withdrew his name from nomination, saying “upon further reflection” he needs to help his wife, who is battling breast cancer, and cannot commit the amount of time that would be needed for the job.
Presidential search rebooted
Meanwhile, the presidential search committee reported it is starting over.
Search Committee Chair Neal Hughes outlined a four-step process of “invitation, interview, investigation and introduction.” The committee currently is in the invitation stage, he said, and will accept resumes through Sept. 30.
Hughes said he hopes the committee will present a nominee by the committee’s February meeting.
Right now, however, Executive Committee officers continue to look for a “transitional interim,” Chairman Robertson said. “It will take a unique person. While oftentimes you hear the word ‘interim,’ you think ‘part-time.’ This job is not that. Even as a transitional interim, it requires a full-time job, and that limits your pool of potential candidates because you have to be willing to leave an existing job … to take a full-time job potentially for only five months.”
Also, this time, the person named interim will not be considered a candidate for the permanent presidency, he said.
Howe began his report as interim president by assuring Executive Committee members, “I never expected to be in this role and I, like you, attend a Southern Baptist church.”
Already, he has been faced with difficult tasks, including addressing a significant budget shortfall that resulted in layoffs for about 20% of Executive Committee staff.
“Our mission has been hindered,” he said.
“Nothing has been more humbling to the Executive Committee in recent years than our financial position. We are all aware. There is a price to pay for reform even when reform is necessary,” Howe noted.
Reserves largely have been depleted addressing the independent investigation in claims of sexual abuse in SBC churches and agencies. In a later report, the chair of a sexual abuse implementation task force said the Ministry Check online database of clergy confirmed to be sexual abusers is still not ready but should be soon.
Regarding the financial situation, Howe said: “We are here now and have convention-mandated responsibilities that we are bound to carry out. Your officers and your staff leadership have set forth a new path financially that will reduce our dependence on reserve funds and allow us to maintain our financial feasibility.”
In his earlier address, Barber said: “We do not lack money. Look at the houses our church members live in, the cars we drive. … Compare that to what Southern Baptists owned in the 1920s and ’30s when they stepped up and led us out of trouble.”
In a separate report, Chairman Robertson said Executive Committee leaders are considering selling the downtown Nashville building occupied by the Executive Committee and several other SBC entities. The Executive Committee manages the building but only owns a 56% interest in it.
Code of conduct
Executive Committee members also adopted a first-ever code of conduct, sparked in part by the online antics of a former trustee who was highly outspoken against the sexual abuse investigation.
Originally, the code of conduct prohibited trustees from sharing social media posts that “reflect negatively on the SBC Executive Committee or its leadership” and said trustees must agree to hold official business in strict confidence.
Any action deemed in violation with the code of conduct — including a trustee’s lifestyle, conduct or social media content— could lead to discipline as outlined in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 18.
Silence on McLaurin
Regarding McLaurin, the Executive Committee met for three hours in executive session and did not make public any details of the investigation into the former leader’s fabricated resume, not even naming the specific lies contained in his resume. BNG previously has reported that all three educational degrees claimed by McLaurin appeared to be false, as well as his claim of military service.
Some observers have speculated McLaurin could face federal perjury charges for lying under oath during depositions he gave while serving as interim president.
“While the Executive Committee acknowledges the collateral, reputational harm and indirect financial impact resulting from McLaurin’s misrepresentations, the Executive Committee does not plan to proceed with taking any legal action against McLaurin at this time,” Chairman Robertson said.
He also said a confidential separation agreement between McLaurin and the Executive Committee was approved by trustees.
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