Southern Baptist Convention leaders have no reason to believe the “personal failing” behind last week’s resignation of the denomination’s top executive involved anything illegal but will investigate further, according to a spokesman quoted in Baptist Press.
Roger “Sing” Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations at the SBC Executive Committee said based on a single conversation between Page and Executive Committee Chairman Stephen Rummage, the officers “have no reason to suspect any legal impropriety.”
Oldham said Page “was forthcoming about a matter” — not mentioned in an initial retirement letter saying he was stepping down at a future date to move closer to family in South Carolina — which Page “considered to be disqualifying from further leadership with the Executive Committee.”
“The Executive Committee will exercise due diligence to determine if anything has occurred that would require further action,” Oldham pledged.
Rummage, senior pastor of Bell Shoals in Brandon, Fla., has called a special meeting of the Executive Committee for Tuesday, April 17. He will deliver a report on behalf of the officers on “activities” related to Page’s unexpected resignation as president and CEO of the Executive Committee and retirement from ministry.
The Executive Committee will also discuss interim leadership and elect a presidential search team to find Page’s successor. According to Baptist Press, “it is possible other matters will be discussed,” because the agenda is not yet complete.
Page announced his retirement in a statement March 27. After speaking with Rummage, the 65-year-old executive released a second statement: “As a result of a personal failing, I have embarrassed my family, my Lord, myself, and the Kingdom. Out of a desire to protect my family and those I have hurt, I initially announced my retirement earlier today without a complete explanation. However, after further wrestling with my personal indiscretion, it became apparent to me that this situation must be acknowledged in a more forthright manner.”
Rummage also released a statement saying the retirement announcement “was precipitated by a morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.”
Rummage said Executive Committee leaders “recognize the stewardship we owe Southern Baptists and the watching world to communicate with truth and candor and to honor the Lord in our actions and decisions.”
In the following days, some called on SBC leadership to be more forthcoming. Euphemistic language like “moral failure” when applied to a religious leader in evangelistic circles typically is code for adultery, but it can cover a multitude of sins.
Andy Savage, a megachurch pastor in Tennessee who recently resigned over an admitted “sexual incident” 20 years ago in Texas, allegedly told his church at the time he had to move on due to a “poor decision,” which many church members interpreted to mean something as innocent as a kiss. The woman, at the time a 17-year-old senior in high school, described it as sexual assault that went unreported to authorities and now is too old to prosecute due to statute of limitations.
In 2006, now-SBC President Steve Gaines announced to the congregation of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., that a longtime staff member was on paid leave during investigation regarding “moral failure.” After bloggers reported the allegation involved sodomy of a minor, the staff member was fired for “egregious, perverse, sexual activity with his adolescent son over a period of 12 to 18 months.”
Coy Privette, a leader in the SBC during its shift to the right during the late 20th century who also held positions including president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, trustee chair at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a trustee of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, admitted to having sex with a prostitute in 2007.
Lonnie Latham, a member of the SBC Executive Committee, was arrested in 2006 for offering to have sex with a male undercover police officer. He was acquitted after arguing that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2003 legalized consensual sex between men. “If it’s not illegal to engage in that conduct, then it shouldn’t be illegal to talk about it,” he argued.
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, who criticized the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s Nashville Statement unveiled at an SBC meeting held in her city, resigned in March for using government funds for travel during a two-year extramarital affair with the head of her security detail.
Recently SBC megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress said it is irrelevant to evangelicals whether President Trump paid hush money to an adult film star in order to win election, because his private sins are between him and God.
“We live in a culture that uses language to minimize sin,” said Norman, an author and podcaster. “Adultery is not an affair, a fling, or a personal indiscretion. When we minimize sin, we minimize our need for the Savior.”
Norman called on Page “at the very least” to “prorate any monies and benefits you received from the SBC (including travel, meals, conferences, etc.) from the time this relationship began.”
Meanwhile, Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said it is time to move on.
“Not all preachers or sheep of the flock have been unfaithful to their vows of marriage, but we openly acknowledge in our sorrow that we have rebelled against God’s plans and purposes in a myriad of ways,” Patterson said in an Open Letter to Southern Baptists on the seminary website.
“We must all say to Frank Page, ‘God has forgiven us all so much, while we cannot approve of what you have done any more than we can approve of our own rebellion against God, due to God’s grace, we can and must forgive you,’” Patterson said.
Patterson, once accused of overlooking a pattern of sexual abuse by a ministry protégé in the 1980s, is named in a pending lawsuit alleging that a “joint enterprise” enabled Patterson’s conservative resurgence co-founder Paul Pressler to sexually abuse a younger man beginning when he was 14. Both Pressler and Patterson deny the allegations.