President Frank Page, self-styled “chief encouraging officer” of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, stepped down March 27 over what an official called “a morally inappropriate relationship.”
Page, 65, announced Tuesday morning on social media that he was retiring from his position as president and CEO of the Executive Committee, which he assumed in 2010.
“Many months ago, my daughters shared their deep desire for Dayle and me to retire and move closer to them in South Carolina so that we might spend more time with them and their families — especially our grandchildren,” Page, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., said in comments reported by Baptist Press. “After much prayer and conversation, we have chosen to make this decision.”
Later in the day, the official denominational news service overseen by the Executive Committee revealed more to the story.
Executive Committee Chairman Stephen Rummage said after speaking with Page, he “learned that his retirement announcement was precipitated by a morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.”
“My heart is broken for Dr. Page, his family and everyone affected,” said Rummage, senior pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla. “I believe I speak for the entire Executive Committee in saying that we are committed to provide them the spiritual and emotional support they need in the coming days.”
Page, a past president of the nation’s second-largest faith group after Roman Catholics, said he initially announced his retirement without explanation “out of a desire to protect my family and those I have hurt.”
“However, after further wrestling with my personal indiscretion, it became apparent to me that this situation must be acknowledged in a more forthright manner,” he said. “It is my most earnest desire in the days to come to rebuild the fabric of trust with my wife and daughters, those who know me best and love me most.”
Rummage said the Executive Committee officers “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.”
Details of the relationship were undisclosed. Page called it “a personal failing” that “embarrassed my family, my Lord, myself, and the Kingdom.”
As online reactions shifted from praise and congratulations after the first announcement after the second to surprise, some said it is unimportant.
“I do not know the details, perhaps never will, and it doesn’t matter,” Iowa pastor Dave Miller said on the group blog SBC Voices.
“I cannot imagine what Dr. Page is going through right now — the pain, the humiliation, the sorrow, the regret,” Miller said. “Would you join me right now in praying for him? For his wife and family? For our convention and the effects this may have on us?”
“As awful and inexcusable as this sin is,” Miller said, “I am glad to see that he is dealing with it the right way.”
Ed Stetzer, former head of LifeWay Christian Research and now executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, said in a statement to Christianity Today magazine that the initial accolades “really expressed how Southern Baptists felt about Frank.”
“He is widely loved and appreciated, and seen as a person of great character,” Stetzer said. “So this is a shock to many of us.”
Others volunteering comments included Spiritual Sounding Board, a share-and-support blog for persons affected by “spiritual abuse,” cautioning that in generic calls to prayer for “everyone involved” after the fall of a moral leader due to adultery, the person who often gets lost is the other woman.
“As I have covered several stories and dealt behind the scenes with many women who have been spiritually and sexually harmed by Christian leaders, I am struck by what women might feel as they read the words that apply to them: ‘those I have hurt’ and ‘everyone involved,’” said blogger Julie Anne Smith.
“Do they realize that she, too, has a family?” she continued. “Do they realize that most likely the leader has used his position of power and influence to gain his own sexual pleasure? Do they realize that it’s very likely that the woman involved was in a position of vulnerability, perhaps originally reaching out for help? This is the story that I typically hear when speaking with women who have been harmed by the sexual misconduct of pastors or Christian leaders.”
“I don’t want the woman involved in Frank Page’s immorality crisis to be lost in the shuffle,” the blogger wrote. “I would like to ask that we collectively pray for this woman and her family — that she will have good support around her, safe people to talk to, and that she can begin her journey of healing.”
Pulpit & Pen, a self-described theology, polemics and discernment blog, observed, “It seems that pressure was put on Page throughout the day to be forthright and to make a public statement, which doesn’t speak well of his supposed repentance.”
“We hope and pray that Dr. Page is brought to repentance, and that his marriage can overcome this hardship,” said a blog post March 27. “We pray for his wife and children. We also pray for the other person involved, and we hope that they receive the help they need as well.”
Page, a graduate of Gardner-Webb University with both the master of divinity and Ph.D. degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was relatively unknown at the national level of Southern Baptist politics when he won a three-way race for SBC president in 2006.
He attributed his win, in part, to the rise of Southern Baptist blogs, at the time a new way of reaching a mass audience, saying bloggers “played a role beyond their number, perhaps an inordinate amount of influence given their number,” in building support for his campaign.
After two terms as president, Page left the pastorate to become vice president of evangelization for the SBC North American Mission Board. His 2010 election as president and CEO of the Executive Committee took place in executive session.
Behind closed doors, Page reportedly answered questions about his involvement as a member of a Great Commission Task Force appointed by SBC President Johnny Hunt in 2009. Page’s predecessor, Morris Chapman, had criticized the study.
In his role as head of the agency that oversees day-to-day operations between SBC annual meetings, Page sought to build bridges between Calvinists and non-Calvinists and to increase participation in SBC life among African Americans, other ethnic minorities and leaders of women’s ministries. He became an advocate for suicide prevention after one of his daughters took her own life in 2009.
In 2008 he was part of a group of prominent Southern Baptists introducing a moderate statement on environmental stewardship at a time when the denominational establishment was skeptical of the impact of humans on climate change.
Page publicly supported a Baptist Faith and Message amendment limiting the role of senior pastor to men, but in his 1980 doctoral dissertation argued that women should be eligible for any role in the church. He described the paper as the work of an “immature theologian” and compared his change of opinion to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler, who as a student advocated for Baptist Women in Ministry but as president refused to hire faculty supportive of women’s ordination.
Page also defended a rare Executive Committee resolution in 2013 urging the Boy Scouts of America not to open membership to boys who identify as gay, because “sexuality is expressed most nobly and appropriately as a monogamous marital relationship between one man and one woman for life.”
Meeting privately with then Secretary of State nominee and former Boy Scout president Rex Tillerson, Page reportedly said he could not support the change because “God’s truth is abiding” and “principles should not be subject to the changing tide of human opinion.”
As SBC president Page appeared in a story on ABC’s “20/20” about loopholes in SBC policy making it easy for sexual predators to move from church to church without detection. He later called the program “yellow journalism” and a “slice-and-dice” piece to make it appear Southern Baptists were not doing enough to protect children.
Page said he did not believe abuse was a “large and systemic” problem in the SBC and warned that some groups claiming to advocate on behalf of victims were “opportunists motivated by personal gain” and “nothing more than lawyer groups, looking to raise their caseload level.”
“Though many will speak of the good that Frank Page did, his legacy is also notable for how he disparaged and dismissed those who tried to bring to light clergy sex crimes against children,” said Christa Brown, an abuse survivor and longtime victims’ advocate.
“For many clergy sex abuse survivors, that hateful slur is what we will most remember about Frank Page — that and the fact that, on his watch, no one in SBC leadership would help us in seeking to warn others about abusive ministers,” she said.
In 2009, Page was named to an advisory council for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In 2015 he accused President Obama of both “ignorance” and “arrogance” for suggesting that evangelical Christians seem to care more for the unborn than the poor.
In 2008 Page said Southern Baptists were sitting the New Baptist Covenant movement spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter, calling the upcoming Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant a “smokescreen leftwing liberal agenda that seeks to deny the greatest need in our world, that being that the lost be shown the way to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
Following the election of President Donald Trump, Page commented, “Millions of Baptists went to the polls and voted out of principles and also out of pragmatism” for “a candidate that might support cherished principles among believers.”
“Ignoring the condescending verbiage from the moral elites, Baptists voted and voted in droves,” Page wrote. “You can listen to what the moral elites tell us, but Christians still make a difference! Southern Baptists have not gone by the wayside when it comes to exercising our civic responsibility and our belief that some things still matter.”
Page said he had met Trump twice and would continue to encourage the president, among other things, to “protect marriage as being between a man and a woman.”
Page has been serving on weekends since Feb. 4 as interim lead pastor at Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, Ga. On Tuesday church leaders announced March 25 was Page’s last day.