Willie McLaurin, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization, has been appointed interim president and CEO of the Executive Committee.
The appointment came 10 days before the four-month mark of Ronnie Floyd’s resignation from leading the Executive Committee. Citing his “proven personal integrity, reputation, and leadership,” Floyd indicated he no longer could serve the Executive Committee in view of the board’s Oct. 5 vote to waive attorney-client privilege for the duration of the independent Guidepost Solutions investigation into the committee’s handling of sexual abuse allegations over the past two decades.
McLaurin’s appointment is historic as it marks the first time in the SBC’s 177-year history that a Black person has been name an entity head on either a temporary or permanent basis.
News of McLaurin’s appointment also comes days after Executive Committee Chief Financial Officer Jeff Pearson announced his intent to resign by the end of February, becoming the third top leader to leave within four months. The other person who resigned in October was Vice President Greg Addison.
McLaurin’s appointment is historic as it marks the first time in the SBC’s 177-year history that a Black person has been name an entity head on either a temporary or permanent basis. The nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination was founded to allow a white slaveholder to be appointed as a missionary.
The appointment also comes amid a season of tension within the SBC over race, racism and what some white conservatives consider Critical Race Theory, mirroring the national political and social debates.
Dwight McKissic, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and vocal critic of the SBC’s troubled racial history, praised the historic appointment and congratulated McLaurin.
McKissic told BNG that, in a text message to McLaurin sent Feb. 1, he was “affirming him and his appointment.” He also noted his “appreciation and respect for Reverend Willie McLaurin,” although he added, “I hope it moves to a permanent position rather than remaining an interim one.”
Whether or not McKissic’s hope can be realized remains unclear. While the SBC Executive Committee’s bylaws stipulate that the officers of the board have the authority to appoint an interim president, the full board is called upon to appoint a presidential search committee in the event of a presidential vacancy. The appointed search committee then presents a candidate to the board in an executive session and brings the nomination to a vote. The bylaws appear to be silent on whether the search committee could nominate and present the interim president to the board.
McKissic seemed aware of this and concluded, “If, per chance, the interim position precludes Rev. McLaurin from serving in a permanent role, I pray his time will pave the way for a highly qualified minority candidate to be elected EC president.”
Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church and the SBC’s first Black president, vice-president, and convention preacher, emphasized the historic nature of the appointment, telling BNG, “I never thought it would happen. This is so historical for the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Luter concluded his remarks with high praise for McLaurin: “He’s qualified. He’s educated. He’s a man of integrity. He’s a preacher of the word. And he relates to people so well.”
A native of North Carolina, McLaurin holds a master of divinity degree from Duke Divinity School and an undergraduate degree from North Carolina Central University. Prior to working with the Executive Committee beginning in January 2020, he served 15 years as special assistant to the executive director at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Before that, he was executive pastor at Greater Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tenn., and senior pastor at Greater Hope Baptist Church in Union City, Tenn. He also has served as an interim pastor for numerous Southern Baptist churches.
As vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization, McLaurin works with stewardship education and promotion, as well as with multiple demographic and ethnic groups within the SBC.