NASHVILLE — A group of Asian American church leaders are expressing their “profound concern, dismay and disappointment” following staff cuts by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee that included two associate vice president positions responsible for overseeing ethnic relations.
On Sept. 13, the EC announced it was cutting five full-time staff positions and two contractor positions in an effort to help cover rising costs related to the SBC Annual Meeting and to decrease the amount being pulled from the EC investments. Those cuts bring the EC staff down to 21 full-time positions. (Read more about the EC’s recent meeting here.)
Asian American church leaders sent a letter to the EC on Sept. 20 outlining their concerns specifically related to the EC’s decision to lay off Luís R. Lopez, former executive director of Hispanic relations and mobilization, and Peter Yanes, former executive director of Asian American relations and mobilization.
The positions held by Yanes, who came on board in 2019, and Lopez, who filled the position left vacant by Julio Ariola in 2022, were originally created in 2019 as a collaboration between the EC and the North American Mission Board. The EC/NAMB partnership, designed to reach and mobilize ethnically and racially diverse churches in the SBC and increase ethnic engagement, transitioned completely to EC positions in January of 2022, the EC announced.
Addressing difficult decisions
In the letter, Asian American leaders acknowledged the financial challenges the EC is facing but urged EC leaders to recognize the “significance of these positions to advocate and support our churches.”
“We implore you to consider alternative solutions that take into consideration and do not hinder the meaningful work that God is doing to unite and mobilize our Asian communities towards fulfilling the Great Commission as a part of the SBC.”
Among those who signed the letter, are Victor Chayasirisobhon, president of the California Southern Baptist Convention; Joseph Nak Cho, president of the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America; Chue Ger Herr, president of the Hmong Baptist National Association; James Kang, executive director of the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America; and Thuam C Khai, president of Myanmar Baptist Churches USA.
The letter noted growth in both the number of ethnic SBC congregations and giving by ethnic/racial groups from 2011 to 2021.
Additional information provided to The Baptist Paper included an analysis of Annual Church Profile Data from 2011–2021 compiled by the Ethnic Research Network. That analysis found that 326 Asian American congregations and 111 Hispanic congregations were added to the SBC during that period. Leaders also reported increased participation by ethnic congregations in giving through the Cooperative Program and to the annual Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
The leaders affirmed their commitment to supporting and praying for SBC leaders and entities but reiterated the impact the EC’s cuts could have on ethnic churches.
“We humbly request more opportunities for our people and voices to be heard in various levels of leadership (including the EC) so that you may comprehend the profound impact of this decision on our network of churches,” the letter stated.
See full text of letter below:
Dear SBC Executive Committee Officers and Trustees,
On September 13th, 2023, we received an email on behalf of Charles Grant Jr. informing us of the elimination of several positions within the Executive Committee. It was with profound disappointment that we learned of these staffing changes, particularly concerning the removal of two associate vice president positions responsible for overseeing Hispanic and Asian-American Relations. Luis and Peter had served dutifully in their respective roles and their contributions had a significant impact on our collective mission to get the Gospel out to the nations.
Peter Yanes, serving as the Asian-American mobilizer on behalf of the EC, played an instrumental role in fostering unity and encouraging us to step out of the confines of our ethnic church fellowships, enabling us to embrace a broader SBC perspective and process. He admirably managed the complexities of mobilizing 27 diverse Asian ethnic groups and the formation of the NextGen Pastors Network for the English-speaking pastors, giving tangible hope of passing the disciple-making baton into the future. Recently, on August 28th, Peter orchestrated our annual gathering at the EC offices in Nashville, which proved to be a resounding success. The progress we made during this event was remarkable and refreshing, which made Peter’s sudden departure, without prior warning, deeply unsettling.
At the 2011 Annual Meeting, under the leadership of Dr. Paul Kim, messengers collectively endorsed a strategy aimed at reaching out to various ethnic groups, which was subsequently reaffirmed, voted on, and allocated budget resources. Given this history, we are perplexed as to how this abrupt action could have transpired.
As a collective, we wish to express our profound concern, dismay, and disappointment regarding this turn of events. We understand that there are financial shortages and empathize with the difficult decisions that must be made in such circumstances. However, we believe it is essential to emphasize the significance of these positions to advocate and support our churches. We implore you to consider alternative solutions that take into consideration and do not hinder the meaningful work that God is doing to unite and mobilize our Asian communities towards fulfilling the Great Commission as a part of the SBC.
Our fervent hope is that the future will witness greater efforts in communication and transparency towards Asian and Asian-American churches in your decision-making processes. We have experienced vibrant growth in congregations, have given joyfully to the Cooperative Program, and hold the distinction of being the leading ethnic/racial group in these regards from 2011-2021 per ACP data. We humbly request more opportunities for our people and voices to be heard in various levels of leadership (including the EC) so that you may comprehend the profound impact of this decision on our network of churches.
We remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting and praying for SBC leaders and entities and will continue to work tirelessly towards our shared goal of pointing people to Jesus as the HOPE for all peoples locally and globally. Thank you for your kind consideration.
Dr. Victor Chayasirisobhon
Lead Pastor, First Southern Baptist Church of Anaheim
President, California Southern Baptist Convention
Director of Mission, Orange County Southern Baptist Association
Coordinator, Thai Church Fellowship
Dr. Joseph Nak Cho
President, Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America
Chue Ger Herr
President, Hmong Baptist National Association
Dr. James Kang
Executive Director, Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America
Thuam C Khai
Sr Pastor, Siyin Chin Baptist Church
President, Myanmar Baptist Churches USA
Pastor/Elder, Living Rock Church of Pasadena
National Co-Coordinator, Asian NextGen Pastors Network
Rev. Howard Li
President, Chinese Baptist Fellowship of United States and Canada
Dr Lito Lucas
President, Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America
Rev. Hre Mang, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Myanmar Baptist Churches USA
Ethnic Research Network
Dr. Minh Ha Nguyen, PhD
President, Ethnic Research Network
Dr. Christian Phan
Executive Director, Vietnamese Fellowship
Dr. Danilo Santiago
Executive Director, Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America
National Co-Coordinator, Asian NextGen Pastors Network
Pastor Caleb Soch
Vice Chair/NextGen Director, Cambodian Southern Baptist Fellowship and Blessing Field
President, United Lao Southern Baptist Fellowship
Ethnic Research Network
Dr. Seang Yiv
Chairman, Cambodian Southern Baptist Fellowship and Blessing Field