By David Roach & Diana Chandler
NASHVILLE — The six-member committee charged with nominating the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee is marked by racial and gender diversity as well as a mixture of clergy and laypeople.
The presidential search committee was elected during a special called EC meeting in Nashville today (April 17). The meeting — prompted by the March 27 departure of former EC President Frank S. Page — also included reports from EC chairman Stephen Rummage and interim president D. August Boto. See related Baptist Press report.
In executive session, the EC voted to grant limited post-employment benefits to Page, which include money for marital counseling, five years of Medicare supplemental coverage and some EC-provided computer equipment he had used in his home.
Presidential search committee
The six elected presidential search committee members, which include two African Americans and a woman, are:
— Joe Knott, an attorney from Raleigh, N.C.;
— Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, Ill.;
— Rummage, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla.;
— Rolland Slade, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, Calif.;
— Steve Swofford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas; and
— Carol Yarber, a retired medical administrator from Athens, Texas.
A total of 18 EC members were nominated from the floor to serve on the search committee. Following nominations, each EC member present was permitted, in accordance with EC bylaws, to vote for as many as six nominees.
The EC’s bylaws permit a seven-member search committee, which would include six elected members plus service by the EC chairman in an ex officio capacity. However, some EC members expressed a desire for Rummage to continue serving on the committee after his term as EC chairman expires in June. Rummage’s election to the search committee will allow him to continue serving on that body until its work is completed.
If the search committee is still working in June when a new EC chairman is elected, that person will become an ex officio member.
The search committee held its first meeting immediately following the conclusion of this afternoon’s plenary session.
‘Very difficult weeks’
In his report to the EC, Rummage thanked committee members “for praying for me, for our Executive Committee and certainly for the family of Dr. Page in these last several weeks. These have been very difficult weeks for all of us, and yet we have seen the Lord show Himself strong on our behalf and known His presence with us throughout this time.”
Boto said the EC staff will be “aiming for normalcy” during his interim presidency, including preparations for June’s SBC annual meeting in Dallas and “performing our duties each week until then and thereafter in the manner that our churches and our entities have grown to expect and depend on.”
Boto added he is “declining in advance if anyone were to suggest that the search committee consider me” as the permanent EC president.
A key aspect of Boto’s interim leadership, he said, will be the assistance of EC presidential ambassador Jimmy Draper, who will represent the EC through preaching assignments and with SBC entity presidents.
At Boto’s invitation, Draper made his first remarks before the EC since his April 9 appointment, reminding the group of the heaviness of its tasks and encouraging members to act in unity.
“Many of your meetings are very routine and predictable; this is not one of them,” said Draper, former president of LifeWay Christian Resources. “… You’re starting the process today to elect the seventh president of the Executive Committee, who will be the most visible face for Southern Baptists across the country. I want to just remind you, this is not a popularity contest when you elect this committee.”
The search committee should exemplify leadership, wisdom and diversity, Draper said. He pointed to the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17 as a model for the EC in electing a search committee.
“I’m not talking about uniformity,” Draper said. “Differences of opinion are not a threat to unity. Lack of trust and suspicions [are] a threat. So we need to pay attention to what Jesus prayed for … as you carefully select those that will be on this committee.”
The full EC should stand behind any decisions made by the body, Draper said, despite any differences of opinion that might arise during internal deliberations.
“It’s not about us. It’s about a sovereign Creator God who brought about the redemption of mankind through the death of His Son on the cross,” Draper said, “and He has assigned to us the Gospel of reconciliation.”
Page’s post-employment benefits
Page’s post-employment benefits included “an amount of money to pay for or substantially subsidize the cost of qualified, experienced, and well-regarded spiritual and marital counseling,” with “a like amount of money to provide counseling for any other persons that may have been immediately involved in the circumstances surrounding Dr. Page’s departure,” according to the recommendation approved in executive session.
The five years of Medicare supplemental coverage for the Pages will be funded by the EC “at a cost not to exceed $3,900 per year per person,” the recommendation stated. The computer equipment given to Page “has a combined value of approximately $750.”
Page also will receive an unpaid portion of his salary for the last three days of March.
Fighting back tears as the meeting closed, Rummage told the EC to a standing ovation for his leadership, “I know for all of you this has been a difficult day. It’s been a difficult day for me. I am sorry we’ve had to deal with what we’ve had to deal with today.”
Presidential selection process
The process for electing a new EC president is specified in EC Bylaw 6.5.2.
“When prepared to do so, the [search] committee shall offer” during an EC meeting held in executive session “a nominee for the office of president,” the bylaw states. “No other nominations may be offered. Following the committee’s report, the [EC] shall have the opportunity to hear and question the nominee and to discuss the nomination prior to voting by ballot whether to elect the nominee.”
If the nominee “receives a majority of the votes of the [EC members] present,” the bylaw states, “the nominee shall be elected. If the nominee is not elected, a new presidential search committee shall be selected” and “the nomination process shall be repeated.”
The Executive Committee president is the EC’s chief executive officer, reporting directly to the EC and serving as an ex officio member of the full body, its officers committee and all other regular committees, workgroups and special committees, according to the EC Bylaws.
According to the SBC Constitution, the EC president also serves as treasurer of the SBC. Under SBC Bylaw 18, he is responsible for fulfilling 14 duties given to the EC, as well as the mission statement and ministry assignments listed in the SBC Organization Manual. In addition, he is chair of the Southern Baptist Foundation’s board.