NASHVILLE — Willie McLaurin has resigned immediately as interim president of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention after it was revealed he falsified his academic credentials.
McLaurin has been serving in the interim role since February 2022 following the October 2021 resignation of Ronnie Floyd. McLaurin was the first African American to lead an SBC entity.
Philip Robertson, chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, released the news late in the afternoon on Aug. 17 in a statement.
“While considering McLaurin as a candidate for Floyd’s permanent replacement, the SBC Executive Committee’s Presidential Search Team discovered disqualifying information during their process of vetting and due diligence,” Robertson said in the statement.
“McLaurin’s education credentials that he presented in his resume are false,” he continued.
“In fact, in his resignation letter, McLaurin stated, ‘In a recent resume that I submitted, it included schools that I did not attend or complete the course of study.’ ”
Baptist Press reported that on his resume, McLaurin listed earned degrees from North Carolina Central University, Duke University Divinity School and Hood Theological Seminary.
Neal Hughes, chairman of the search committee, said three different search committee members did individual investigations into the validity of the credibility of McLaurin’s degrees, and that each institution confirmed McLaurin did not graduate.
McLaurin listed an undergraduate degree from North Carolina Central University on his application when he applied at the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convection (now Tennessee Baptist Mission Board) in 2005. The other stated degrees from his SBC EC application were not listed when he applied for his role at the state convention nor ever added to his file. The TBMB said that verifying educational degrees became standard practice in 2007 and has been a part of the process since.
Robertson said in the statement that further updates related to next steps to the presidential search team and SBC Executive Committee’s staff leadership will be issued “as a commitment of transparency” in the near future.
“I want to express my deep appreciation for your prayers for the SBC Executive Committee’s members and staff as well as the Presidential Search Team,” the chairman added in closing his statement.
“The need for God’s wisdom and direction is paramount at each and every point in the process of searching and selecting the next president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee,” he stated.
Robertson also called upon Southern Baptists to pray for the Executive Committee staff and the McLaurin family.
Following his admission of the truth and submitting his resignation, McLaurin apologized in his resignation letter that was provided to EC members and BP.
“To the Southern Baptists who have placed their confidence in me and have encouraged me to pursue the role of President & CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, including pastors, state partners, entity servants, colleagues, and SBC African American friends, I offer my deepest apologies. Please forgive me for the harm or hurt that this has caused,” McLaurin said.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, where McLaurin was employed for 15 years before resigning to join the EC staff, also released a statement after learning of the news.
“I am profoundly saddened right now. To say that I am grieved would be an understatement. Willie McLaurin has been a shining light of encouragement to pastors and churches, both in Tennessee and across the Southern Baptist Convention. Unfortunately, the situation in which we now find ourselves is beyond belief, and I am simply trying to process all that has happened, and the enormous damage inflicted by the fraud perpetrated on his resume regarding his educational background,” he wrote.
Davis acknowledged that what McLaurin did “was categorically wrong. This is another scandal the Southern Baptist Convention simply did not need.
“However, the way forward begins with confession and repentance of personal sin which gives us all an opportunity to heal and begin a process of restoration. While confession and repentance do not negate nor diminish the harm sin causes, it gives God the opportunity to forgive and rebuild. The Psalmist promised us that ‘The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.’ ”
Davis also acknowledged his deep friendship with McLaurin. “I will continue to walk with him through this current storm as a friend.”
In his statement, Davis also expressed appreciation to the SBC Executive Committee presidential search team led by Neal Hughes of Alabama. The search committee includes Tennessean Corey Cain, pastor of First Baptist Church, Seymour.
“They have served the SBC with exemplary due diligence. Southern Baptists should express gratitude that they have taken their role seriously. This has had to be an extremely painful process for them. Pray for this team as they now continue their work,” he said.
Davis concluded his statement by calling all Southern Baptists “to go before God with our brokenness and run toward humility and holiness. It is not the time to be the kind of army that shoots its wounded.
“It is not a time to posture. It is a time to pray. Together.”
Davis sent the statement to directors of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB) staff following Robertson’s statement. He clarified that while “looking back at his file here at the TBMB, there is no mention of a Duke degree on his application from 2005 when he joined the then Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now TBMB) and there is no mention of having completed one while employed by TBMB.”
When contacted by the Baptist and Reflector, Cain said he was unable to give any details. He acknowledged, however, that “I am saddened and heartbroken over this.
“At the same time I am thankful that the committee was willing to do its due diligence.” B&R — This article includes reporting by Baptist Press.