I feel bad for the EC members who have joined the board in the last two years. They walked into the middle of a stirred up hornet’s nest that they did not stir up.
The situation with the Executive Committee continues to be a mess. We summarize most of what took place on page 2. For those interested, visit baptistandreflector.org. We have more extensive articles there. The pages of this issue simply weren’t enough to cover all that took place.
Four things stand out for me about what happened last week.
First, it was announced early that retired Kentucky pastor Dan Summerlin was going to serve as the transitional interim president and CEO. By all accounts, Summerlin was a good choice. According to EC president Phillip Robertson, Summerlin “has the administrative skills we need, a stellar reputation across the landscape of the SBC and the relational acumen needed to represent the EC in our cooperative efforts as a Convention during this interim period.”
Yet, on Sept. 19, Summerlin abruptly changed his mind and released this statement: “Upon further reflection it has become evident that what is best for the convention and for my family is to withdraw my name from consideration at this time. This job would require far more of my attention than I am able to give it right now as my wife undergoes treatment for breast cancer, and I need to care well for her.”
I understand his reason and admire him for it, but I have already been asked, “Why did he really change his mind? He knew his wife was sick when he accepted the position.”
I can’t answer that, but I will never criticize a man for looking out for his family, and I trust more Southern Baptists will accept his answer at face value. But the question does linger.
Second, the financial position of the EC is perilous. Interim president Jonathan Howe (who will continue in that role for now) said in the President’s Report on Monday night that roughly $10 million of the EC’s investment funds had been used during the past two years, leaving the EC with a little more than $4 million in investments.
Previous EC and media reports indicate these funds have primarily been used for legal fees related to the handling of sexual abuse issues and concerns in Southern Baptist churches and organizations from the past 20-plus years.
Also, on Monday the EC announced it was eliminating five staff positions and two contractor positions in order to free up more funds.
Third, Robertson reported that the EC had investigated former interim president Willie McLaurin (see story on page 2). Though the EC plans no legal action against McLaurin for now, they did sign a “confidential separation agreement.” Robertson, however, would not share information about the agreement. Questions definitely linger on this one.
Fourth, the EC board members approved a recommendation from the SBC Credentials Committee that “Matoaka Baptist Church in Ochelata, Okla., be deemed not in friendly cooperation with the Convention based on a lack of intent to cooperate in resolving concerns regarding discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.”
In a nutshell, the pastor blackened his face and portrayed black singer Ray Charles in a Valentine Banquet skit. Some say it was racist; the pastor and others disagree.
I think he made a very poor and unwise decision given the cultural climate in our country, but I don’t know if it was a racist decision or not. I don’t know the man or his heart. Only God knows and He is the ultimate judge.
My concern is that the Credentials Committee is on thin ice. They are bordering on breaching the line of local church autonomy. It is one thing to disfellowship a church on a doctrinal issue on which the Bible is clear. If we begin disfellowshiping churches based on our interpretation of issues/events which are not as clear, where does it end?
While questions linger about our convention, Southern Baptists should not linger in praying for our denomination. God has used the Southern Baptist Convention in a mighty way for more than 150 years and He will continue to do so if we remain in His will.
Pray for wisdom and discernment for our Southern Baptist leaders. We need to unite around one major issue and nothing more — reaching a lost world with the good news of Jesus Christ. He is our only hope. B&R