NASHVILLE — Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee members were hit with another disappointment during the final plenary session of their fall meeting on Sept. 19.
EC Chairman and Louisiana pastor Philip Robertson announced that Dan Summerlin, the recently retired Kentucky pastor who had been announced the day before as a candidate for the role of transitional interim president and CEO of the entity, informed EC officers Tuesday he had changed his mind and would no longer seek the role. He cited his wife’s health challenges as his primary reason.
The current interim president and CEO, Jonathan Howe, will remain in the position for the foreseeable future.
Trustees discussed Summerlin’s withdrawal as well as several other significant matters during a three-hour executive session Tuesday afternoon.
Among those were the results of a special counsel’s investigation into the tenure of former EC interim president and CEO Willie McLaurin, who resigned in August after admitting to falsifying his education credentials.
A confidential separation agreement was reached between McLaurin and the Executive Committee, Robertson said. In a press conference after the session, Robertson repeated that he was unable to give any further details on the investigation of McLaurin’s statements, including those surrounding his past military career.
Also in executive session, trustees approved a recommendation from the SBC Credentials Committee to deem Matoaka Baptist Church in Ochelata, Okla., “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.
EC interim president’s report
Howe, who had served as the EC’s vice president of communications since 2019 until becoming interim president and CEO in August, addressed members Monday night (Sept. 18). He was candid about the EC’s financial hardships.
“Nothing has been more humbling at the Executive Committee in recent years than our financial position,” Howe said, referencing a sex abuse investigation ordered by messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting that has proved costly. “There is a price to pay for reform, even when reform is necessary. We have seen our reserves fall from more than $13 million to just over $4 million in two short years.”
SBC president’s address
SBC president and Texas pastor Bart Barber used his time before EC members to remind them that the Convention has faced similar hard times before.
Barber drew on his church history background to recount the state of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1920s and ‘30s. Their favored political candidate had lost, the culture was moving sharply against them, and in the midst of their most ambitious fundraising campaign, the economy crashed.
Terrible damage was done “to Convention finances and to Convention confidence in the institutions that were leading us,” Barber said.
A century from now, Barber encouraged trustees, people may not remember the specific hardships facing Southern Baptists today as much as they will remember whether they came together around a common mission.
“A dream of cooperation carried us through the 1920s and 1930s, and it will carry us through the 2020s, too,” he said.
The Abuse Reform and Implementation Task Force told EC members they could expect a launch date for a ministry check website of sexual abusers “very soon.”
ARITF member and EC member Mike Keahbone brought the task force’s report, saying: “We unanimously recognize the need for a long-term solution to resource and assist churches to prevent and respond to abuse and to oversee the ministry check process.”
Executive Committee members approved a 2023-2024 operating budget of $8,305,500 for SBC and EC operating expenses, a decrease of .35 percent from last year.
Cooperative Program receipts are down 3.48 percent over last year, trustees heard, and a negative change of $1,669,165 in net assets occurred in the last quarter alone.
Adam Wyatt, chairman of the EC’s Committee on Convention Finances and Stewardship Development, told members the committee is looking into “every conceivable aspect” of the EC’s finances, including the potential sale of the SBC’s building in downtown Nashville.
Search team update
The team responsible for selecting a new president and CEO of the EC told members they are working “diligently and expeditiously.”
“With the help of the Lord, we hope to have this person for the Executive Committee’s examination and vote on or before Feb. 19, 2024,” search team chairman Neal Hughes said. “Thank you for joining us in praying earnestly to that end.”
The EC also responded to several messengers’ motions referred to it during the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans. In adopting recommendations from various EC standing committees, the full board:
- Declined to facilitate in-person trustee training for SBC entity trustees, citing the fact that entities are autonomous. The EC did, however, agree to create, along with the entities, a document detailing the responsibilities of a trustee and providing that to all persons nominated to serve on SBC entity trustee boards.
- Declined to study additional ways for churches to work together, citing the autonomy of local churches and the inherent nature of the SBC.
- Received as information the creation and appointment of a small workgroup to study the missional impact of the hosting of the 2027 SBC Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City.
- Declined to consider hosting the 2028 SBC Annual Meeting in Maui, Hawaii.
In other business, EC members:
- Adopted a code of conduct for members.
- Adopted a new vetting process for certain EC staff positions.
- Amended the EC bylaws to allow for the election of officers by a majority of members present at a given meeting rather than a majority of the total number of board members.
- Revised the authorized list of signatures for bank deposits.
- Elected EC member Mollie Duddleston as chair of the Committee on Convention Missions and Ministry, per a recommendation from the EC chairman.
- Witnessed the presentation of checks exceeding $580,000 to the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board from offerings collected from campers at Lifeway Christian Resources summer camps.
With reporting from Laura Erlanson, Diana Chandler, Scott Barkley and Erin Roach.
Editor’s note: This article was corrected after initial publication to change “three” to “two” in Howe’s statement regarding the number of years of decline in the EC’s financial reserves.