FRANKLIN — The prospect of Jared Wellman being elected Monday, May 1, by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee (EC) to serve as its president/CEO does nothing to restore the credibility the organization’s board members supposedly sought.
Wellman will be put forward as the EC’s sole candidate. The announcement of a candidate finally comes after more than a year-long process conducted by the EC’s appointed presidential search committee, a committee on which Wellman served as an ex officio member since being named EC board chair last June.
However, Wellman is not the issue here. He seems like a likeable enough person. It’s the EC’s process over the past three months leading up to Wellman’s selection that comes with a large helping of speculation about the integrity of the search process, his candidacy and the possibility of his being named the EC’s new leader.
Questions linger, such as:
Why was interim president Willie McLaurin disqualified when as recently as February’s EC board meeting, Adron Robinson, chair of the EC search committee, told The Baptist Paper, that McLaurin remains “a viable candidate” for the position?
And why shortly after Robinson’s statement did Wellman recuse himself from serving any longer as a voting ex officiomember of the search committee to become a candidate (after participating in the interviews of other candidates for at least eight months)?
And why did the EC’s full board not know of Wellman’s recusal until weeks after it happened?
And why did Wellman resign as EC board chair approximately two weeks prior to Monday’s vote that potentially affirms him as EC president?
And why didn’t Baptist Press report his resignation when it happened? Surely the resignation of the EC’s chair would be big news across the denomination since the EC has been at the epicenter of SBC news for at least the past three years.
And why haven’t Southern Baptists been informed about any of these developments as they occurred by the denomination’s news agency?
And then there are questions about McLaurin. Why does a man with vast leadership experience and an exemplary record as an Army intelligence officer, a pastor, a state convention ministry specialist, a special assistant to Tennessee’s state mission board executive director, a vice president of the EC, and an interim EC president get passed over?
And how is Wellman – or any other candidate, past or present – any more professionally or spiritually qualified than McLaurin to hold the position?
And what expectation has McLaurin failed to reach while serving as interim EC president for more than a year? Before his tenure as interim president began, the EC was a public relations nightmare. During his tenure, McLaurin has been well-received in a diversity of churches across the Southern Baptist Convention preaching a message of unity through the gospel and a call for a cooperative effort for the sake of advancing the Great Commission.
Some have speculated that passing over McLaurin is racially motivated. Was it? Let’s hope not. Southern Baptists have improved its inclusion of blacks and other minorities in positions of leadership across state conventions and the national level. It could do much more, so why not install an extremely well-qualified candidate who has proven he can handle the specific job, and who happens to be black? His installation would certainly reflect the growing diverse demographic of the SBC.
Regardless of whether race is at issue, the dismissal of McLaurin after a successful 15-month dress rehearsal as interim EC president smacks of him falling victim to an “Inner Ring.”
While serving as the Memorial Lecturer at King’s College, University of London, C.S. Lewis delivered a challenge titled, “The Inner Ring.” Lewis states there are two different systems or hierarchies. The one is printed, can be looked up and remains a constant. The other is not printed, is not necessarily organized, and is fluid. Just because one becomes a part of The Inner Ring does not mean he or she will stay there. The Inner Ring is comprised of the power brokers of the moment who have ability to exert influence to achieve desired outcomes.
Given the EC search committee’s failure to name a candidate at its September meeting and then again in February after a year of the process, could it be that McLaurin was never realistically a part of an “Inner Ring’s” plan because he was never a part of an Inner Ring?
And let’s be honest, Inner Rings exist in denominational life.
The process by the EC presidential search committee leaves the impression that a fix was in, a deal was brokered, and Wellman slid into the catbird seat before, during or shortly after the EC’s February 2023 board meeting. That’s the perception, and unfortunately Southern Baptists have no real information about the process to inform them otherwise.
This process for this important position should have been done much more transparently and publicly.
Robinson said after the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in relation to the report of the Sexual Abuse Task Force that, “We know the EC has lost credibility among the messengers in the past two years. We want to make sure we were hearing clearly the direction of the messengers before moving forward with our search. It’s important to restoring future credibility.”
Shouldn’t that desire for credibility extend to all areas of the EC’s responsibility?
If the EC search committee was a major league baseball player seeking to hit a home run that would restore the EC’s credibility, the process by which Wellman has been selected was a strikeout looking before Monday’s pitch has even been thrown, leaving the EC’s credibility more in shambles now than it was three months ago.
And Southern Baptists watching from the box seats shake their heads while mumbling, “So much for restoring credibility.” B&R