(Updated Feb. 4, 8:20 a.m.)
The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) has an upcoming meeting Feb. 18-19 in Nashville, Tenn., and many Southern Baptists eagerly await the announcement of the EC’s decision on a new leader for the organization.
As a handful of entity leadership roles were vacated over the past year, beginning with the resignation of Frank Page as EC president due to moral failure, some church leaders have called the organizations to use the openings as opportunities to consider ethnic minorities for executive leadership positions in an effort to promote diversity across the convention.
Baptist Press photo by Matt Miller
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee seven-member presidential search team includes (first row, left to right) Stephen Rummage, Mike Stone; (middle row, left to right) Adron Robinson, Carol Yarber, Joe Knott; (back row left to right) Stephen Swofford and Rolland Slade.
Last year, Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, publicly urged the EC and the International Mission Board (IMB) to take steps that would demonstrate their commitment to ethnic diversity. At the time, David Platt had announced his intention to step down as president of the IMB.
“Right now we have two major entities in the Southern Baptist Convention that have vacancies at the leadership level,” Pitman said during a panel discussion at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s MLK50 conference in April 2018. “It is imperative that at least one of them be filled with minority leadership.”
The IMB has since come under the leadership of Paul Chitwood, who was selected by trustees Nov. 15 to be the entity’s new president. Chitwood will be formally installed in his new role Feb. 6, 2019.
One of the EC’s own advisory councils uses a database to track progress and develop strategies to encourage greater participation of ethnic minorities in Southern Baptist life and leadership.
The EC presented a report to messengers at the 2011 SBC annual meeting with recommendations for all SBC entities that were “designed to foster conscious awareness of the need to be proactive and intentional in the inclusion of individuals from all ethnic and racial identities within Southern Baptist life.”
Those recommendations included the implementation of ethnic-specific data in yearly informational reports submitted to the EC from SBC entities and due consideration of ethnic representation in presidential appointments, committee nominations and entity hiring practices.
The Biblical Recorder reached out to the EC’s search committee in early December 2018 to find out more about how they were reviewing potential candidates.
Stephen Swofford, chair of the EC search committee and pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas, told the Recorder in an email Dec. 10 that the group had been “proceeding based on those who were recommended” but they had not utilized the Convention Advancement Advisory Council’s database to aid their efforts.
The database draws information from LifeWay’s Annual Church Profile (ACP), along with other data collected by the EC and the North American Mission Board, to help leaders of the SBC’s ethnic fellowship groups track their respective churches’ efforts in evangelism, discipleship, missions and cooperative giving, according to EC staff.
Mike Stone, EC chairman and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., declined to comment on the details of the search process but referred to statements made by SBC president J.D. Greear in an address to the EC.
“Remember that they (committees, boards, etc.) are filled with people who love Jesus,” he said. “They are doing their best to make the right decision, one that honors the Lord.”
On Jan. 29, a trio of well-known Southern Baptist pastors, including two former SBC presidents, sent a letter to the EC search team asking if any ethnic minority candidates were interviewed for the lead role, and if not, why. The letter, viewed by the Recorder, was signed by Pitman, James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., and Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.
The group emphasized they were not demanding that the EC hire a minority, nor requiring consideration for any particular candidate, but inquiring whether any minority candidates had been interviewed.
“We can assure you at the end of the process whoever you choose we will trust it was the Spirit of God leading you to select that person,” the letter said. “Still, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to explain to the increasing minority element of our convention and an outside world why no minority candidate was even given the courtesy of an interview.”
The pastors invoked the election of Greear as SBC president in their appeal, saying he had made ethnic diversity “one of the six initiatives of his presidency” in 2018 and was elected by nearly 70 percent of messengers.
Greear told the Recorder he had seen the letter but declined to comment on details. Greear did say, however, that he “agree[s] with their concern over whether we are making strategic and intentional efforts” to consider non-White Southern Baptists for denominational leadership positions.
“As I have said before, we need to recognize the leadership gifts of brothers and sisters of color that God has placed in our midst and embrace their wisdom and influence,” Greear explained.
“I am sure this search committee will follow the recommendation from the full EC board and interview at least one person of color. As I am sure this search committee knows, there are many highly qualified candidates who would be more than deserving of an interview. While nearly a fifth of [SBC] churchgoers are Black, Latino, or Asian, our leadership still falls far short of that mark and this search committee can take a giant leap forward.”
Read the full letter from Pitman, Wright and Merritt below:
Dear Executive Committee Search Committee:
You have been given an extremely important task to choose the next Chairman of the Executive Committee. There is no doubt that your number one desire is and should be to find God’s man for that position. It is with that common conviction and belief that we send the following.
Our nation is increasingly diversifying at a rapid rate that is a reflection of God’s kingdom which includes people from every tribe, every tongue, and every nation. We realize as a convention that we must increasingly diversify both our evangelistic efforts and our leadership if we are going to be the kingdom minded, growing, relevant force for Christ that we have been in the past and we want to be in the future.
We do not presume to speak for Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear on this issue; however, at the 2018 annual meeting in Dallas, TX, he was elected by nearly 70% of the messengers and made this issue one of the six initiatives of his presidency.
It is this backdrop that leads us to ask two very important questions for your committee: (1) In your search for the person to fill this position, have you interviewed any minority candidates? (2) If not, we respectfully ask why not?
Please understand we are not saying that you should hire a minority candidate. That is neither our role or our responsibility. But candidly and respectfully we are saying that it would be difficult at best to explain to the increasing minority participation in our convention and to a world that is watching our denomination from afar, why no minority was seriously considered.
We know ourselves of certain minority candidates that we believe would at least merit a conversation and consideration regardless of whether or not they would be chosen in the end. At the very least, simply an acknowledgement that minorities were considered and interviewed in a serious way would show a good faith effort on the part of this committee to exhibit a sensitivity to where we are and where we need to go as a convention in terms of racial diversity in our leadership. Not to do so, we believe would send an extremely negative message and unnecessarily put the committee and frankly, the entire convention, in a bad light.
Let me be clear again: we are not dictating to the committee any specific individuals that you should either interview or select. We can assure you at the end of the process whoever you choose we will trust it was the Spirit of God leading you to select that person. Still, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to explain to the increasing minority element of our convention and an outside world why no minority candidate was even given the courtesy of an interview. In fact, I would hope every other search committee for various vacant entity heads ongoing now and in the future would be sensitive to doing due diligence in this matter as well.
We send this letter with all respect and belief that in the end you will do the right thing and you will select the person that God wants us to have. We send this with humility, love, and a deep concern and care for the denomination that we all love. We would appreciate your timely response to this letter and your prompt consideration of this matter.
James Merritt – Pastor, Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, GA
Bryant Wright – Pastor, Johnson Ferry Baptist, Marietta, GA
Vance Pittman – Pastor, Hope Church, Las Vegas, NV