With the expected presentation and election of a candidate for president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee a few weeks away, that candidate pulled his name from consideration Jan. 22.
While not officially announced in any public format, the candidate has been widely known for several weeks in Southern Baptist circles to be Thomas Hammond, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
Hammond confirmed his decision to withdraw his name in an email to GBMB executive committee members Jan. 23, according to Baptist News Global and a variety of unofficial sources. He declined to share further comments with The Baptist Paper.
Decision came ‘after much prayer, fasting’
Search committee chair Neal Hughes announced the latest development Tuesday (Jan. 23) to SBC EC members. The news of a potential candidate was announced Jan. 8 and was expected to be voted on during the EC’s upcoming meeting in Nashville (Feb. 19–20).
In a statement to Baptist Press, Hughes said the candidate shared his decision with the search committee on Monday (Jan. 22). No specifics on why Hammond withdrew his name were shared, other than the decision came after “much prayer, fasting and a desire to be in the center of God’s will.”
Hughes noted the search team plans to discuss next steps during the EC’s upcoming meeting. He encouraged EC members to “press on, trust in Jesus and approach each day with the joy of the Lord.”
‘Complexities’ create challenges
SBC EC trustee chair Philip Robertson of Louisiana shared with The Alabama Baptist and The Baptist Paper that while he can’t speak for everyone, “generally, I believe our trustees and Southern Baptists understand the complexities in our convention that make our search for CEO now more challenging that perhaps in the past.”
“However, one thing has not changed — our trust is not in a man, our trust is in our sovereign Lord,” Robertson said. “While it is certainly disappointing, we understand that it is vital that we find God’s man for the hour, and our trust in Him has not wavered. I agree with chairman Hughes: ‘let us press on, trust in Jesus, and approach each day with the joy of the Lord.’”
Selected from pool of 30 candidates
The search team interviewed 30 candidates “via questionnaire, Zoom and in person,” according to Hughes in a Jan. 8 press release from the EC.
Hughes said the search team “arrived at this candidate after following the four-phase process Hughes outlined in the EC’s September 2023 meeting: the invitation phase, the interview phase, the investigation phase and the introduction phase.”
“In doing due diligence, we gathered references from over 60 people from every walk of SBC life, including a full review of primary, secondary and tertiary references,” added Hughes, director of missions of Montgomery (Alabama) Baptist Association.
“In accordance with the Executive Committee’s newly adopted hiring guidelines,” Hughes noted, “we completed an extensive list of checks and tests. The search team evaluated the person during numerous meetings, reviewing his vision and having our questions answered.”
Waiting to hear how interim role will play out
The EC’s next president will fill the vacancy left by interim president Willie McLaurin, who stepped down in August 2023 after admitting to falsifying his resumé. Jonathan Howe, who has served the EC since 2019 as vice president for communications, was tapped by the EC to fill in as interim president following McLaurin’s departure.
No information has been released regarding whether Howe will continue as interim or if the EC trustees will shift back to a transitional interim (short-term) hire for the position as initially proposed in September prior to retired Kentucky pastor Dan Summerlin withdrawing his name for consideration just hours before the trustees were to vote to appoint him.
It is anticipated all positions will remain the same until the EC board meets in February to discuss all the options.