Headlines coming out of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee have calmed significantly since October, and EC chairman Rolland Slade is thankful. The EC members and staff need an opportunity to catch their breath, he said.
Next steps for the EC include naming an interim president and continuing to pull documents for the sexual abuse investigative team working with Guidepost Solutions, but the day-to-day routines also must continue, he noted.
“We do have lots of questions that need answers, but we are asking if they are really as urgent as they might feel in the moment,” Slade said. “We need time to process where we are.
“We’ve been through systematic chaos for four years, … and we need time to think about what we want to do.”
The top seat shifted from Frank Page to Augie Boto (as interim EC president) in 2018. Ronnie Floyd was elected president in 2019 but resigned in October of this year along with executive vice president Greg Addison and several EC board members.
Slade is committed to establishing stability for the staff and spent the first four days of November on-site in Nashville in what he describes as “a ministry of presence.” He plans to do the same the first week of December and for several months into 2022.
“My intention going in was knowing that Dr. Floyd and Greg wouldn’t be there Nov. 1 (because both wrapped up their time with the EC on Oct. 31).
“I was there to answer questions and prayerfully be of some comfort,” Slade explained. “I wanted to reassure the staff the train isn’t off the tracks … and to encourage them to continue to do what they do.
“They are professionals and are good at what they do,” he said. “I encouraged them not to let outside noise be a distraction.”
Along with all that’s involved with the investigation, EC staff members also are undergoing the annual audit, are working on various aspects of preparing for the annual meeting next June and will have participated in 24 state conventions in the first three weeks of November. “There is a lot going on and we need to let the staff breathe and not put the pressure on determining who’s going to be leading,” Slade said. “We have three very capable godly men leading the three departments that remain and we need to empower them to do their job.”
The three staff members overseeing day-to-day operations are Jeff Pearson, chief financial officer; Willie McLaurin, vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization; and Jonathan Howe, vice president for communications.
Latest EC staff changes
Julio Arriola, the EC’s executive director for Hispanic relations and mobilization since December 2019, announced he has taken a new position as director of Send Network SBTC. Send Network SBTC is a church planting partnership between the North American Mission Board and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Arriola will be employed by NAMB but will work out of the SBTC offices in Grapevine, Texas.
Becky Chandler, longtime senior executive assistant to the board, announced her retirement effective Dec. 31 but has agreed to continue in a virtual role through September 2022.
Slade said that along with evaluating the EC staffing structure before hiring a new president, they anticipate Guidepost may have recommendations for how to better receive information coming from survivors and local churches within the convention. The Guidepost report will be provided no later than mid-May 2022.
“I don’t expect we’d have a new president before Anaheim (in June),” he said. “But we will need to hire for Julio’s position … it’s the most critical role to fill right now.”
Recent EC meeting
These and other updates were discussed during the Nov. 10 special called EC meeting, which was held via Zoom. While details coming out of the meeting were shared with Baptist Press for a report posted later that afternoon, other members of the media were not invited to attend.
Slade acknowledged it was an oversight on his part because the agenda seemed like basic housekeeping types of things rather than the dramatic debate that took place in September and October over the vote to waive attorney-client privilege in the Guidepost investigation.
“We did not meet in executive session, but I didn’t think about the fact that normally when the meetings are open, media attends,” he said, noting the number of special-called meetings taking place over Zoom also has been an adjustment for EC members. EC meetings typically have occurred in person three times per year — in February, June and September. Meeting virtually is relatively new for the group.
Slade said all but two or three of the members were present for the recent meeting. They got word just prior to the meeting that member Bob Neely of South Carolina had died unexpectedly, which brings the total number of members to 68.
The meeting allowed the EC to handle any remaining concerns expressed in the Oct. 13 letter to Slade by 25 EC members, who requested a meeting specific to the concerns outlined — fill vacant officer positions and deal with “issues of leadership and trust among the committee, officers and executive staff.”
Working on communication
Slade also noted he has encouraged EC members to remain in a state of prayer for 30 days — Nov. 1 through Dec. 1 — and that he is working to communicate with the EC members better.
“Coming into a meeting without all the facts or getting it last minute, it’s hard to make an informed decision. That was a frustration I felt as a member of the committee,” he said. “I need time to process, and I want to make sure as chairman to get as much information in front of the members as possible.”