The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention will meet Feb. 19–20 at the SBC Building in Nashville.
A few weeks ago, it appeared that the Executive Committee was poised to rid itself of the elephant in the room — the vacant office of president and chief executive officer. The position has been vacant aside from interim presidents since Oct. 31, 2021 when Ronnie Floyd’s resignation as president and CEO took effect.
On Jan. 8, the search committee announced it would present a candidate at the EC’s upcoming meeting in February. They chose not to release the name, but it soon circulated that Thomas Hammond, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, would be the candidate. Approximately two weeks later, search committee (team) chair Neal Hughes informed EC members the unnamed candidate had withdrawn his name.
On the same day, Hammond informed the GBMB executive committee that he indeed had been the candidate, but he had withdrawn his name.
Baptist Press reported the contents of the e-mail. “You may be aware that I was asked to be considered as a candidate for the role of president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee,” he told leaders in the e-mail, adding that he and his wife Kerri had been open to the opportunity but that “over the past week, it has become clear that God’s will is for us to remain in Georgia.”
In a statement to Baptist Press, Hammond revealed that as he prayed through the decision, he “came to the clear conclusion that God was not through with him in Georgia.”
Controversy, uncertainty, distrust
It’s just another element in the whirlwind of controversy surrounding the EC.
It is well documented that the first search committee botched the process last year when it announced Jared Wellman of Texas would be the nominee. That nomination was problematic. Wellman had been chair of the EC board and served as an ex officio member of the search committee before resigning his position with the EC and eventually becoming the candidate.
The Baptist and Reflector published a column on April 29 of last year, questioning the process and the fact that Willie McLaurin, who had led well in the interim, was disqualified for the position.
Other organizations, such as the National African American Fellowship, also questioned the process. EC members voted overwhelmingly against Wellman and the process began again with a new committee.
The new search committee did offer McLaurin serious consideration, but through due diligence discovered McLaurin had made fraudulent claims about his academic credentials. McLaurin eliminated himself from consideration and resigned.
Then there was Dan Summerlin, a retired Kentucky pastor who had been announced last September to fill in as the EC’s transitional interim president and CEO, withdrew his name immediately before the EC’s fall board meeting citing his wife’s health challenges as the reason for withdrawing.
Now, a candidate who, by all accounts, was a good choice for the position took himself out of the process.
Answering tough questions
So, two years and four months later, the job is still vacant. Why?
I believe there is still a sense of uncertainty and distrust associated with the EC. Due to the handling of the sexual abuse controversy in the SBC, the EC has lost credibility with Southern Baptists.
When the search first began for Floyd’s successor, the rallying cry from the EC and the search committee was to “restore credibility.”
Sadly, that has not happened, despite the best efforts of the second search committee. I commend them. Members honestly thought they had found God’s man for the job in McLaurin, but their due diligence prevented a worse disaster.
So what’s next? In computer terms, they have to “reboot” and begin the process again.
Filling this role is obviously a God-sized task and as Southern Baptists, we need to pray God’s wisdom for leaders within the EC as they seek God’s man for “a time such as this.” There’s really nothing “people” can do.
Only God can remove the elephant in the room.