While the anticipated next step regarding who will temporarily lead the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee in the interim period changed mid-way through the trustees’ meeting this week, trustee chair Philip Robertson plans to begin a new search right away.
Recently retired Kentucky pastor Dan Summerlin provided this statement yesterday afternoon (Sept. 19) after alerting Robertson Monday night (Sept. 18) of his decision:
“Upon further reflection it has become evident that what is best for the convention and for my family is to withdraw my name from consideration at this time. This job would require far more of my attention than I am able to give it right now as my wife undergoes treatment for breast cancer, and I need to care well for her.”
‘Transitional interim’ search continues
During an executive session Tuesday (Sept. 19), the EC approved Jonathan Howe, who had served for the past month, to continue as the temporary interim until a “transitional interim” — someone who will not be considered for the permanent role — can be selected, vetted and presented, Robertson said.
“Jonathan has been so gracious to help us during this time, but his heart is where he was as vice president for communications,” Robertson explained during an afternoon press conference Sept. 19. “His seat in that role is incredibly important for us. Not only does he have a willingness to return to that role but even a desire. That motivates us to look for a transitional interim.”
When asked about extra costs involved in an intentional interim search and onboarding to staff so close to when the presidential search team announced its goal of bringing a nominee for a permanent candidate in February, Robertson noted the interim-related costs would be minimal because the presentation and election would be over Zoom. He also acknowledged the search team’s statement of its “hope to bring forth a candidate” doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee.
Summerlin previously served as pastor at Lone Oak Baptist Church in Paducah, Kentucky, where he served in the role for 21 years. In addition to his time at Lone Oak, Summerlin has served as pastor of churches in Alabama and Mississippi. He served as the president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention from 2012 to 2013.
While the 2021–2022 audit details have not been released by the EC board of trustees, the finance and stewardship committee members continue working on a path forward.
The EC is funded by a small percentage of Cooperative Program funds that come through its office to be distributed to Southern Baptist missions and ministries and investment income, which is rapidly decreasing.
Howe explained in the interim president’s report Monday evening that roughly $10 million of the EC’s investment funds had been used during the past two years, leaving the EC with a little more than $4 million in investments. Previous EC and media reports indicate these funds have primarily been used for legal fees related to the handling of sexual abuse issues and concerns in Southern Baptist churches and organizations from the past 20-plus years.
The readjusted $8,305,500 EC and SBC operating budget proposal approved Tuesday is the same bottomline number approved in February but line items reportedly were adapted (primarily the recent staff cuts) to cover rising costs related to the SBC Annual Meeting and to decrease the amount being pulled from the EC investments.
Mike Bianchi, interim chief financial officer, shared during the February board meeting that the EC received an unqualified opinion (which is good) on its 2022 audit report, but the auditors emphasized “the sexual abuse issues, the DOJ investigation and the deteriorating liability of the EC” as concerns.
The current pace is “unsustainable,” Bianchi said in February, noting options such as liquidating assets (including the EC building), changing financial arrangements, obtaining other financing, etc., were discussed with the auditors.
During this week’s meeting (Sept. 18–19), Adam Wyatt, chair of the finance and stewardship committee, confirmed the possible sale of the building is being discussed with the other entities who co-own it as well as a potential listing agent.
McLaurin investigation results
Robertson reported out of the executive session: “Based on the findings from the internal investigation, while it is clear that Willie McLaurin engaged in both academic and professional fraud during his tenure with the Executive Committee, no evidence was found of financial wrongdoing or direct harm to the Executive Committee. While the Executive Committee acknowledges the collateral, reputational harm and indirect financial impact resulting from McLaurin’s misrepresentations, the Executive Committee does not plan to proceed with taking any legal action against McLaurin at this time.”
A confidential separation agreement also was approved between the EC and McLaurin, Robertson reported but would not elaborate on any specifics related to the agreement.
New code of conduct for EC members
Following a season of public discord and multiple social media insults surfacing among, about and between EC members, such as former SBC EC member Guy Fredrick’s “demeaning and inappropriate tweet” that attracted expanded media coverage, the EC developed a new code of conduct. It reads as follows:
“The SBC Executive Committee is a Christian organization, committed to the advancement of Christian principles, and establishes the following Code of Conduct for members of the board (the Member), reflective of its beliefs.
“As part of the qualifications for the position of board member, the Member acknowledges that he/she is a “born-again” Christian who knows the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23). The Member accepts without verbal or mental reservations, the SBC Executive Committee Member’s Code of Conduct and is committed to upholding it.
“The Member agrees to manifest, to the best of his/her ability, by daily example the highest Christian virtue serving as a Christian role model (1 Tim. 4:12) both in and out of the meetings of the SBC Executive Committee to all persons with whom the Member comes in contact (Luke 6:40), and with fellow SBC Executive Committee members and staff.
“The Member pledges to be a role model in judgment, dignity, respect, speech, and Christian living and agrees to strive to maintain a Biblical lifestyle at all times. (Col. 3:17, Titus 2:7–8, 1 Thess. 2:10, 1 Thess. 5:18, 22–23, and James 3:17–18).
“The Member’s conduct will be guided by the moral and ethical standards of the Christian faith. The Executive Committee is supported by Southern Baptist churches across North America, and conduct must not embarrass or impede the ministry of the organization to those constituent churches. The Member is expected to be an active and faithful member of a local Southern Baptist church.
“The Member is responsible for the content of social media posts he/she makes. While the Member may intend to represent only himself/herself and not the SBC Executive Committee, others will perceive that the Member serves as a representative of the Executive Committee and the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole. The Member’s social media posts should not reflect negatively on the SBC Executive Committee.
“The Member agrees to hold SBC Executive Committee business in strict confidence. The Member may not disclose confidential information to non-members, either in person, in written form, or on social media or similar sites.
“Any action that violates the code of conduct, either with the Member’s lifestyle, conduct, or social media content may result in disciplinary measures, according to the process in Matthew 18. Disciplinary process may include consultation(s) with Officers of the Board, and if not resolved, may result in recommendation to the SBC Committee on Nominations, requesting of the messengers that the Member be removed from the board.
“The code of conduct policies contain important information about the SBC Executive Committee, and I understand I should consult the Board Chairman regarding any questions not answered in this document. I understand I represent my church, my state or territory, the Executive Committee, and the Southern Baptist Convention. As a Member of the SBC Executive Committee Board of Trustees, I will comply with the Code of Conduct and be the best representative of the SBC Executive Committee that I can be.”
Recommending disassociation of Oklahoma church
EC members approved the Credentials Committee’s recommendation that “Matoaka Baptist Church in Ochelata, Oklahoma, be deemed not in friendly cooperation with the Convention based on a lack of intent to cooperate in resolving concerns regarding discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.”
While the specifics of the reasoning were not reported by the EC, Robertson noted the church chose not to respond to inquiries from the Credentials Committee and that the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma also made the same decision prior to the Credentials Committee’s recommendation.
Other media reports indicate the situation stemmed from the pastor’s Ray Charles impersonation during this year’s Valentine’s banquet at the church. The pastor denies the allegations of his impersonation being racist. Read more from Baptist Press here.