The Southern Baptist Convention just reached a new low. Recent reports show the number of churches in the SBC has increased but membership and baptisms are on the decline. Is this a sign that NAMB’s transfer of its focus from strengthening the local church to planting churches in metro areas primarily outside the more traditional service area of the convention is not as effective and successful as they would have us believe? Perhaps. Is there truth to the hard-handed handling of NAMB over state conventions and employees that do not toe the Ezell line? It seems there may be fire where so much smoke exists. This is an issue the trustee board should be concerned with. However, this is not the new low I am referencing.
Is the IMB’s reduction of missionaries to the world from roughly 6000 to 3500 or so a reflection of a new low? Well in 2010 the SBC met in Orlando and passed the Great Commission Resurgence which seemed to be much to do about nothing with one exception. The IMB was given the convention’s blessing to move monies from the foreign mission field to work with foreign mission people groups in the US. What a novel idea. Since monies that are going outside the US are not increasing the number of reformed churches and improving the influence of the reformed groups in promoting this errant theological position within the SBC, those funds can now be directed where it needs to be directed, to churches in the US! It would be interesting to know what percentage of funds from the IMB are going to administration and fixed operating costs, and then the percentage of funds going to serve these foreign people groups inside the US as compared to the actual percentage of funds going to fund the missionary force on the foreign fields. Good luck in getting the truth on that one. My guess is the trail of money will be difficult to ascertain. It will shed light on why we only have 3500 missionaries on the foreign field instead of the higher number of 6000 in the past. This is an issue that the trustees need to address. This is still not the new low that I am referencing.
Recently announcements have come from leaders admitting to moral failures leading to resignations within the SBC. Allegations of sexual abuse still surface with regards to church staff personnel and continued ongoing criticism still lingers with one particular group and its leadership and their continued association and apparent acceptance with the new powerbrokers in Louisville. This is not the new low that I am referencing and that would even include the transfer of power from Nashville to Louisville itself and the move to reform the SBC. That is a huge statement even for me.
There are a number of other statements that could be included in this tirade of sorts lamenting the current state of affairs with in the SBC that would illustrate the new lows within the convention.
The new low that I am referencing is the public attack on Dr. Paige Patterson. For the record, I have only met the guy one time in New Orleans and we spoke and he basically patted me on the head and said, (me paraphrasing) “Sonny, don’t worry about things, we have all that under control.” I have been a vocal critic of the reformed take-over of the SBC and the underhanded covert manner in which that process has been undertaken. In fact, the means by which that process has been facilitated does point to what I believe to be the new low in the SBC and that focus is on the manipulation of the trustee system related to the entities of the SBC. The subtle infiltration of the trustee boards has been the mechanism employed to gain control of those entities that has effectively turned the tide of the SBC to this reformed theological position.
The trustee boards are no longer answerable to the SBC but now all indications point to the powerbrokers in Louisville. Here is a great example. When the convention voted in June of 2011 to have Lifeway take the 2011 NIV Bible off its shelves, the trustees met in February of 2012 and decided to leave it on the shelves. Guess who was chairman of the trustee board? Dr. Adam Greenway who is dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Are the trustees accountable to the SBC? Hardly. If the messengers cannot tell Lifeway to remove a book from its shelves, we have a serious problem. Accept it. It is a fact.
Consider another problem that has been widely criticized. We have had several entity heads hired over the last 3 or 4 years. Let’s look at those. Lifeway, is the publishing division of the Southern Baptist Convention and church business services provider; it is one of the largest providers of religious and Christian resources in the world. The CEO is Thom Rainer. Prior to coming to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. Southeastern Seminary’s president is Danny Akin. He served as Senior Vice President for Academic Administration and Dean of Theology at Southern Seminary from 1996-2004.
NAMB’s president is Kevin Ezell. Before going to NAMB, he served as Senior Pastor of Highview Baptist Church in of all places, Louisville. He was Al’s pastor. In 2012 Midwestern Seminary announced the hiring of Jason K. Allen as its new president. Before coming to Midwestern, Allen served as a senior administrator at Southern Seminary. In 2013 Russell Moore was announced as the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Prior to that appointment, Moore served as provost and dean of the Southern Seminary.
In 2014 The International Mission Board hired David Platt as president. Guess what? He did not come out of Louisville but he is of their theological brand and a frequent speaker for the reformed groups Mohler and company frequent.
So who is responsible for hiring the leaders of these SBC entities? The trustee boards of each of the entities. There is this argument that there is no effort to influence the trustee boards but in all 6 of the most recent hires of the entities, all but one came out of Louisville and the lone exception’s theology is consistent with the Louisville tribe. Coincidence? Hardly. Problematic? Without question. Yet, we are consistently told we need to trust the trustee system. I guess it depends on which side of the fence you want to stand.
Fast forward to 2018 and in fact May of 2018. A public assault was initiated on twitter and picked up in the social media and then traditional media outlets only to be further fueled by various social movements speaking to specific problems in our society and now the SBC. The new low is not related to the public attention on issues that need to be addressed. It is a reference to the trustee treatment of Dr. Patterson who was clearly attacked and became a victim of a character assault. What is very interesting is the perception that victims of one kind of assault seemed to show little to no concern for him being a victim of a different type of assault and instead of revolting from that reality, some were in fact guilty of the same thing as they “piled on” adding to the assault. This is not even the new low I am referencing.
The new low has to do with the abject and outright dismissal of facts to replace and ruin Dr. Patterson by the trustee board of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where Patterson served as president. To be more specific, it was the actions of the executive committee of the trustee board that needs to be called before the messengers of the SBC at the 2018 annual meeting to give a reason for their abject actions in vacating the decision of the full board of trustees on May 22 in their meeting on May 30. From all that has been reported, it appears that the members of the executive committee did not agree with the decision of the full board and took it upon themselves to meet and reverse what they believed to be an errant action of the full board that met for over 13 hours before coming to the final decision that they came to.
This group of trustees that make up the executive committee needs to be replaced by the messengers in Dallas. It is time for the convention to take back control of the trustee board system and say to the trustees, you are accountable to the messengers of the convention, not Louisville and not to any other political powerbroker that attempts to infiltrate and influence the decisions made by the trustees. The trustees need to represent the people in the pew who pay the bills and not the political powerbrokers who spend the money.
Let’s recap a few of the most egregious issues that have been released that have captured the headlines over the last couple of weeks. Here is a fact that has gone unmentioned. The trustee meeting that was called on May 22 was not called by the chairman of the board of trustees but rather called by Dr. Patterson himself. Imagine that. This deplorable excuse of a human being in trying to do what he believed was in the best interest of the entity he served as president, called the trustees together to deal with the criticism that had been brought against him. Hardly an action taken by someone who cared more himself than he did the hurt of others.
The day that this trustee board was scheduled to meet, an article from the Washington Post was released reporting an allegation that Dr. Patterson had mishandled a rape reported to him by a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary while he was president there in 2003. According to this article, Dr. Patterson reportedly advised the young lady “not to report the incident to the police” and to “forgive her assailant” and he placed her on probation for 2 years. When the full trustee board met and this issue was discussed, Dr. Patterson’s response was that he did not recall dealing with a rape allegation while at SEBTS. In that meeting, a call was placed to Dr. Allan Moseley who was Dean of Students at Southeastern and his response was, “I don’t recall the lady telling me that.” A call was then placed to the lady who became Lively’s accountability partner and she said, when she was queried on May 22, “I don’t ever remember this student telling me that.” These two individuals should have been much closer to the situation than Dr. Patterson would have been and their accounts backed up Dr. Patterson’s response. His response, remember was not that the rape did not occur but that he did not remember the allegation being addressed by him. Apparently, the trustees agreed that he was trying to be transparent and honest in his response.
An email apparently came up about a statement that Dr. Patterson wrote to the chief of security that made what appeared to be a horrific statement that no one would make much less a seasoned statesman of the SBC. Here is the damning comment brought to light by Kevin Uecker, chairman of the board of trustees in a statement he released explaining the executive committee’s actions taken to vacate the decision of the full board in firing Dr. Patterson:
“In addition, as previously disclosed, a female student at SWBTS reported to Dr. Patterson that she had been raped in 2015. Police were notified of that report. But in connection with that allegation of rape, Dr. Patterson sent an email (the contents of which were shared with the Board on May 22) to the Chief of Campus Security in which Dr. Patterson discussed meeting “with the student alone so that he could “break her down” and that he preferred no officials be present.” The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS. Moreover, the correlation between what has been reported and also revealed in the student record regarding the 2003 allegation at Southeastern and the contents of this email are undeniable.”
Ueckert admitted that this email was presented at the trustee board meeting on the 22nd and Dr. Patterson responded to it and apparently his response satisfied the board. Here is the most damaging part of this story: that email was not in response to an allegation of rape of a seminary student at SWBTS in 2015 as was presented to represent, but it was in fact made 30 days AFTER the rape allegation was handled and reported to authorities and the male student expelled. The email in question was in response to subsequent meetings and discussions that took place after the incident was handled. Mr. Ueckert should have either known about the date of the email or he did know the date and released the email as cause for vacating the trustee board decision. Notice Ueckert’s statement: “The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS.” The attitude expressed in indeed antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS but it was not the email in question but rather the action of Ueckert in using this faulty email as justification for the actions of the executive committee.
Mr. Ueckert knows that Dr. Patterson NEVER meets with students alone and it appears that he deliberately misrepresented the intent of this email knowing that its presentation would further damage the credibility and reputation of Dr. Patterson and support the errant actions of the executive committee. This is inexcusable in the public arena and is even more so in a Christian context and should not be overlooked by the messengers convening in Dallas and this action must not be dismissed.
If the SBC does not take this action of the executive committee of the trustee board into consideration and deal with it responsibly, God help us as a convention.
Pastor, Westside Baptist Church Daytona Beach Florida