It’s been a year since the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee last met in-person. It was at that meeting that the Executive Committee voted to usurp the authority of the duly elected Pastors’ Conference President by giving him an ultimatum regarding the program. It was also in February 2020 that the EC took on the role of super trustees of the SBC’s ERLC by launching an investigation into the entity. Today the Executive Committee begins its February meeting. Are we in in for more February surprises from the SBC entity that many Southern Baptists believe has gone rogue?
You already know about the report from the ERLC task force. We don’t know what may come of that at this week’s meeting. I’ve used this space to call for its rejection by the full EC. That’s an exceedingly unlikely result. But what will the EC do regarding the report? Simply adopt it? Move to censure Dr. Moore? Pursue the nuclear option of removing the ERLC from the new CP budget proposal? We’ll have to wait and see.
There’s another issue that is sure to be discussed at this week’s meeting. You already know about the lawsuit Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Baylor University recently settled with the Howard E. Riley Foundation. What you may not yet know is that that Executive Committee lawyers and Officers were working behind the scenes to pressure and exert authority over the Board of Trustees at SWBTS in a way that would have benefitted Paige Patterson, Augie Boto, and the rest of the crew involved in taking over the Howard E. Riley Foundation. This really isn’t surprising. EC lawyers worked closely with Boto during his many years on the payroll at the EC, including his time as interim president. The Officers of the EC are already known for attempting to interfere in the affairs of other entities. I guess we should have all seen this coming.
Dave Miller has already written about the situation between Southwestern and the EC here at Voices. You can read more about it in the Biblical Recorder. The comments below by Southwestern President Adam Greenway highlight the problems with the Executive Committee Officer’s attempt to influence SWBTS trustee actions.
These issues are bigger than Southwestern Seminary. They go to the heart of historic Southern Baptist polity that has served us well for nearly 176 years. One of our treasured principles is the primacy and authority of the churches. Governance of Southwestern Seminary, and every other SBC entity, is a shared governance between the messengers duly elected by the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and entity trustees duly elected by those SBC messengers.
The actions of the Officers of the Executive Committee have attempted to alter our cherished polity and create a role for this group itself in this governance, infringing upon a right that is exclusively given to the Convention. This kind of usurpation of authority has been attempted at several points throughout our history and, as our forebears did, we must resist any and every move towards a centralized super board. The Southern Baptist Convention, Southwestern Seminary, and all of our entities belong to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, not a select group of elites gathered in Nashville attempting to assert authority for themselves totally incompatible with our polity.
Beyond the critical principle of Baptist polity at stake in this dispute is the underlying problem of trustees whose improper conduct has now been demonstrated in the recently announced legal settlement of the Harold E. Riley Foundation lawsuit in which the seminary’s position was entirely vindicated. The Executive Committee Officers’ request concerning the suspension of the two trustees would have permitted individuals to participate in deliberations of the board of trustees in matters in which their own conduct and breach of duty put the interests of the institution at risk. The trustees of Southwestern Seminary had both the right and the duty, which they courageously fulfilled, to protect the integrity of the board in light of the central involvement in the now resolved legal matter.
I agree with Dr. Greenway that these issues are bigger than Southwestern Seminary. The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is out of control. The EC is not an SBC super board. Each entity has its own trustees who were elected by Southern Baptists gathered as messengers to an annual meeting of the SBC. If the trustees aren’t doing their job or they are acting inappropriately, the responsibility of correcting that problem belongs to the messengers, not the EC, and certainly not to a small group of officers of the EC.
These are the things we know will be addressed this week. Are there other surprises that await us? We’ll have to wait and see. Who knows what else may come out of this meeting of the EC. Trust in the EC is low right now for good reason.