We’ve all heard it hundreds of times—SBC Headquarters is the local church and not some denominational agency. If this line is nothing more than a misleading notion humbly tossed out under the pretense of sounding spiritual, then we should stop saying things we do not really mean. However, if it is indeed true, since I represent one and only one such local church, I am compelled to submit this memo from my SBC Headquarters Branch to every Southern Baptist institution in general and to the ERLC in particular. It is our policy here at headquarters to extend great latitude toward our entity leaders as they appoint staff. However, since these organizations are funded by all Southern Baptists, it is certainly within our right to address the vetting process used in such leadership selection.
On September 11, 2013, Trustees of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention approved President Russell Moore’s appointment of five new staff members—Phillip Bethancourt, Joe Carter, Daniel Darling, Trillia Newbell and Daniel Patterson. Though not at all unqualified due to any lack of competence or character, most of these candidates should nevertheless have been disqualified in the vetting process due to their denominational affiliation—or lack thereof. Personally, I have nothing at all against these individuals. I do not even know them. I bear no animus or ill will in my heart toward them. I pray God will bless them and their families profoundly as they serve in His Kingdom.
To be clear, I do not advocate their removal from Southern Baptist office. Rather, I am simply asserting they should never have been hired in the first place and urging that we never do this again. In doing so, I stand on the principle that the leaders of a denominational organization should first of all be members. Before ever serving in elected public office, a politician should already be a citizen. Before one is ever made a teacher or a deacon at a church, one should already be a member of that church. Faithful Southern Baptists should select leaders who are already faithful Southern Baptists themselves. Unfortunately, on the day these five employees were hired, only two were even members of a Southern Baptist Church:
|Phillip Bethancourt||Southern Baptist||Highview Baptist|
|Joe Carter||Non-Denominational||Grace Community|
|Daniel Darling||Non-Denominational||Gages Lake Bible|
|Trillia Newbell||Sovereign Grace||Cornerstone Church|
|Daniel Patterson||Southern Baptist||Highview Baptist|
Concerned that outside influencers might lead the SBC in directions more consistent with their own religious identity than ours, I contacted ERLC Trustee Board Chairman, Dr. Richard Piles, inquiring about one of the three candidates specifically. He assured me this man would join a Southern Baptist Church soon after his relocation. I trust that by now all of these appointees have joined our denomination. In future Southern Baptist vetting processes, let us insist upon membership as a prerequisite for leadership. For many years, we have frowned upon the practice of missionary dating in our youth groups. Let us not experiment with the practice of missionary hiring in our staffing decisions—adding to our SBC membership rolls by selecting leaders outside of our denomination and bringing them on board by starting them at the top.
One related concern with these candidates that simply cannot be overlooked is a disturbing juxtaposition discovered by placing their denominational affiliation side by side with their theological orientation—only two are Southern Baptists but all five are Calvinists, as evidenced by the clear connection in every single case with an organization known as the Gospel Coalition, whose confessional statement is unquestionably reformed.
At this point, Calvinists sometimes employ a fairly agile sidestep by insisting they are merely Amyraldists—four pointers whose view of the atonement disaffirms limited sufficiency while preserving limited efficiency. However, the principal thrust of Calvinism remains in both of these varieties. Man’s depravity is still viewed as his total inability to exercise libertarian free will apart from his prior unconditional election by God. Those fortunate enough to receive this unconditional election are regenerated, after which they cannot possibly resist God’s grace and will therefore become believers. Of course, those souls so unfortunate that they do not receive God’s unconditional election must endure His equally irresistible wrath. Four point Calvinism may rescue one from Limited Atonement, but it fails to negate Calvinistic determinism. Frankly, it is fair to consider all five of these writers, speakers and participants in the Gospel Coalition to be Calvinists.
What conclusions are we to draw when a slate of five candidates for leadership in a Southern Baptist institution is 100% Calvinist but only 40% Southern Baptist? Such disparity appears to view being a Calvinist as mandatory and being a Southern Baptist as optional. Here at headquarters, the only legitimate approach is precisely the opposite—being a Southern Baptist should be mandatory while being a Calvinist should be optional. If a day ever comes when another slate of ERLC appointments is 100% Gospel Coalition and only 40% Southern Baptist, then let it be the day when this institution’s name has been formally changed to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Gospel Coalition.
If these leadership selections were to represent proportionally the theological commitments of all Southern Baptists who financially support the ERLC, then all five of them would have been Southern Baptists, while only one would have been a Calvinist. Twenty percent is a much more reasonable estimate of the Calvinistic influence in our convention than one hundred percent. Selecting a totally Calvinist slate both antagonizes and marginalizes the traditional Southern Baptist majority that serves as the financial base of the ERLC. I, for one, find myself extremely hard pressed to support financially any institution that so clearly values being a Calvinist more highly than being a Southern Baptist.
I am confident the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, along with every other Southern Baptist institution receiving this memo, is well versed in what happens when Americans feel yoked by a sense of taxation without representation, that nagging consciousness that we are placing money into the coffers of organizations in which we are afforded an ever diminishing degree of influence. Although our money is gladly received, our suggestions are ignored and our place at the table is removed. If future Southern Baptist leadership slates do not better represent the identity, culture and theology of the people actually paying the bills, then at some point—and we are getting very close—all the alienated Southern Baptists will finally tire of paying King George for his arrogant indifference, and will simply exercise their libertarian free will as they completely immerse their sweet tea in the harbor.