Eight years after electing Fred Luter Jr. as the denomination’s first black president, the Southern Baptist Convention could soon elect California Pastor Rolland Slade, 62, as the first black chairman of its executive committee.
Slade, who is senior pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, is expected to be nominated to lead the committee that acts on behalf of the SBC’s 47,000 churches between annual meetings next Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported. He currently serves as the committee’s vice chairman and no other candidates have been announced to replace Mike Stone, the present chair.
Slade told the publication on Thursday that it would be “humbling” to become the first black chair of the executive committee.
The news comes amid civil unrest over racial injustice sparked by the death of George Floyd and as SBC President J.D. Greear endorsed the black lives matter movement as a Gospel issue to members of the world's largest Baptist denomination on Wednesday.
Greear noted that even though the SBC was started by Baptists who defended slavery, the denomination has evolved to become one of the most ethnically diverse religious groups in America today.
“A lot of people don’t know that, but nearly 20% of all Southern Baptist churches are majority non-white and the North American Mission Board tells us that more than 60% of new churches planted recently have been planted and led by people of color,” Greear said. “Thank God for His grace. God’s grace writes new stories.”
He lamented, however, that the organization’s leadership did not reflect the diversity of its congregations and they were working to change that.
“Sadly, our leadership does not yet reflect this great gift of diversity that God has given to our membership. So I along with your vice presidents … are gonna continue to work on this within our appointments to make that a priority,” Greear said. “We realize that especially in a moment like this one, we need our brothers and sisters of color. We need the wisdom of leadership that God has written in their community. We know that many in our country, particularly our brothers and sisters of color, right now are hurting.”
Jared Wellman, the executive committee member who nominated Slade, told the Houston Chronicle that he is the “most qualified candidate” to chair the committee based on his work with the SBC.
“The fact that the most qualified person for the job is African American should encourage the SBC in our pursuit of an ethnic diversity that represents the coming Kingdom of God and the people God has called us to reach,” Wellman said.
Along with continuing to support reforms in how the denomination deals with sexual abuse, Slade also noted that he would work on improving communication between members of the executive committee, which has recently been plagued by infighting and internal disagreements.
“I know that there are few and far times when we get to be absolutely on the same page,” he told the Chronicle. “And it is my hope that when we look at what page we should be on, we should look to God’s Word to find that page and not the page of public opinion, news reports or political parties.”
While the executive committee does not control or direct the activities of the SBC’s agencies, it reviews their financial statements and recommends the denomination’s annual operating budget. It also receives and distributes Southern Baptist funding for denominational ministries, acts as the recipient and trust agency for all SBC properties, and provides public relations and news services.