Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee rejects top candidate for president

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 15-16, 2021, cast ballots for several motions and elections throughout the two-day event in Nashville, Tenn.
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 15-16, 2021, cast ballots for several motions and elections throughout the two-day event in Nashville, Tenn. | SBC/Eric Brown

Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee members voted against the appointment of Texas Pastor Jared Wellman, the top candidate for president and CEO, in an unexpected outcome. 

The committee members voted 31-50 against Wellman’s appointment on Monday, requiring the process to restart following a 14-month recruitment effort, Baptist Press reported.

“It’s been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve the Southern Baptist Convention through the Executive Committee,” Wellman told the group after the vote total was announced, adding that his “heart is with” the EC looking ahead.

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Willie McLaurin, interim president, will continue to oversee the operations of the Executive Committee, comprised of an elected board of 86 members and about 30 staff, in Nashville. The Executive Committee meets at least three times a year and manages denominational business outside the SBC's Annual Meeting in June.

Wellman, a pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, has been an Executive Committee member since 2015. He was elected chairman, which oversees the Executive Committee's meetings, in June 2022.

In mid-April, Wellman stepped down from the chair of the Executive Committee in a confidential letter to his fellow officers. The vice-chair, South Carolina Pastor David Sons, has since assumed the chairmanship.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed about the outcome of today but I’m hopeful for the future as the new committee begins their work,” Sons said at a news conference early Monday evening.

The process to select a new president and CEO started in the fall of 2021 when the last Executive Committee president, Ronnie Floyd, resigned due in part to the committee's decision to waive attorney-client privilege as part of an investigation into the SBC leadership's handling of sexual abuse claims.

It should be noted that Wellman made the motion to waive attorney-client privilege in all three of the Executive Committee meetings where it was voted on

After Floyd resigned, the Executive Committee appointed McLaurin — then an Executive Committee vice president — interim president while a presidential search team recruited a replacement. McLaurin, a former Tennessee pastor, made history as the first African American to lead an SBC entity.

“I am incredibly thankful for the eight years that Dr. Wellman served as an SBC EC Trustee,” McLaurin said Monday. “It was my joy to serve alongside him as he chaired the Executive Committee this past year. I will be praying for Jared and his family.” 

“Now is the time for Southern Baptists to unite around living out the great commandment and fulfilling the Great Commission,” he said.

According to Baptist Press, tensions surrounding the vote arose due to Wellman's prior involvement in the search committee. And ahead of Monday’s vote, two prominent black pastors in the SBC, A.B. Vines of California and Dwight McKissic of Texas, had advocated for a permanent appointment of a person of color to head the Executive Committee.

The denomination “always seems to have issues with hiring a person of color for a senior leadership position,” wrote Vines, pastor of New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, California, in an open letter to the EC.

“We have made resolution after resolution, from apologies on slavery to Confederate flags,” but they won't be effective “if the heart of the convention does not change,” he wrote.

The SBC is anticipated to encounter political discord at its Annual Meeting in New Orleans in June. 

SBC President Bart Barber, who is seeking reelection, faces opposition from Georgia Pastor Mike Stone, a leader with the Conservative Baptist Network.

Moreover, a substantial argument regarding the ordination of women as pastors is expected to take place as well. 

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