Diversity Could Play a Role in Filling Executive Vacancies Inside the Southern Baptist Convention

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, left, discusses racial unity with Atlanta pastor Dhati Lewis, a vice president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board, during Evangelicals for Life on Jan. 17, 2019, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

In recent decades the Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded defending slavery, has attempted to come to terms with its record on race.

Now as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination faces a rare leadership vacuum at the top of two of its agencies and two of its seminaries — and installs a new mission board president Wednesday (Feb. 6) — questions have arisen about whether its statements committing to diversity will be reflected in hiring decisions.

SBC President J.D. Greear told Religion News Service he has recommended that search committees seeking new executives keep racial diversity in mind and consider going beyond “following networks that you know” in their search.

“In the ones that have asked me I have strongly encouraged there to be at least consideration given,” he said in an interview in January.

Greear noted that he does not have direct control over the selection of the new leaders. But he said that the search committees are open to diverse candidates.

“I haven’t received resistance from any of the search committees that I’ve talked to,” he said.

James Merritt is a former
president of the Southern
Baptist Convention. Photo
courtesy of James Merritt

Last week, two former SBC presidents, joined by a prominent Las Vegas pastor, took the unusual step of sending a letter to the search committee for the new president of the SBC Executive Committee, inquiring about the breadth of efforts to replace Frank Page. Pageretired last year after a “morally inappropriate relationship.”

“In your search for the person to fill this position, have you interviewed any minority candidates?” asked James Merritt, Bryant Wright and Vance Pitman in an email to the search committee, according to the Biblical Recorder, a Baptist journal in North Carolina. “If not, we respectfully ask why not?”

Merritt confirmed to RNS that he sent the email. In response, he said, the committee “respectfully declined to answer our questions,” saying it could not reveal internal discussions.

“We felt like it was a legitimate question to ask out of a deep concern that we do indeed fulfill both the spirit and the letter of what we resolved to do,” said Merritt, a Georgia pastor. “And that is to reach far and wide and include minorities in the process.”

Almost a quarter century ago, Southern Baptists passed a historic resolution repudiating slavery. In 2012, they elected New Orleans pastor Fred Luter as the SBC’s first black president to a one-year term and re-elected him the next year. In 2015, they passed another statement that urged “Southern Baptist entities and Convention committees to make leadership appointments that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the body of Christ and of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Texas pastor Dwight McKissic, who has called for the SBC to place minorities in appointed executive positions — beyond the elections of denominational officers to one-year terms — tweeted his appreciation of the email sent by the three Baptist leaders.

“It would be a travesty to appt a Prez, without … interviewing a minority,” he tweeted Saturday. “It would be a huge statement of disrespect to the 20% + minority churches who comprise the SBC.”

Roger “Sing” Oldham, spokesman for the Executive Committee, responding to a request for additional information, said the search committee is “diverse in its composition” — including a white woman and two black male pastors. He expects it will update the full committee about its search by its Feb. 18 meeting.

Oldham noted that the nominees elected to the SBC’s boards and committees in June, and chosen by its Committee on Nominations, were 12.6 percent non-Anglo. Of those nominees who were not serving as pastors, 43 percent were women.

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Source: Religion News Service