Little can be done to salvage the legacy of the 29th president of the United States. Elected as a relative unknown by a landslide margin, President Warren G. Harding continues to be ranked among the worst leaders to ever occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There were, of course, the reported affairs. And then there was the Teapot Dome scandal, and then the numerous charges of bribery, fraud, and money laundering. Harding was, however, able to keep himself off the front burner, allowing his lieutenants to take the heat for the escalating frustration of the American people with his administration. The one thing that Harding could never shake during his twenty seven month presidency was the fact that cronyism, nepotism, and political paybacks were the trademark of his presidential appointments. In fact, it has been argued by Harding’s biographers that he would have weathered the storms of outrage had he been more careful to select competent staffers and nominate experienced, qualified men and women rather than recycling the “Ohio Gang” around various posts and positions of governmental influence.
And yes, I’m about to go there.
The Southern Baptist Convention is rank with nepotism, cronyism, favoritism, and a network of political spoils distribution that would make Old Warren blush with shame. For many years I’ve been watching appointments to SBC agencies closely, and I want to give you just one set of examples to make my case. Consider the following:
In 1999, SBC President Paige Patterson, also serving as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, made the first of his appointments to the convention committees on committees, resolutions, tellers and credentials. Let’s consider his nominees for that year first.
Patterson appointed his old friend T.C. “Tommy” French of Baton Rouge, LA to serve as the chairman of the committee on committees. Previously, Tommy had served on the SBC Sunday School Board at the time that LLoyd Elder was fired. French now serves on the New Orleans Seminary board, where Patterson’s brother-in-law Charles Kelley serves as president, as well as two years (2005-2006) on the SBC Resolutions Committee, serving this year as the resolutions committee chairman. French was also elected in 2000, during Patterson’s presidency, to the office of SBC First Vice President. Joining French on the list of appointees was Charles Harper of Baton Rouge. The following year, Charles Harper was appointed to Patterson’s second committee on nominations, using the post to appoint Tommy French, his fellow committeeman, to the New Orleans Board. Within two years Harper was elected to serve on the SBC Executive Committee.
Also in 1999, Patterson appointed Barry Holcomb (AL), who happens to be the immediate past chairman of NAMB, serving during the end of Robert Reccord’s administration. From California, Patterson chose James Freeman of FBC San Diego, where Patterson’s former student from the Criswell College, Tony Crisp, served as Pastor. In turn, Freeman appointed Tony Crisp to be the next year’s committee on nominations designee from California. But keep reading.
Patterson appointed two men from Colorado, who then appointed Charla Johnson, wife of current Criswell College president and Patterson protege Jerry Johnson to be the next year’s nominator. He also appointed Matt Schmucker of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. to the committee; Schmucker was elected the following year to serve on Patterson’s second term committee on nominations. Pamela Lilly, wife of Bob Lilly of Baltimore, MD, was appointed to Patterson’s 1999 committee on committees while Bob was appointed by Patterson to the 1999 Tellers Committee. The next year, Bob, who was also the chairman of Midwestern Seminary trustees during a portion of the Mark Coppenger debacle, was appointed to the 2000 Committee on Nominations. In 2001, he was again appointed to the Committee on Committees.
From Missouri, Patterson selected his former professor of evangelism and the provost at Midwestern Seminary during the Coppenger debacle, Jim Cogdill, to serve on the Committee on Committees. From New England, Patterson selected a recent graduate of Southeastern Seminary, Bill Hedgepeth, who had been sent by the seminary as a church-planter to New Hampshire. From North Carolina, Patterson chose from his own home church, Mt. Vernon Baptist Church of Raleigh, to appoint Steve Choplin. From Pennsylvania, he chose Mark Dooley of Souderton, who was also put on the 2003 Committee on Nominations during Jack Graham’s term as president. From South Carolina, Patterson fell back on his old yes-man Daniel Johnson of Jonestown, who served two full terms as Patteron’s trustee at Southeastern Seminary. From Tennessee, Patterson chose Stan May, a missions professor at Mid-America Baptist Seminary and colleague of current IMB chairman and self-avowed Landmarkist, John Floyd.
Turning to Texas, Patterson selected Pastor Brian Waite of DeSoto, who happened to be the pastor of Patterson’s other brother-in-law Russ Kammerling. The next year, Russ Kammerling was appointed to the International Mission Board, though he was under a 19 count indictment for federal fraud at the time. Kammerling served less than two years at the IMB before serving two full years at a federal penitentary.
The 1999 West Virginia appointee to the Committee on Committees was Brenda Jicka of Huntington. Three years later, Brenda’s husband John was appointed to the Committee on Committees, while Brenda was appointed to fill an unexpired term on the International Mission Board. The next year in 2004, Brenda was reappointed for a second term on the IMB, which was cut short by a move to Tennessee. This year, Brenda Jicka is being renominated to the International Mission Board, only this time she will be a trustee from Tennessee.
For the 1999 Resolutions Committee, Patterson selected a few interesting people. Among them were John Mark Caton, one of Patterson’s former students at Criswell and a current trustee at Southwestern Seminary; and another member of his home church in Raleigh, NC.
When the year 2000 rolled around, Patterson was ready with a stacked deck of nominees more interesting than the 1999 slate. Consider the following:
The Chairman of the 1999 Committee on Committees was Bill Bowyer, pastor of Wake Cross Roads Baptist Church and a member of the Southeastern trustee board that brought Patterson to the seminary after his untimely departure at the Criswell College. Along with the other NC Committeeman for that year, J.T. Knott, Bowyer appointed Mary Cowen and Alan Branch to the 2000-2001 Committee on Nominations. Mary Cowen is the wife of Gerald Cowen, one of Patterson’s deans at Southeastern, while Alan Branch was one of Patterson’s doctoral students. The next year, Branch and Cowen appointed NC Pastor Bill Sanderson to the IMB, and if you want to know how Sanderson has executed his trustee responsibilities at the IMB, I suggest you read this.
From Alabama, Patterson chose Ed Litton of North Mobile, who was also chosen three years later to begin service on Patterson’s board of trustees at Southeastern Seminary. Then from Alaska, Patterson chose John Nichols, a student at Southeastern whose father, Dean Nichols (also a Criswell College grad) was serving on the Executive Committee. John’s mother, Mary Jo, was elected the following year to serve as a trustee at the International Mission Board, where she has served until this year as the secretary of the board. Furthermore, Mary Nichols served with Louisiana trustee Lonnie Wascom on a two-person committee to draft the new IMB policies on tongues, before resigning her trusteeship in May 2006 to move to Texas with her husband who has taken an untitled post with an undisclosed salary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where Patterson now serves as president.
But let’s move on…
In Colorado, Patterson turned once again to the Central Baptist Church of Aurora, formerly pastored by Southern Seminary trustee Jerry Johnson, to appoint Korey Buchanek. In turn, Buchanek appointed Patterson’s former attache and current Liberty Seminary dean, Ergun Michael Caner, to the 2000-2001 Nominations Committee. Deepak Reju of Capitol Hill Baptist church was appointed, and in turn he appointed Matt Schmucker, mentioned above.
Now it really get’s interesting. Patterson went to the Aloma Baptist Church of Winter Park, FL, to appoint Rosie Mitchell. Rosie then appointed her pastor, Anthony George, to the committee on nominations. George is a graduate of the Criswell College and Southeastern Seminary, but the fun doesn’t stop there. That year, a Southwestern trustee from Florida (Jim Leftwich) was resigning, though he didn’t resign until after the 2001 convention in New Orleans. A few weeks after the convention was over and Leftwich had resigned his post at SWBTS, trustees in Fort Worth went looking for an interim replacement. Texas trustee Royal Smith of FBC Dallas called Paige Patterson — I know this because he called me asking for Patterson’s contact information — to get a recommendation. Who else did Patterson recommend than Anthony George, who would have been ineligible for the spot because of bylaw prohibitions had Leftwich resigned a few weeks earlier. Conveniently, Anthony George was elected to the Southwestern Seminary Board in time to fill the presidential vacancy left by Ken Hemphill’s resignation. Liz Traylor, wife of former SBC 1st Veep and Pensacola Pastor Ted Traylor was appointed to serve alongside George.
But I digress…
Janet Hunt, wife of would-be SBC presidential nominee Johnny Hunt was appointed by Patterson to the Georgia spot, and she in turn appointed a member of FBC Woodstock to the Committe on Nominations along with current Georgia Baptist Convention president Wayne Hamrick. From Illinois, Patterson selected Cristie Lewis, the wife of Southeastern trustee chairman Tim Lewis, who presided over the board during the transition from Patterson to Danny Akin at the Wake Forest seminary campus, in addition to leading the investigation into this matter. From Indiana, he chose John Mark Yeats, a former student of Patterson’s at Criswell and son of John Yeats, formerly of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger and current Recording Secretary for the SBC. John Mark Yeats is now surving as a professor of Church History at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth. Patterson appointed Barbara Fox of Kansas to the committee as well. Fox is the wife of Kansas pastor Terry Fox, who also serves on the North American Mission Board, currently serving as chairman of the presidential search committee charged with finding a replacement for the recently deposed Bob Reccord.
When it came to Kentucky’s committee members, Patterson opted to select John Mackey of the Shively Baptist Church in Louisville, who in turn offered his pastor, Mark Howell, as the next years committee on nominations designee. Mark Howell is married to Patterson’s daughter, Carmen.
From Maryland, Patterson chose another trustee of Southeastern Seminary, Phillip Mercer, mentioned also in this story; and from Pennsylvania he appointed Kenneth Cademartori, who had recently served on the board of trustees at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, and who would go on to serve his first term on the International Mission Board beginning in 2005. Cademartori’s wife was appointed in 2002 to serve on the Committee on Committees by SBC President James Merritt. In Tennessee, Patterson found current IMB Trustee Randy Davis (replaced this year by Brenda Jicka, mentioned above) to serve as the 2000 Committee on Committees designee.
In Texas, Patterson turned to a fellow member of the Council on National Policy, J. Keet Lewis, of Prestonwood Baptist Church. Lewis was later appointed as chairman of the committee on nominations in 2003, and he currently serves on the committee on order of business.
For the Resolutions Committee, Patterson chose another Southeastern trustee from Florida, Hayes Wicker, who is slated for nomination to the SBC Pastor’s Conference presidency this month in Greensboro. He will be nominated by James Merritt of GA. Patterson also appointed Nancy Pressler, the wife of Houston Judge Paul Pressler, and Pensacola Pastor Ted Traylor, mentioned above.
And that’s just two years of appointments. Wait till you see the connections I can make for subsequent years. Like in 2001, when the wife of Waylan Owens, who served as Patterson’s vice president of institutional effectivess (whatever that is) at Southeastern Seminary, was appointed to the Committee on Committees. That year, Elizabeth Owens appointed Alisa Bentley to the Committee on Nominations. And guess who was put on the Southeastern Board the following year? You guessed it, George T. Schroeder, a layman from the First Baptist Church of Little Rock, AR, where Patterson’s son-in-law, Mark Howell, was then serving as pastor. And yes, that’s the same Mark Howell who was the previous year’s Committee on Nominations member from Kentucky. He remained at FBC Little Rock for several years, before accepting the pastorate of Houston’s Northwest Church in Texas. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the odds that he’ll be up for a Texas post in short order. But back to my point…
Can anybody honestly claim that I’m being unfair when I raise questions about the possibility that one man — or one group of men — might be wielding too much power in the Southern Baptist Convention? Can any person read that list and not ask questions about all the connections to the International Mission Board especially?
No, you can’t really claim that Warren G. Harding was a crook. You really can’t paint him as a power-hungry tyrant. You certainly can’t say that he overstayed his welcome. But you can question the way that he handled his appointments, especially when you see the effect they had on the government years after Harding had long passed from the scene.
These are the facts that fueled the Memphis Declaration. These and many, many more.
*All of the foregoing names, dates, and details are easily verified by somebody with access to the internet, which I assume you have since you are reading this. Calls for “documentation” therefore will be ignored. The documentation is already on http://www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Seek, my brethren, and you shall find.