Nepotism: It’s what ails us

The hardwired dictionary that comes standard with my new MacBook Pro defines nepotism as “the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.” The word comes to English from the Italian words nepotismo and nipote, which mean “nephew.” Its usage is from the middle ages when bishops of the Roman Catholic Church were notorious for bestowing titles, offices, and lands to their “nephews,” who were quite commonly their own illegitimate children. The term has come to refer primarily to questionable preferentialism in political societies, but its original meaning applied to religious orders. When a religious leader fell victim to its temptation, nepotism threatened to compromise the confidence that the faithful had in their ecclesial authorities. In every case, nepotism was an expedient tool for achieving the political ends of religious leaders. In many cases, it was a cloak for vice.

Like the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and all religious societies for that matter, must recognize the threat that nepotism poses to its witness and the loss of confidence that follows such egregious strategies of political maneuvering. Not every case of apparent nepotism, whereby a family member or close associate of an influential leader is appointed to a place of power by an indirect means, is a case of true nepotism, whereby the same person receives the same appointment for a particular purpose of political payback or to achieve a particular political agenda. But Southern Baptists are held to a higher ethic. We are, the Scripture reminds us, to flee every appearance of nepotistic evil.

Something I saw today in the 2006 Nominations Committee Report made me start to think about nepotism and its clear and present danger to the confidence Southern Baptists have in the system of trustee selection. Allow me to explain my point by mentioning a few names included in the report.

First, I noticed the name of a father and son who are being nominated to trusteeships at the same time. Replacing Randy Davis of Amarillo, TX, on the Lifeway Board of Trustees is David Lino, pastor of Faith Family Baptist Church in Kingwood, TX. David’s son, Nathan, is being appointed to replace Texas trustee Albert Green on the International Mission Board. Now, perhaps I am mistaken, but are there not enough pastors in Texas Baptist life to fill these few vacancies on SBC agencies and institutions without drawing two names from the same family? My problem was compounded when I discovered that Nathan Lino was also appointed this year to serve on the 2006 Tellers Committee by SBC President Bobby Welch. And my concerns were further raised when I did a little more investigating.

There are nearly 6000 churches and missions in Texas. The Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC) has about 2000 churches and the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) has about 4000. The SBTC sends about 15 million a year to the SBC through the Cooperative Program, and the BGCT sends almost that same amount. So I started to wonder how many uniquely-aligned BGCT churches had representation on SBC trustee boards. The answer, you wonder?

Only one. The International Mission Board has a trustee from Texas named Robert “Bob” Graham. You may remember the retired pastor of Field Street Baptist Church in Cleburn from the 2003 Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ, where he closed the Tuesday morning session with the benediction. Bob Graham, incidentally, is the brother of the Rev. Jack Graham, pastor of the behemoth Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX, and who was serving that year as the convention president. The next year (2004) Bob was appointed to the IMB by one of Jack Graham’s first-term nominators, J. Keet Lewis, who was that year’s chairman of the committee on nominations and whose membership is at Prestonwood Baptist Church. Keet Lewis, by the way, is on this year’s Committee on Order of Business and was Paige Patterson’s appointee to the 2000 Committee on Committees. So out of 4000 BGCT churches, the only man qualified to serve as a Southern Baptist trustee is the brother of former SBC President Jack Graham. The only man qualified to join him on the SBC board is Nathan Lino, whose father is the best choice for a vacant Lifeway spot. Nathan Lino, by the way, is the author of an interesting letter, circulated back in April of this year. So enough of the father-son, brother-brother analysis. Let’s move on.

Two other names mentioned in this year’s Committee on Nominations report are Mary Jo Nichols, who has resigned her trusteeship at the IMB to move to Texas, and her husband, Dean Nichols, who is rotating off the Executive Committee and who is also moving to Texas. Specifically, the Nicholses are moving to Fort Worth, where Dean has accepted a job working for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. So, essentially, we had a husband serving on one committee while his wife served on another. But the intrigue doesn’t stop there. Dean Nichols, who is a graduate of the Criswell College and an avid sportsman, was appointed to the Executive Committee in 1999, the first year of Paige Patterson’s presidency in Atlanta, GA. The following year, Patterson appointed the Nicholses’ son, John, to the Committee on Committees as a member from Alaska even though he resided in Wake Forest, NC, where he attended school at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. John appointed Shiela Bierdeman, a member of his dad’s church in Kenai, AK, to serve as the 2000 Committee on Nominations member, who in turn appointed John’s mother and Dean’s wife, Mary Jo Nichols, to fill an unexpired term on the International Mission Board, where she served as secretary and member of both the executive committee and the committee that drafted the new policy on private prayer before resigning her trusteeship last month. Husband-wife-son connections, complete with a new job at a Southern Baptist seminary.

But the last name that caught my eye was the name of Kathleen “Kathy” Kelley of Las Vegas, NV, who will be presented to the 2006 annual meeting for election to a vacant seat on the International Mission Board made by the term completed by Nevada trustee Johnny Nantz. Incidentally, both Nantz and Kelley served on the 2003 Committee on Nominations from Nevada, but the truly intriguing detail is that Miss Kelley, a retired schoolmarm, is the sister of Dorothy Kelley Patterson, the “first lady” and wife of Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson. And Miss Kelley isn’t the first of Patterson’s in-laws to find their way to a trusteeship at the International Mission Board. In 2000, Patterson’s brother-in-law, Russell Kammerling of TX was appointed to replace Judge Paul Pressler at the International Mission Board, where he served eighteen months before resigning his trusteeship for personal reasons. In 2000, Patterson’s son-in-law, Mark Howell, was appointed to serve on the SBC Committee on Nominations from Kentucky. Little known is the fact that Patterson’s father-in-law, Charles Kelley, served on the board of trustees at Midwestern Seminary in the late 90s during the end of Mark Coppenger’s presidency and at the election of his replacement, Phil Roberts, another of Patterson’s former professors at Criswell College and Southeastern Seminary. More widely known is that Patterson’s other brother-in-law, Charles Kelley, Jr., is the president at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. So, in summary, here are the instances of nepotism, whether apparent or true, that are all a part of the concerns that any one man – or any one family for that matter – could wield too much influence in the Southern Baptist Convention.

1. Midwestern Seminary Trustee Charles Kelley, Sr., who is Patterson’s father-in-law.

2. New Orleans Seminary President Charles Kelley, Jr., who is Patterson’s brother-in-law.

3. International Mission Board Trustee Russell Kammerling, who is Patterson’s brother-in-law.

4. International Mission Board Appointee Kathleen Kelley, who is Patterson’s sister-in-law.

5. 2000 Committee on Nominations Member Mark Howell, who is Patterson’s son-in-law.

6. 2000 Committee on Committees Member John Nichols, who was Patterson’s student at the time and whose father is listed below.

7. 1999 Executive Committee Member Dean Nichols, who is Patterson’s former student and most recently hired employee; and whose wife, Mary Jo Nichols, is listed below. Dean Nichols also served on the 2004 Committee on Committees by appointment of SBC President Jack Graham.

8. International Mission Board Trustee Bob Graham, who is the brother of Jack Graham and who was appointed during Graham’s first year as SBC President.

9. International Mission Board Trustee Mary Jo Nichols, whose son preceded her on the 2000 Committee on Committees as one of Paige Patterson’s appointees.

10. International Mission Board Appointee Nathan Lino, who is Patterson’s former student and whose father, listed below, is also up for appointment this year.

11. Lifeway Trustee Appointee David Lino, whose son, Nathan, listed above, is up for a trusteeship at the International Mission Board.

12. 1998 Baptist Faith & Message Committeewoman Dorothy Kelley Patterson, who is Paige Patterson’s wife and current president of the SBC Ministers’ wives luncheon.

13. International Mission Board Trustee Bob Pearle of TX, who currently serves as the pastor of Birchman Baptist Church where Patterson holds his membership.

14. Former International Mission Board Trustee Chairman, Tom Hatley of Arkansas, who is a graduate of the Criswell College.

15. International Mission Board Trustee Bill Sanderson of Wendell, NC, who was appointed to his post by a Southeastern Seminary dean’s wife in 2000.

16. ***(UPDATE)***International Mission Board Trustee Kevin King, whose is married to the sister of Daniel Akin, the current president of Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, and who is a former student and professor under Paige Patterson.

17. International Mission Board Trustee Randy Davis of Tennessee, who was Paige Patterson’s appointee to the 2000 Committee on Committees and whose replacement Brenda Jicka, is mentioned below.

18. International Mission Board Appointee Brenda Jicka of TN, formerly of West Virginia, who was Paige Patterson’s appointee to the 1999 Committee on Committees and who formerly served on the IMB as a trustee from West Virginia before her current nomination to the board from Tennessee.

19. Oh, don’t forget that Paige Patterson himself served on the Foreign Mission Board before he moved to North Carolina to take the helm at Southeastern Seminary.

Okay, I’m getting tired of typing all these right now. I guess I’ll have to do a whole post on the connections between IMB trustees who have approved the new policies on tongues and baptism and Paige Patterson, who has repeatedly circulated materials to IMB trustees that are critical of Jerry Rankin’s administration. Or maybe I’ll just wait and see if the Southern Baptist Convention adopts the recommendation of Wade Burleson to form a committee to investigate. If that happens, there are file boxes of information that I’ve seen recently to warrant a thorough examination of Burleson’s claims, and many IMB trustees who I’ve talked to in recent months, both current and former, have volumes of phonelogs, letters, emails, and assorted pieces of substantiation to justify concerns that nepotism, cronyism, and political preferentialism have undermined the work of the International Mission Board and created an atmosphere that now frustrates Southern Baptist confidence in the trustees elected to implement and oversee our foreign missions enterprise.