June 1, 2018
Rev. Grant Ethridge
Liberty Baptist Church
1021 Big Bethel Road
Hampton, VA 23666
Congratulations on your selection to serve on the 2018 Leadership Council for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Under the guidance of ERLC President Russell Moore, your leadership on this council is greatly needed as the Southern Baptist Convention grapples with recent revelations about the coverup of sexual abuse and other sexual improprieties at SBC agencies and institutions. The prophetic witness of Southern Baptists is at stake, and I commend you for your service as ERLC continues to provide resources for those ministering to victims of sexual abuse.
That Southern Baptists send the right message — and not the wrong message — on the dignity of women, the sin of sexual abuse, and the wickedness of those who conceal such abuse — is of critical importance as the annual meeting in Dallas rapidly approaches. I was thankful to see your name among the signatories associated with the resolution affirming the dignity of women offered by Dr. Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In unambiguous terms, that resolution “repudiates” the objectification of women, calls on ministers to “abide by all reporting laws” regarding sexual assault, and “denounces” anyone who would “facilitate or cover up such acts.”
It is with great confidence in your integrity and consistency in these matters that I now write to you.
Last year, you were elected by the Southern Baptist Convention to serve as Chairman of the Committee on Order of Business for the 2018 annual meeting in Dallas, TX. This influential post will mark your final year on the committee and affords you a tremendous opportunity to add courageous action to the strong statement you have publicly supported.
Also last year, at the recommendation of your committee, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention elected Paige Patterson to serve as preacher of the 2018 convention’s annual sermon. As you are well aware, Paige has been terminated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for his “handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student . . . and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”
These values are identical to, and not distinct from, the values of the entire Southern Baptist Convention.
In his recent public statement concerning Paige Patterson, SBC President Steve Gaines outlined the complications associated with removing Patterson as this year’s convention preacher. These are: (1) Patterson stand down voluntarily from this elected assignment or (2) the messengers at the annual meeting vote to remove him. Gaines rightly informed messengers that only they have the final authority to remove Patterson.
What Gaines did not mention is how a motion to remove Patterson could be made, and what parliamentary vehicles may be employed to accomplish this goal. There are, it seems, two procedural options. First, a qualified messenger may move to amend the published order of business during the first report of your committee on Tuesday morning, June 12. Second, the Committee on Order of Business can bring a motion at the same time to replace Patterson with the alternate preacher or any other person.
It seems to me that the most prudent path forward is for your committee to bring the motion to the floor at your first report in Dallas.
I know of your great love and appreciation for Paige Patterson. You have stated publicly how indebted you are to him. But I also know of your love for the whole Southern Baptist family and your desire to pursue peace and not foster division among brethren.
I appeal to you, pastor, to consider the tensions that will be relieved, the hostilities that will be calmed, and the division that will necessarily ensue if Patterson’s removal becomes a floor fight in Dallas apart from decisive and courageous action by the Committee on Order of Business. Please consider this potential course of action, which is both procedurally sound and wise.
With every prayer,
Benjamin S. Cole
CC: SBC President Steve Gaines
Dr. Barry McCarty, Convention Parliamentarian
Members of the 2018 SBC Committee on Order of Business: Tony Munoz; Tim Moore; Brad Jurkovich; Keith Sanders; and David Galloway.
P.S. There is a third option the convention could take. Your committee could bring a revised order of business to the convention that sets the time for the annual sermon at 3:15 AM on Wednesday morning. The SBC Bylaws only provide that the convention sermon be a “fixed” time in the order of business, but your committee is given wide latitude for the scheduling of this time. Furthermore, there is no bylaw that requires Patterson’s sermon to be broadcast, or that the convention audio/visual resources be utilized at all. Neither do the bylaws require that stage lighting be used.
In other words, you could set the time for Patterson’s sermon in the middle of the night, and require that he preach his sermon without lighting or sound amplification.
A messenger could also move the next morning to “strike” Patterson’s sermon from the convention record. But I doubt the nuclear option is going to be necessary.
P.S.S. Neither does the convention have to allow the main platform for the convention sermon. You could, for instance, require Paige to preach his sermon at the gates of the McCommas Bluff Landfill in South Dallas.