The best of times and worst of times: Pt. 2

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Despite the upheaval of 2018 has brought to the Southern Baptist Convention, there have been a number of positive developments and praiseworthy initiatives. Here’s our list of the SBC’s top ten best moments in 2018, again in no particular order:

  1. Southwestern scholar admits the seminary was duped by Patterson antiquities dealer, fake Dead Sea Scrolls still under analysis — Paige and Dorothy Patterson spent millions of seminary dollars to purchase fragments of purported Dead Sea Scrolls from a Palestinian antiquities dealer. The purchases are detailed in a book commissioned by the seminary and written by the Patterson’s son, entitled “Much Clean Paper for Little Dirty Paper.”  The seminary spent millions more dollars advertising for the fragments’ public release, and lost even more millions when ticket sales didn’t come through.

    Bottom line: The Pattersons were either played for fools or were in on the fraud. There are no other options. Every seminary publication was filled with ink touting the now-admittedly bogus acquisitions, and while the Pattersons have left Southwestern Seminary, the stain of shoddy scholarship lingers on the professors who were compelled to boost the fragment’s credibility.  But Southwestern wasn’t the only one duped.

    Two months ago, scholars at The Museum of the Bible admitted they had purchased bogus Dead Sea Scroll fragments. In a CNN report, Southwestern Professor Steven Ortiz said the seminary suspected “that maybe three” of their 10 fragments are forgeries. Test results for the remaining fragments were still inconclusive at the time the story broke.

    We’re thankful that honest scholarship is beginning to reappear at Southwestern Seminary, and we await further revelations from the seminary about the status of this multi-million dollar boodoggle.

  2. Paul Pressler lawsuit dismissed — That’s right, while the jury is still out on how much money was mishandled at Southwestern Seminary (SBC Annual Reports indicate that the seminary has borrowed deeply from its own endowment, as much as three times its annual Cooperative Program receipts by some estimates), there will be no trial for Pressler. We’ve maintained scrupulously that our own close friendship with Judge Pressler never included any interactions that resembled the claims made against him by a convicted felon with prolonged substance abuse issues. In fact, while visiting the archives at Southeastern Seminary, we found numerous pieces of exculpatory correspondence that supports Pressler’s denials, including letters from his accusers and the accuser’s father.

    There are many people who do not like the judge, and whisper campaigns against him have circulated for decades. But we are unafraid to call him our friend and to state publicly, in every context of our interaction, he has been a consistently kind, courteous, and honorable Christian gentleman.

    It is a good day when unproven and unprovable accusations are rejected. We pray for many more years of health and strength for Paul Pressler and his family.

  3. SBTS releases report on racism — The flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention continues to prove why its reputation is well deserved. Mohler took some heat this year for not joining John MacArthur’s hysteria concerning social justice; with the release of this report, it becomes evident again that the president of Southern Seminary plays his cards close to his chest and makes deliberate, determined steps rather than set his hair on fire every time somebody’s Reformed feathers get ruffled.

    The report itself is probably the most transparent self-assessment ever to come from any Southern Baptist institution. It both lays bare the seminary’s conflicted past, while providing a convincing rationale for why the seminary doesn’t start chiseling names off granite and toppling campus statuary. And despite the suggestion by some that Mohler’s name should be carved into the seminary chapel’s facade, it is moves like this which ensure his legacy will be written into the soul of the seminary if not its bricks and mortar.

  4. Midwestern Seminary president shows he’s unafraid of critique, responsive to concerns — Earlier this year, we became aware of an ongoing accreditation review of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For more than a year, the seminary has been responding to questions from the Higher Learning Commission — one of the school’s regional accreditors — about numerous matters concerning governance, administration, curriculum, discrimination, and professional certification standards. We wrote Midwestern’s president a fairly pointed letter expressing our concern that the seminary had not fully apprised either the Executive Committee of the SBC or the convention messengers of this serious accreditation matter.  Within days, we had a phone conversation with the seminary’s president. Within weeks, we met face-to-face to discuss this and other areas of mutual interest. A written response to our letter was sent, with a request that we publish it online.

    It is a good day when Southern Baptist institutions are transparent with their constituencies; it is an even better day when those institution’s administrators respond with candor, transparency, and humility. This is definitely a sign that a new generation of SBC leaders is emerging, with a different ethic of governance and more than lip-service to institutional integrity and accountability.

  5. J.D. Greear elected overwhelming as SBC President — It is no secret we opposed J.D. Greear’s nomination in 2006 to be the convention’s 2nd Vice President. We preferred, instead, for that honorable post to go to Rev. Wiley Drake, who won on the first ballot.

    But we’ve always liked J.D., dating back to some of our earliest days in seminary when we would talk about preaching and theology and politics. When he went to Homestead Heights Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., as its senior pastor, we shared the common belief that something wonderful would happen both in his life and the life of that church.

    The election of J.D. Greear marked the end of some things that needed to end, and the renewal of some things that needed renewing. We’re hopeful that he will make a difference, and we’ll be watching his appointments closely to see if his presidency offers meaningful change within the parameters of the BFM, or if its just more of the same.

  6. The conference on MLK50 — Russ Moore took some heat for this, as did some of the other participants. But it is a conversation that needs to be had, and Southern Baptists need to embrace it with both arms. Steady progress on racial reconciliation, marked by meaningful dialogue and candid self-evaluation, are critical if the Southern Baptist Convention is going to keep gospel proclamation as its top priority. Thankfully, nobody threatened to escrow their CP giving because the ERLC was hosting a conference to honor a “serial adulterer and communist.” That the SBC can venture into these waters peaceably, honestly, and critically is a welcome development. Fifty years is a long time to wait.
  7. Paige Patterson rejoining the BGCT — We reported weeks ago that the former president of Southwestern Seminary is now a member of a church that is exclusively affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. We are hopeful that more SBC leaders will feel welcome in BGCT churches, and that the BGCT will feel increasingly welcome on the campus of Southwestern Seminary.
  8. Beth Moore schools us all — On May 3, the prominent Southern Baptist Bible teacher and one of Lifeway’s most profit-making authors, Beth Moore, wrote an open letter to her “brothers” She wrote of the painful experience of having her views dismissed, her ideas ignored, and her contributions undervalued only because she is a woman. The letter was so very timely, and tremendously powerful. Right alongside the decision of thousands of women to speak up in the SBC against bigotry and abuse cover-up, Moore’s letter sent a shockwave of sobering truth throughout the SBC and the larger evangelical world.

    The SBC is a better place with more open hearts like Beth Moore’s . . . and fewer empty hats.

  9. Mission Dignity — We will never forget the day we met O.S. Hawkins. It was an afternoon in the Spring of 1995 in the cavernous Coleman Hall under what used to be the Truett Building at the First Baptist Church of Downtown Dallas. We visited for about 20 minutes, and then walked out of the building together onto Patterson Street headed toward the parking lot.

    Pulling into his parking space was Dr. W.A. Criswell, the legendary senior pastor emeritus of the historic church.  He had parked his Mercedes sedan astride two parking spaces and was just stepping out of his car. The sun was shining in his eyes, and he was squinting to see who was approaching.

    Dr. Criswell was also a bit disheveled. His shirt was untucked on one side, his bolo tie was crooked, shocks of white hair were spreading in all directions.  He seemed, to be honest, a bit disoriented.

    But O.S. Hawkins fell right in beside him, helped him straighten his tie and fix his shirt, and held his coat while Dr. Criswell pushed a comb through his hair.  O.S. let us stand there, till Dr. Criswell was alright, and then introduced us.

    We thanked O.S. for his time, and thanked Dr. Criswell for his ministry, then stood back and watched while the two ministers walked into the Criswell Building together.  O.S. had one arm around Dr. Criswell’s shoulders, not so much helping him walk as reassuring him he was there if needed.

    The image stuck with us, and it has been in our heart ever since. We had a profound realization at that moment that O.S. Hawkins was a man who loved old ministers, and would do what he could to make their steps a little more certain, their continued ministries a little more dignified.

    Mission Dignity is one of the great success stories of O.S. Hawkins’ tenure at Guidestone.  He’s taken the same compassion and calling we saw him show toward Dr. Criswell that afternoon in a parking lot and channeled it into Mission Dignity. This year, Mission Dignity will give out more than $7 million to more than 1,800 retired ministers living at or below the poverty line. One of the most consistent contributors to this fund is O.S. Hawkins, whose “Code” series of books has been enjoying strong sales numbers and the profits go entirely to support Mission Dignity.

    Yes, in our judgment O.S. Hawkins is one of the good things that’s happened to the SBC this year; and Mission Dignity is one of the best.

  10. The relaunch of The Baptist Blogger — Yes, we reserve the right to claim our resumption of regular postings is a good thing for the SBC. We anticipate 2019 will bring plenty of opportunities to tell the truth and have some fun along the way.

The best of times and worst of times

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The year 2018 will prove more significant in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention than was 1979, the date generally regarded as the beginning of the so-called “Conservative Resurgence.” The election in Houston of Adrian Rogers over five other nominees — including prominent Texas leaders Robert Naylor and Abner McCall — presaged a new wave governance for SBC entities and a determined rightward shift both politically and theologically.  Twelve years later, the turn was “accomplished and secure.”

But the election of J.D. Greear in 2018 marked not only a significant generational shift — even more dramatic than the challenge to the Patterson/Pressler coalition by Jim Henry in 1994 — but it also marked a substantial shift away from the anti-Calvinism, anti-charismatic, anti-everything, quasi-misogynist, contrarian trajectory being bullied into existence over the past fifteen years from the presidential home at Southwestern Seminary and its increasingly eccentric occupants.

To be sure, the conflict was coming one way or the other, though nobody anticipated how swiftly and definitively the dominoes would fall. Well, maybe a few people knew what was going on. Maybe they planned it all, move by move, like a game of chess.

Whatever the case, the SBC of the last half of 2018 is a different world than the SBC of the first half. The conflict — as always happens when there is conflict — served the purpose of throwing back the curtains and letting the light shine on events, personalities, and institutions that desperately needed the illumination and disinfectant that sunlight brings.

With that in mind and in no particular order, we give you our ten worst and ten best Southern Baptist moments in 2018:

The 2018 Ten Worst Moments in the Southern Baptist Convention:

Number Ten:  On Aug. 21, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley preached a sermon entitled “The Baptist Blues.”  In the sermon, Kelley bemoaned that he didn’t “recognize the Southern Baptist Convention anymore.” He used the sermon to lash out against declining baptisms, the #MeToo movement, Calvinism, and made oblique accusations about the moral character of unnamed bogeymen. Kelley’s sermon betrayed an alarming emotional instability and immature judgment that jolted seminary trustees. Within weeks, Kelley vacated the presidency to become Chancellor during an interim period while a presidential search committee finds a successor.

Number Nine: On Sept. 13, IMB president David Platt announced he would step down from his leadership of the mission board effective Sept. 27. Months earlier, Platt had offered his resignation, but promised to stay on as president until a successor was named. Meanwhile, Platt had become senior pastor of McLean Bible Church outside D.C., an arrangement that proved untenable. So the trustees asked Platt to step down sooner than originally planned so the IMB could have “an organizational transition”

In his Sept. 26 farewell address, Platt noted his “hate” for “the politics of the SBC,” a day-to-day convention reality that includes “jockeying for position, continual self-promotion, backroom deals followed by spin in the front room, strategizing like brothers are your enemy, feeling like others see you as their enemy . . . getting to the point where you wonder if you can trust anymore even as you start to wonder how trustworthy you’ve become.”

We rank this event among the worst not because Platt, unlike Kelley, missed the mark, but rather because his diagnosis is so startling in self-awareness and honesty. That Platt found institutional change from within no longer worth the effort makes this a low moment for the SBC in 2018. That he experienced constant sniping from Fort Worth throughout his four year tenure is also sad. We wonder to what degree his Feb. 12 decision to leave the IMB might have been different had he held out a few more months.

Number Eight: The expulsion of the Raleigh White Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., marked a low moment for the SBC this year. Truly, the church needed to be expelled for unrepentant bigotries, including the denial of restroom access to an African-American girl. The fact that churches still exist where racism is tolerated serves as a sobering reminder that despite all the statements and resolutions of the past two decades, the Southern Baptist Convention still has work to do.  That the convention so resoundingly supported the expulsion of a racist church shows welcome progress, but the fact that the action was needed in the first place should cause tremendous grief.

Number Seven: The presidential nomination speech for Dr. Ken Hemphill, the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, given by Louisiana pastor Brad Jurkovich, was one of the worst moments of 2018. Originally, Jurkovich feigned — if not pledged — neutrality in the run-up to the convention. But by the time Dallas came around, Jurkovich was smarting from the termination of Paige Patterson and clumsily positioned both himself and his candidate as the vehicle for “traditionalist” protest. The nomination speech had several cheap shots, and was altogether unbecoming. Ken Hemphill deserved better. And Brad could have done better.

Number Six: Three words: Break her down.

Number Five:  At the authorization of SBC President Steve Gaines, the annual meeting allotted time for an in-person speech by Vice President Mike Pence. The convention basically has three groups of pastors: one that would cash in their children’s college fund for the chance to visit the White House and take a selfie with the president; another that strongly opposes integrating into the convention schedule anything that smacks of partisan politics; and a third that would rather be in the donut shop no matter who is speaking. We’ve always had trouble stomaching the admixture of partisan politics and the annual convention. It still horrifies us to think of the applause given to Condoleeza Rice at the 2006 annual meeting when she referenced killings in the War on Terror. Hosting Pence forced a debate that probably needs to be had, but he really offered nothing of substance and the convention has better things to do than listen to Republican politicians give stump speeches.

Number Four: The speeches of SWBTS trustees during the 2018 debate on the Hatley Motion together constitute one of the worst moments of the year. Texas trustee Bart Barber, whom we appreciate for many reasons, revealed that he was the last hold-out to terminate Paige Patterson. He argued, though, that it had to be done in the end to protect the trustees’ “spine.” But it’s not the spine of the trustees that is in question; it’s their brains.

South Carolina trustee Wayne Dickard spoke in favor of the Hatley motion. Somewhere in the mix — in case you forgot — Ronnie Floyd offered his two cents. But the whole debate revealed something that gets lost in the praise choruses for Bart Barber: Southwestern’s trustees failed the convention. The only reason Paige had to be fired is because they let him run the seminary down for so long.  Did enrollment declines never matter?  Financial problems? Wasteful spending? Millions in fake Dead Sea Scrolls? Wrongful terminations? The seminary had become a dumpster fire, and somehow we are supposed to praise the trustees because they finally woke up after the place was nearly destroyed?

Put another way: If you had an employee that oversaw a division of your company that had 15 years of verifiable decline, meteoric spikes in expenses, and you knew he was diverting money from needed improvements to build himself a new office and retirement home, would you let it drag on for fifteen years? Hardly. But that’s what Southwestern’s trustees did, and the fact that the whole ordeal came to the convention floor the way it did is evidence of their dereliction.

Number Three: We’re just going to say it outright. The social media accounts of too many Southern Baptist leaders are just plain silly. But at least the vast majority of them do not post photos of their nose hairs or male breasts on Instagram. We’re all for transparency and authenticity, but when it crosses the line into selfies of your sinus cavities and gynecomastia, it’s gone too far.

Number Two: The committees appointed by SBC President Steve Gaines. At times, it looked like everything Gaines did was part of a coordinated effort to make the Dallas convention into the Paige Patterson show: convention sermon, evangelism task force; proteges chairing the key committees, etc. Along the way, his nomination committee fumbled the ball on several fronts. An SBC president cannot be asleep at the switch when it comes to his appointments.

Number One:  The absolute worst moment of 2018 occurred on the evening of May 30th. The SWBTS Executive Committee called Paige Patterson in the middle of the night while he was overseas to tell him he’d been terminated. Of course, we think he should have been relieved of his duties more than 10 years ago. But the whole ordeal — from special called meeting that involved a promotion to “emeritus” status followed by an Executive Committee meeting that reversed course completely — revealed the complete dysfunction of the seminary’s trustee governance. Because they failed to keep the president in check, closely monitor his spending, and perform the basic functions of trustees on behalf of the convention, they painted themselves in a corner and had to knock down the walls to get out of it.  It was a shameful series of failures that led to a shameful, painful end for everyone involved. The convention deserves a complete account of what has transpired, and the fact that such a report has not been given is indicative that root problems have not been addressed.

Paige should have been fired for dozens of reasons long before it became evident how grossly he’d mishandled student rape. That it went on as long as it did is on the trustees. That those same trustees are now responsible to select Patterson’s replacement doesn’t give us much confidence.

Stay tuned for the 10 best SBC moments of 2018…

Gone with the wind…


(For the audio version of today’s post, click here.)

Southern Baptists have had a convulsive — some might say cataclysmic — year in the trenches of self evaluation. Many factors have precipitated an overdue theological, cultural, and institutional reckoning that has rattled the soul of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. National politics have played a role, as have tectonic fissures in the once-united front of the American culture wars. Five Southern Baptist entities — including its mission board, publishing arm, and once-largest seminary — have been on the search for new leadership.

For some self-described traditionalists, the events of the past 12 months have left them standing alongside the convention’s edifice like bystanders helplessly watching a Louisiana church burn. Without warning, a fire started somewhere they weren’t monitoring in a portion of the old building that was never fully up to code. Quickly, it burned through most of what they’ve known and loved about the SBC, including the myths and the men who nurtured them. For twelve months, they’ve been huddling in the shadows of the smoke. In the aftermath, they’re hugging it out and vowing to rebuild, somehow.

For others, 2018 has been a welcome season of change. They’ve stuck it out through the last decade or so, probably grown a beard, and white-knuckled it through the last couple of SBC presidencies, confident that time was on their side. When they saw the fire, they saw not an Apocalypse but an opportunity for renewal, for refining. It’s unfair to say they have enjoyed watching the slow burn; but they’re not wistful either.

There is a scene in David O. Selznick’s 1939 classic, Gone With The Wind, that comes to mind. After the fires of Atlanta overtake the city, the indomitable Scarlett O’Hara returns to her beloved home to find the Yankees have destroyed the cotton fields, burned most of the surrounding area, stripped the plantation bare, and left the delicate, defenseless Southern women and household servants to starve.

Scarlett finds her father, a first generation Irish immigrant named Gerald, mentally incapacitated and struggling to understand what has happened. Reverting to childlike bewilderment, he speaks of his deceased wife as if she is his living mother. He sits in a darkened, upstairs room and clings to a stack of Confederate War Bonds, certain they will provide the necessary resources to bring Tara back to its former glory.

But the war bonds — in reality, scraps of worthless paper — cannot redeem the plundered institution. In the end, the once-proud Irishman falls from his horse and dies.

It’s a pathetic scene, but representative of the predictable psychological trauma that occurs when a worldview built on myths and sustained by slave labor runs its inevitable course. And so it has been for some leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. By their own admission, they don’t recognize it any longer.

Pardon us if we sing no requiem.

Indeed, there is cause for great joy in what has transpired. The gathering storm clouds have started to release their mercy drops. Showers of blessing and seasons refreshing cannot be far off.

Against that backdrop, we have prepared a list of the ten worst and ten best moments of 2018.

Stay tuned for the list . . .

Weekend Preview: The best of times and worst of times


Everybody seems to be making a year-end list of SBC highlights: Baptist Press published several for various SBC entities; our pals over at SBC Voices had one; and SBC This Week posted theirs today. There are many others.

This weekend, we will publish our list: ten of 2018’s worst moments in Southern Baptist life, and 10 of the best. Some will surprise you. Others are completely predictable given our track record.

This will be, of course, a definitive and authoritative list.

Operation Linebacker II


(UPDATE 12.28.18 @ 7:10 PM ET: At the encouragement of some readers, we have been working on the development of a podcast, of sorts, wherein we read some of our postings. We are not completely there yet, but determined to go ahead and post a first-cut at what will become The Baptist Blogger podcast in 2019. Click here to hear the audio version of today’s post. We apologize for the audio quality: all our new podcasting accoutrement have yet to arrive.)

Forty six years ago this week, the United States was bombing the hell out of North Vietnam. In a ten-day campaign called “Operation Linebacker II,” U.S. war planes dropped more than 20 thousand tons of bombs on and around the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. Colloquially, the effort came to be known as The Christmas Bombings.

In advance of President Nixon’s order to commence the bombings, multiple efforts at diplomatic negotiations had dried up. Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. National Security Advisor, had presided over meetings in Paris with the goal of attaining a peace settlement that would bring American troops — including prisoners of war — home, and allow the North and South Vietnamese governments to attempt peaceful coexistence.

But disagreements over details prompted a dramatic walk-away of North Vietnamese negotiators from the peace table. With the clock running out and the November elections fast approaching, Kissinger had flown to Saigon on Oct. 18 to go over the settlement terms. The South Vietnamese president, angered that he sensed the American envoy had struck an unsatisfactory deal with the North Vietnamese, balked and demanded more than 100 new changes to the settlement. A complex series of statements and counter-statements were made, and in the end both North and South Vietnamese leaders opted to grandstand with the hopes of embarrassing the U.S. president.

But Nixon always played the long game, and was masterful at both political stagecraft and brass knuckles diplomacy. On Oct. 26, Kissinger gave his famous White House press conference announcing the administration believed peace was “at hand.” The U.S. elections came and went, with Nixon winning a landslide victory over Democratic challenger George McGovern. Diplomatic overtures continued, but Nixon was readying a lethal fallback plan if the North Vietnamese proved unwilling to acknowledge the legitimacy of South Vietnam, amid other important concessions.

And then, every thing fell apart. On Dec. 16, the North Vietnamese resisted every effort to negotiate peace and the delegation from Hanoi folded their arms and refused to re-establish terms for continued dialogue. Weeks earlier, despite Nixon’s overwhelming election win, Republicans lost 2 seats in the U.S. Senate and the Democrats retained control of the House. Nixon knew time was running short, and the possibility of a congressionally-imposed end in Vietnam was increasing.

At Nixon’s instruction, Kissinger sent word to Hanoi and a signal of unambiguous support to Saigon: return to the negotiating table or the bombing would begin. The North Vietnamese chose, foolishly, to tempt Nixon’s resolve. This time, he wasn’t bluffing.

Military readiness in Southeast Asia was not a problem for Nixon. Already, there was a sizable dispatch of B-52 bombers that equaled nearly half of all Air Force assets. With no sense that North Vietnam would budge, Nixon gave the order and the planes took off. The initial targets were North Vietnamese airfields, followed by broadcasting facilities and munitions factories. On day two, the railroads and depots were hit, followed by power plants and fuel storage tanks.

The North Vietnamese fought back, downing dozens of U.S. aircraft and capturing more prisoners of war. But Nixon was unfazed; without any public address to explain his decision, he extended the campaign and doubled down on the strategy. Ports were demolished, and a hospital nearby a targeted fueling facility was hit. More than two dozen doctors, nurses, and medical staff were killed. After a brief stand-down for Christmas day, Nixon sent the planes flying again, hitting more railroads, depots, and vehicle storage facilities. The air above North Vietnam was completely filled with U.S. warcraft, and the sounds of carpet bombing drummed through the night like a percussive Armageddon.

The New York Times questioned Nixon’s mental state and called the bombings “barbaric.” Scores of Republicans in Congress joined their Democratic counterparts in denouncing the president.

But by the time it was over on Dec. 29 — and with practically nothing standing — North Vietnam promised to return to the talks. Saigon, however, remained stubborn (aware of Nixon’s precarious position with the incoming Congress). Nixon vowed to proceed alone, if necessary. And then, at the last hour, the South Vietnamese president relented. All parties flew to Paris and resumed negotiations.

The final verdict on Operation Linebacker II is ambiguous for many scholars: Did Nixon’s carpet bombing bring North Vietnam back to the table in Paris? Did it reassure Saigon that the U.S. would not falter in defense of its allies? Did Nixon forego the madman theory and just go mad?

Tucked in the story of the Christmas bombings are the narratives of released U.S. prisoners of war tortured in places like the Hanoi Hilton. To these men, the bombings were the sound of hope. They knew the distinctive hum of a B-52 engine, and the moment the planes started dropping their ordnance, cheers broke out in the prisons. To hear them tell it, the sound of bombings night after night reassured them that the U.S. government had not forgotten them, and that they would soon go home.

Within weeks, Operation Homecoming saw 591 American prisoners of war brought back to U.S. soil. Within months, U.S. forces began to withdraw.

So what does all this have to do with the Southern Baptist Convention? Why would we spend so much time rehearsing the details of Nixon’s all-out assault on the strongholds of North Vietnam nearly half a century ago?

The simple fact is that no other world leader has fascinated us like Richard Nixon. He is at the same time the most brilliant and accomplished American public figure, and its most tragic. He was, as a man, a conundrum. And yet, like a sphinx, he looms over the contours of American foreign and domestic affairs even today.

So while we do not have specific lessons for the Southern Baptist Convention, we have learned some lessons about leadership and conflict from Richard Nixon, particularly from his prosecution of the war in Vietnam. At their most irreducible essence, some of those lessons are these:

  1. Your most powerful assets are completely useless if you never deploy them. Muscles that are never used will eventually atrophy. So flex them while you have them.
  2. If you make the determination to drop one bomb, you better be prepared to drop them all. A “modest bombing” makes about as much sense as “non-injurious physical abuse.” Be prepared to use them all, or don’t use any.
  3. There are people living under the tyranny of your adversary — some taken captive and others who for lack of opportunity have never known a different life — who will welcome your efforts and the release from torture they provide.
  4. Do not acquiesce to the other side’s timeline. Keep your own calendar, and make them adjust their schedules accordingly.
  5. It is likely that your true adversary is using a proxy. Cowards are notorious for this. Be willing to fight proxy battles, but fight the proxy with all the force you would use on its sponsor. Only this will demonstrate the depth of your resolve.
  6. Hit the towers on the first night. Don’t let your adversary’s propaganda see the light of day.
  7. Accept collateral damage as inevitable, and be prepared to act alone.
  8. You’ll never know what it was like to be tortured in prison; be kind, patient, and understanding to those who have been. They will, eventually, know what you did to bring them home. And even if they don’t, that’s ok too.

Stay tuned . . .

PREVIEW: Operation Linebacker II


Between Dec. 18-29, 1972, hundreds of American B-52s and fighter aircraft dropped more than 20 thousand tons of bombs on the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong in North Vietnam. It was the largest aerial campaign since the close of WWII. The bombing was suspended on Christmas Day, but took up again on the 26th.

On Christmas Day 2018, The Baptist Blogger will post some lessons we’ve learned about warfare from our now 20-year fascination with President Nixon’s prosecution of the war — and yes, achievement of peace with honor — in Southeast Asia.

UPDATE: We got a little sidetracked with Christmas activities. The post goes up tomorrow (Thursday).



The near-universal opinion of America’s military and diplomatic leaders is that Syria remains unstable. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — known by its acronym ISIS — continues to butcher innocent women and children, bomb civilian homes, and maintain a force of 20-to-30 thousand terrorist warriors.

In a head-spinning reversal, the President of the United States announced yesterday a unilateral withdrawal from Syria, sending U.S. allies into a state of confusion about American resolve. Sen. Lindsay Graham called the decision “disastrous” and a “stain on the [nation’s] honor.” He went even further, calling the President’s declaration that ISIS had been defeated “fake news.”

The whole ordeal reminds us of another letter from Northwest Arkansas. Dated Mar. 2, 2015, the letter to then-President Obama states:

“Since ISIS is a continuing threat to world peace in a way unknown to us since the Nazis of World War II, we humbly call upon you to use the influence and power of your distinguished office to take the necessary actions now in this urgent hour to bring an end to these human atrocities.”

Twice calling on President Obama to “lead forward” (whatever that means?) in an “historical (sic) moment,” the letter is co-signed by sixteen former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention. In a telephone interview with a CBS-affiliate, the Arkansas pastor curiously stated that “we need to take action, whatever that action is.”

The pastor continues: “There are times that war has to be done. Things have to occur. And if that’s what it’s gonna take to bring finality to this, then obviously the president is going to have to decide that.”

Yes, dear readers, in 2015 the president of the Southern Baptist Convention “led forward” to call on the president to do “things” that “take action, whatever that action is.”

Pause for a moment while you let the weight of that profound moral certainty sink in.

So we’re left with a question:

If seventeen Southern Baptist leaders believed ISIS was the modern day equivalent to the Nazis, warranting a letter to President Obama seeking “finality” to ISIS, will these same Baptists send a similar letter to the current president denouncing his unilateral decision to withdraw American forces from Syria?

Or put another way, should the United States have pulled out of Germany after WWII once the Nazis were largely defeated?

Of course, we don’t advise such a letter. But we do think it’s worth nothing the kind of theological folly and moral confusion that occurs when partisan allegiances threaten to trump prophetic witness.

(Editor’s note: One of our faithful readers pointed out another curiosity of the silly ISIS letter from former SBC presidents. How’s this for good grammar: “…you will have the unequivocal support of the vast majority of America’s largest, and some say most multi-ethnic and multi-lingual, Protestant denomination in America.”

That’s right. America’s largest denomination in America. Did none of the signatories actually read this nonsense before signing it?)

Tar Heel Hell


Committing voter fraud is easy in North Carolina, according to the state’s lieutenant governor. Recent revelations about the handling of absentee ballots by a paid criminal operative of Charlotte-area pastor-turned politician Mark Harris could prove it’s even easier.

Last month, Rev. Harris — a member of the 2016 SBC Resolutions Committee that originally sought to recognize the Confederate Flag as an “emblem” of honor and valor before convention messengers supplanted the insensitive language with a call to “discontinue” the flag’s display altogether — bested his 9th Congressional District Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, by a mere 905 votes. Harris previously defeated incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger by only 825 votes in the party primary.

He was defeated four years ago in the state’s Republican primary, coming third place with a mere 17 percent of the vote. Eventually, Harris shaved his mustache and resigned his church to devote his full energies to winning a seat in Congress. His chances of securing the election outright faltered earlier this year when old sermons came to light in which Harris called for female submission and questioned the propriety of women working outside the home.

Nevertheless, it is not Harris’s views on women that have threatened his political ascent. Recent history informs us that a candidate for public office can openly denigrate women with little electoral backlash.

The problem for Harris is the increasingly likelihood that his campaign knowingly employed a convicted felon to lead balloting efforts in a rural North Carolina county.  The case against Harris is fairly strong, and the State Board of Elections has refused to certify the results.

In one instance, a set of 161 ballots showed the same nine people signed at least 10 ballots each. Another three witnesses signed more than 40 ballots each, and another signed 30, according to one document review.  In an affidavit submitted this month, one North Carolina voter claims to have overheard that Harris would pay a $40,000 bonus to his felonious employee if he won the election.

The situation gets even muckier: in Bladen County, 495 requested absentee ballots were never returned; in Robeson County, 1,180 never made it back. These return rates — 40 percent and 62 percent, respectively — are two and three times higher than the state average. The GOP-controlled state legislature made an attempt this week that would allow them to bounce Harris from the ballot if a new election occurs. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the measure, but the State Senate overrode that veto on Tuesday. It now goes to the house for an override vote.

North Carolinians may be running from Harris in search of a more palatable, less paleolithic conservative standard-bearer.

Doubtlessly, Harris’s views rubbed some North Carolina voters the wrong way. At the very least, they saw him as a polyester preacher hawking misogynistic anachronisms. At the worst, they think he’s a fraud.

And herein is one of the problems with Harris: the Baptist Faith & Message is not a statement of public policy; it is a statement of faith.  It is not a political platform; it is a confessional framework.

Too often when preachers turn to politics they fail to understand these nuances. The same is true on the Left as it is for the Right. Even more disconcerting is the thought of what clumsy theological articulations the First Baptist Church of Charlotte — once the pulpit of the irenic, though avowedly conservative pastor Charles Page — might have endured while its pastor tinkered with the notion of public office.

The circumstances surrounding the congressional campaign of Mark Harris are a black eye for North Carolina Republicans and a national embarrassment. Hopefully, it is a reminder to Southern Baptists to be extraordinarily cautious about whom they choose to serve as their pastors, or their convention leaders for that matter.

And hopefully, there are some Southern Baptist theologians thinking through the ramifications of elevating eccentric anthropologies to equal confessional importance with Christological orthodoxy.  It should bother every thinking Southern Baptist that the world knows more about their views on women’s roles than what they believe about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Mark Harris hasn’t helped that problem either from his pulpit or on the political stump.

PREVIEW: Tar Heel Hell


Tomorrow we anticipate publishing our thoughts about the election fraud charges swirling around a former Southern Baptist pastor, member of the 2016 SBC Resolutions Committee appointed by Rev. Ronnie Floyd, one-time chairman of Southeastern Seminary’s board of trustees, and a member of the school’s 2003 presidential search committee.

Things are quite a mess in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. In the meantime, check one of the letters we found in the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives.

Stay tuned . . . there’s more.

(Editor’s note: A .500 Nitro Express can cost more than $20,000 and as much as $159,000.00, almost as much as a Lamborghini.) 

The Light of the World and email stewardship

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(Editor’s note: The following letter will be sent electronically later today to the chief executive officers of the listed recipients.)

December 17, 2018

Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention
Golden Gate Seminary
North American Mission Board
International Mission Board
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Lifeway Christian Resources
Guidestone Financial Resources
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Dear sirs:

The safekeeping and stewardship of official records is of paramount importance, particularly in the digital age.  According to a recent report by a global telecommunications research firm, the average number of business-related emails is anticipated to grow this year to 140 each day. This trajectory is significant, and has created numerous complications for both public and private sector industries. It is equally true of the non-profit sectors.

The federal government, for instance, has struggled to archive electronic records, produce them according to law, and monitor the statutory compliance of government employees with respect to email use. Moreover, laws prohibiting the use of private emails to conduct official business have proven both practicably unenforceable and politically exploitable.

To be sure, the improper use of official and private email accounts can be inadvertent. Nevertheless, the law provides that all official communications involving institutional matters are the exclusive property of the institutions’ owners. For government agencies, they belong to taxpayers. For entities of the Southern Baptist Convention, they belong to the churches.

Despite resistance at some SBC entities, by 2005 all entities of the Southern Baptist Convention had amended their charters to name the convention as sole member of their respective corporations. This ownership extends beyond the real property assets and endowments; it includes the technology infrastructures, work product, certain intellectual properties, and all communications of the entity.

Recently, two entities of the Southern Baptist Convention have engaged in prolonged negotiations about the ownership and proper custody of official records. This dispute has cost time and resources that distract from the institutions’ ability to perform their primary mission. In another instance, a seminary employee illegally accessed, distributed and published copies of confidential records.

Additionally, and potentially more injurious to the reputation of institutions owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, official email communications that do not meet the requisites of Christian charity could run the risk of damaging the convention’s witness.  In recent months, I have reviewed publicly available archives that contain printed copies of official correspondence in which convention employees exchanged communications that are potentially defamatory. At the very least, they are petty.

Brethren, these things ought not be.

With that in mind, I ask that you each consider ways to ensure the proper use of convention-owned resources relative to information systems, email servers, and technology infrastructure. You may wish, among other initiatives, to consider the following:

  1. Assess the benefit of fully digitizing official records that pre-date the advent of electronic capabilities.
  2. Reinforce to entity employees that official email accounts only are to be used for official purposes, and that no official business is to be conducted via private email accounts.
  3. Remind entity employees that all communications — whether public or private, utilizing official or unofficial email accounts — are to be marked by Christian charity in both text and tone.
  4. Develop clear policies regarding the archival and custody of all official communications and require employees to affirm these policies in writing as a condition of employment.

The Baptist Faith & Message article on stewardship states clearly: “Christians have a spiritual debtorship to the whole world, a holy trusteeship in the gospel, and a binding stewardship in their possessions. They are therefore under obligation to serve Him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these are entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others.”

Indeed, the vigilant stewardship of official communication records is essential to protect the assets owned by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Ensuring the proper use of an entity’s digital servers is a matter of gospel obedience. To be certain: the federal government should not have a higher standard of accountability and transparency than seminaries, mission boards, and commissions whose mission is to bear faithfully the Light of the World.

Thank you for your continued leadership of the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention. On nearly every front, the sense that these entities are under the wise stewardship of Christian gentlemen is apparent. Personally, I appreciate your continued labors and have used the occasion of this letter to pray for you and your families.

With every wish for a joyous Christmas season,

The Baptist Blogger

Arkanslander and the scourge of denominational ambition


Art Toalston has published a thoughtful tribute in Baptist Press to Rev. Jess Moody, who died Friday, Dec. 7, at his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. The larger-than-life pastor and founder of Palm Beach Atlantic University is noted for his winsome spirit, kind nature, and widespread influence as a man of faithful obedience and moral integrity.

Through his consistent witness, Moody brought the gospel message to both U.S. coasts — from West Palm Beach to Hollywood — serving at one time as a religious consultant for 20th Century Fox. He established the Act One Ministry that provided biblical teaching and fellowship for actors, directors, and producers in the U.S. film industry. Unlike some of his evangelist contemporaries, Moody was never accused of any moral failure or ethical lapse. He was a man of modest income, extraordinary generosity, and legendary good humor.

Nominated by the inimitable Baptist comedian Jerry Clower, Moody was a candidate for SBC president in 1992. He lost to Houston-area pastor Ed Young in a three-way race. When the university he founded dedicated a statue in his honor at a ceremony attended by the Rev. Jack Graham, the ever self-deprecating Moody dispensed with his prepared remarks and instead gave credit for the school’s success to everyone else.

Announcing his death, Moody’s son put a fine point on his father’s legacy: “He poured his heart into people. He didn’t beat people with the Bible. He loved us like Jesus loves us.” ERLC President Russell Moore called Moody a “titanic Baptist figure.”

According to longtime California Baptist leader, Fermin Whitaker, the avuncular Moody “was not the kind of leader who said, ‘I don’t have time for you.’ He was never negative. He was always encouraging and always a friend, sincere in his heart to reach the lost for Christ.”

Regrettably, Moody’s commitment to “never be negative” went unreciprocated in some corners of Northwest Arkansas.

In April 1992, a letter* about Moody was circulated to 43 Arkansas Baptist leaders alleging that the popular pastor’s candidacy was being orchestrated  by the “moderates/liberals.” The letter’s author went on to state that Moody was only “somewhat conservative theologically.” With a dog whistle of ambition (pause while we say this with a straight face), the letter declared that Moody had been “running for almost a year” for the position.

Something about pots and kettles comes to mind.

We are not saddened by the death of Jess Moody. The Psalmist is instructive at moments like this: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

But we are saddened that this man of great faith and kindness was slandered during one of the darker days of denominational strife, and we wonder how the SBC might have been a different place if there were more servants like Jess Moody.

To read the 1992 letter unjustly associating the late Jess Moody with the moderate/liberal resistance effort in the SBC, click here.


*H. Edwin Young Papers, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

BREAKING: Pattersons leave SBTC

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The Baptist Blogger has received initial reports that Paige and Dorothy Patterson are leaving the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), a splinter group founded in 1998 by Texas Baptists who had become increasingly frustrated with their inability to win elections in the Baptist General of Texas (BGCT).

The Pattersons quiet departure comes as they end church membership with the SBTC-affiliated Birchman Baptist Church in Ft. Worth and join an exclusively BGCT-affiliated church in nearby Plano. In June 2018, Birchman cancelled Patterson’s scheduled appearance at the church before the annual convention meeting. Instead, Patterson preached two services at the Hunter’s Glen Baptist Church.

The termination of Pattersons membership at Birchman is a loss for Birchman’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Pearle, who has been a staunch defender of the erstwhile seminary president. A former trustee of the International Mission Board who supported the now-defunct policies on prayer and baptism, Pearle now serves as a trustee of Lifeway Christian Resources where he will have an opportunity to help choose the organization’s next CEO. Pearle’s wife, Deborah, was one of Steve Gaines’s appointees to the SBC Committee on Committees in 2017.

Hunters Glen pastor, Rev. Mark Howell, has served in the following convention leadership roles: member of the 2011 SBC Committee on Resolutions; the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention; and the 2000 SBC Committee on Nominations; He previously served on the SBTC Executive Committee; he has been an adjunctive professor at three SBC seminaries, and an elected faculty member at one.

Howell also preached the sermon at Patterson’s inauguration as president of Southwestern Seminary in 2004. (UPDATE: Link corrected)

At the time of SBTC’s founding, Paige Patterson was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. By 2000, the SBC had revised its confessional document – the Baptist Faith & Message (BFM2k) — to include new language on the nature of Scripture and limiting the roles of women. Two years prior, Patterson’s wife, Dorothy, served on the committee that recommended a statement on the submission of wives for incorporation into the BFM.

The SBTC requires its member churches to “affirm” the BFM2K.  The BGCT, on the other hand, has adopted the 1963 statement of faith and does not require its member churches to affirm the BFM2K. There is presently no affirmation of the BFM2K on the Hunters Glen website, and no doctrinal statement regarding the family is offered on the church’s published statement of beliefs.

In 2004, conflict between Patterson and the BGCT came to a head. In a statement released to Baptist Press, Patterson warned of “a clear signal to Southern Baptists in BGCT churches that the present leadership of the BGCT fully intends to sever all relationships with the Southern Baptist Convention and its [entities]. They apparently have decided to cut the dog’s tail off one joint at a time.”

The Pattersons’ departure from the SBTC and return to exclusive affiliation with the Baptist General Convention of Texas is a homecoming, of sorts. Paige Patterson’s father, T.A. Patterson, served as executive director of the state organization until his retirement in 1973.

It is not yet known if the Pattersons will be elected messengers to the BGCT’s annual meeting next year. We await additional reporting on this development by the Ledbetters.

Guenther unplugged: Longtime SBC attorney drops bomb on trustee incompetence, cronyism


The governance of Southern Baptist entities may be threatened by incompetent trustee bodies, according to a report given by Nashville attorney James Guenther, who has been general counsel to the convention’s executive committee since 1964.

“It is crucial that those persons nominated and elected for trustee positions evidence promise of having what it takes to be a good trustee,” Guenther stated.  “There ought to be no place in the system for cronyism, for political considerations, for good-old-boy arrangements. Selection of trustees on the basis of anything less than what is best for the institution demeans the ministry, trivializes the institution and mocks our piety.”

“Southern Baptists cannot afford anything but the best on our trustee boards. Southern Baptist institutions cannot afford trustees who will not do their job. Our boards need to be composed of persons with the best minds and the best hearts and the best spirits and the best intentions.”

Guenther continued:

“We need trustees who are educable, who learn fast, who are willing to learn, who want to learn, who have the trust to learn. We need trustees who are skilled in their own lives, who have their own expertise, and who respect the expertise of others. We need trustees who are open-minded, who will think independently — independently of the administration and independently of each other, independently of the folks back home and of denominational factions.”

In his report, Guenther outlined eight areas of concern regarding trustee responsibilities:

  1. Assignment — “Do your job; don’t try to do somebody else’s job The most common problem is that a trustee will want to do the job of the president, or of the staff, or of the faculty, or of a committee of the board, or that he will want to be the whole board. It’s a poor first basement who chases after pop flies into center field.”
  2. Respect for history — “Trustee who don’t know the mistakes of their predecessors can’t learn from those mistakes.”

    (Pause for a moment. Do we know how much money Southwestern lost on those fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments? Or how much has been trimmed from the budget of the president’s home since the Pattersons departure? Or what Pattersons severance package was? Now continue.)

  3. Truth — “I have seen trustee bodies vote to tell a lie when I knew that every single member of the trustee board was personally committed to truth telling. Some institutions, public and private, have been their own worst enemy by not telling their constituents all the truth.”
  4. Sensitivity — Trustees should be concerned about “how the decision will play in Peoria and in Peoria’s First Baptist Church.
  5. Process — “Establish procedures which are fair and reasonable, and insist on complying with those procedures. Let all things be done decently and in order.”
  6. Love — “When we consider how Jesus expects us to treat one another, the law’s due process looks like the pillage of the barbarians. It was former SBC President R.G. Lee who liked to say, ‘To give less under grace than under the law is a disgrace.'”
  7. Accountability — “You are accountable to the convention. But you are also accountable in a real sense to the employees of this institution. You are accountable to government, to your neighborhoods, to those in need of the gospel.”
  8. Law — “Trustees do well to follow two retraints courts have adopted. First, courts realize there is merit to settling controversies and one having settled them to not take them up again. Second is the idea that decisions should stand as precedents for future guidance.”

In a response to questions after his remarks, Guenther addressed  “a new militancy on the part of SBC boards, in large measure because of the transition in leadership.” He also addressed concerns about “litmus tests” for trustee appointments that create “a most unfortunate climate and tension on our boards.”

Trustees, Guenther said, “should insist on their right to be informed and on their rights to a full discussion of each important issue.”  They should also “listen with open minds to those with whom they disagree; . . . expect the president and staff to provide background information on all significant issues; . . . bring their ideas and proposals up in a time frame sufficient to allow staff to provide research and trustee committees to discuss the idea.”

Additionally, a trustee board should ensure that “fundamental legal, financial and ethical responsibilities are being fulfilled” and “be honest in appraising its own performance and organization . . . Individual board members should not deal with employees other than the president. If it becomes needful for a member of the board to work with an employee directly, the president should be made aware of that need, arrange the contact and be apprised of the discussion.”

“To do otherwise is fraught with peril,” Guenther noted.

To read more about Guenther’s comments, click here.

Which way Lifeway?


For nearly the past half century, Southern Baptists have had four very different leaders at the helm of their behemoth publishing arm, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn. They’ve had a former seminary president, a seminary executive vice president, a megachurch pastor who served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a fifth generation banker-turned-ministry consultant.

Each of them brought certain administrative strengths and pastoral experience. Only one of them had made any consistent contribution to the Christian publishing world prior to his election. One retired for health reasons, only to later oppose Charles Stanley for the SBC presidency; one took a negotiated separation amid personal scandal; one retired more than decade ago and now serves as “Ambassador-at-Large” for the SBC Executive Committee; and one is determined to step down within the next several months.

Three of these men were between the ages of 49 and 54 at their election. Rev. Draper — the organization’s eighth president — was 58. The Sunday School Board’s founder, J.M. Frost, was 43; and longtime Sunday School Board leader James Sullivan was 40.

Today, the Baptist Sunday School Board — now named Lifeway — is a $500 million-a-year enterprise, providing curriculum and other ministry resources to a majority of the Southern Baptist Convention’s roughly 47,000 churches, as well as other Christian organizations. Through its 170-plus retail stores in 31 states and internet-based sales, Lifeway generates the bulk of its revenue. Events, conferences, and training events are projected to bring in more than $50 million this year.

Of course, Lifeway is the only entity not receiving Cooperative Program funds that returns a sizable portion of its revenues to support convention causes. It is — by far — the largest of the SBC’s entities in terms of investment holdings (excluding Guidestone, which is an asset manager), rent obligations, revenues, real property assets, pension and other post-retirement liabilities, and employee headcount. Next year, Lifeway projects it will pay out more than $28 million in pensions, with the amount increasing to more than $153 million between 2023 and 2027.

Product sales for FY2019 are projected to reach $440 million, according to the 2018 SBC Book of Reports, though despite Lifeway’s addition of approximately 50 retail stores since 2005, revenue has remained flat.

Pause for a moment and read that again:

Despite adding more than 50 retail stores in the last 14 years, revenue in terms of nominal dollars has remained flat. In terms of constant or real dollars, Lifeway earned $182 million less than it did in 2005, despite having more retail stores.

Or put another way: Lifeway has more bricks but fewer buyers. This is the chief dilemma facing the next president.

To be sure, Lifeway is not alone. In the last decade, other bookstores have faced similar declines. In 2011, Borders Bookstore filed for bankruptcy, sold off its 400 stores and gave 11,000 employees their walking papers. Book retailer Barnes & Noble has faced its own pressures, reporting a 6 percent sales decline the second quarter of this year and a 14 percent drop in online sales. A publicly-traded company, B&N has hemorrhaged more than two-thirds of its market capitalization since 2015, a seeming insurmountable trend that is forcing shareholders to consider their options.

Thank you, Jeff Bezos.

Almost before Lifeway employees could finish unpacking boxes in their new 277,000 square-foot headquarters in downtown Nashville, news emerged that Amazon would be locating 5,000 jobs (each paying on average $150,000 a year) at its Operations Center for Excellence in Music City’s new $1 billion development complex.

To add insult to injury, the new Amazon site will go up where the Jimmy Draper Tower came down.


So what sort of leader does Lifeway need? What sort of man — or woman — should be sought to fill the void left by retiring CEO Thom Rainer? We’ve been thinking about this over the course of three recent visits to Lifeway’s headquarters in the last four months. The search for a replacement is surely daunting; the list of competent candidates, increasingly small. In truth, anybody who actively seeks the job probably has no clue how to do it.

Rather than list, therefore, the qualities we sense Lifeway might need in its next CEO, we’ve decided to list the sorts of considerations that we think ought to influence the search process. In no particular order:

  • The new Lifeway CEO candidate must have done something more than write books that get sold for bargain, blue-light prices in the bookstore of the convention’s annual exhibit hall.
  • The new Lifeway CEO candidate must not have a public relations firm representing him or her. Not even a “boutique” one.
  • The new Lifeway CEO candidate must not be required to have an earned research doctorate, but in the absence of such a degree he or she must have an advanced degree in a major field of finance, business, or executive management.
  • The new Lifeway CEO candidate doesn’t need to have been a megachurch pastor, and probably shouldn’t be one.
  • The Lifeway search committee should seriously consider an experienced female executive. Retail sales at Lifeway stores are driven in large part by the market of materials designed for women and women’s ministries. The Baptist Faith & Message says nothing about females in executive, non-church ministry positions. If they aren’t interviewing women for the post, they are foolishly reinforcing a stained-glass ceiling that limits the convention’s future ministry potential.
  • The new Lifeway CEO candidate should be more known for his or her success in the business world than their Instagram photo-ops, their Twitter account, or their epistolary compulsion with religious and political leaders.
  • The new Lifeway CEO needs to understand — in real, practical, and conversant terms — what Sumner Redstone meant when he said “content is king.” We are more interested that the new CEO be able to read the Wall Street Journal and understand it than he or she reads and quotes Oswald Chambers.
  • The new Lifeway CEO candidate needs to understand the difference between selling a book and endorsing its content. Or to put a sharper point on it: idiots should not be elected as trustees.

That’s all . . . for now.