New Orleans


Written from Washington, D.C. on the evening of March 24, 2019

Dear Dr. Kelley:

This is not a letter I wanted to write, both because it has the potential to create pain for you at a time of family health concerns and personal ministry transition and because it forces me to continually face the consequences for my own sin. When last I wrote about your ministry as president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, I expressed my sincere gratitude for the legacy of evangelistic fervor, compassion for sinners, and mentoring commitments that have distinguished your long service to Southern Baptists and the Lord whom we both love.

I also want to express again my gratitude for the phone call we had the last week of August soon after your sermon, “The Baptist Blues,” gained attention across the convention. You told Baptist Press in the aftermath that you would have “changed a thing or two” about the way you expressed your ideas in that sermon, noting that “simmering divisions” in our convention could never be addressed if we didn’t talk openly about the problems that created them. I followed up that phone call with a Sept. 10 letter to you commemorating the substance of our conversation, in which I noted your “kind tone and courteous response” that “gave me some assurance that we will not need to have a similar conversation again.”

Because I agree with you that Southern Baptists will never effectively address the crises we presently face without open, honest conversation, I now write to you openly to ask for clarification about words you are reported to have spoken in the presence of other denominational leaders.

Specifically, Dr. Kelley, it has been reported that you have actively sought to influence the process for determining your own successor as president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Moreover, it has been reported by witnesses who heard you express at a recent meeting of denominational leaders your concern that a decision to elect an ethnic minority as the seminary’s ninth president would hurt the school. The reason for your reported opposition to the election of an ethnic minority as president is because you perceived such an election would create hardships on the institution’s fundraising activities.

When I first heard this report, I was in disbelief. Not only is it completely untrue that the election of our convention’s first ethnic minority seminary president would reduce the seminary’s donor pool, but the opposite is true. New Orleans Seminary, which has suffered consistent enrollment shortfalls and declining revenues in recent years, would likely unleash the untapped spiritual and economic power of the more than 10,000 non-Anglo majority churches that support Southern Baptist causes through the Cooperative Program.

I simply would not believe that a seminary president, serving in the heart of a city where more than 60 percent of the residents are African American and in the shadow of the great Franklin Avenue Baptist Church where former convention president Fred Luter serves as pastor, would countenance such a thought, let alone utter it.

Then I heard the same report twice more by persons using the exact same language, who were at the exact same meeting, when you are reported to have expressed this opinion. Deuteronomy makes it clear: “One witness is not enough. In the presence of two or three witnesses, a matter is established.”

Now before I ask you a few very direct questions, Dr. Kelley, I want to be candid about my own failings. “We all stumble in many ways,” the Epistle of James teaches. “If any man does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man.”  I confess to you, my brother, that I am not perfect. In fact, I have spoken carelessly on matters of race in the past, and I am capable of doing so again. Outdated modes of thinking, prejudice, and un-Christlike patterns of speech are like Type 1 Diabetes for me. I have to watch my daily diet of thought, and I need a regular injection of God’s Word to help produce in my heart the kinds of affections and attitudes that my sinful flesh does not produce on its own.

But God has been working on me about this for several years now. It is why I committed to helping write and pass resolutions for the Southern Baptist Convention calling for the removal of the Confederate Flag and denouncing white supremacy. It is why I have repented of telling racially insensitive jokes and worked intentionally to cultivate more ethnically diverse social and professional fellowship and collaborations. Truth be told, when I first was called out for my own insensitivities and discriminatory biases, my first defense was to tell people “that’s not what I really think. I was joking.”

But out of the heart the mouth speaks, doesn’t it Dr. Kelley?  I realized I had a speech problem because I had a heart problem. So I want you to know that I am not intending to cause you pain here, or even to spotlight your potentially careless speech with respect to diversity and inclusion in the Southern Baptist Convention.

As you know, there has already been concern that one SBC search committee did not meaningfully engage any ethnic minority in their search for a president of the Executive Committee. Within a week, that committee is expected to nominate Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd as president. Three prominent SBC pastors — including two former convention presidents — publicly addressed their dismay that the process seemed to exclude competent, qualified, and Christ-honoring ethnic minorities. Apparently, “God’s man” is, once again, another white man.

And many of us are sick about it.

Despite this frustrating retread, much progress has been made to effect greater racial diversity in Southern Baptist life. Our convention president, J.D. Greear, has appointed the most diverse committees in Southern Baptist history. The chairman of this year’s resolutions committee, Dr. Curtis Wood, will be leading that important committee. The tellers committee will have a female chairperson this year. All in, Dr. Greear’s appointments to date have laid out a vision for Southern Baptists’ future that resists the temptations toward outdated racial homogeneity and unbiblical biases. These efforts are complemented and reinforced across our convention at nearly every turn.

At Southeastern Seminary, for instance, Dr. Danny Akin has enlisted the help of Dr. Walter Strickland to help realize Kingdom diversity on campus and across that institution’s ministry platforms. Months ago, Dr. Albert Mohler led Southern Seminary to release a much-needed assessment of that institution’s complicated past on race issues, calling for an “honest lament” over past sins and purposing not to “rewrite the past” but rather “write the truth.” At the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Dr. Russell Moore is providing a consistent prophetic witness on issues of racial reconciliation, and calling Southern Baptists to a new horizon of Kingdom focus and multi-racial ministry participation and engagement.

Against that backdrop, I have carefully read recent reports of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, both to the Southern Baptist Convention and to the seminary’s accreditors. This year, New Orleans reported “no change” to the primary race/ethnicity of enrolled students since the previous year. The numbers are telling.

For Fall 2018, NOBTS reported 448 White, Non-Hispanic M.Div students and 55 Black, Non-Hispanic students. There were 12 Black MRE/MCE/MA students in religious education, and 70 White students. There were 10 “Special MA” Black students and 127 White students. For the MPS degree, there were 51 White students and 13 Black students.

At the research degree level, the enrollment numbers were as follows: MA/MAR/MTS (4 Black and 47 White); DMIN (2 Black and 34 White); EdD (1 Black and 10 White); ThM (2 Black and 48 White); PhD (2 Black and 72 White).

Quite simply, Dr. Kelley, these numbers are embarrassing. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary exists in a state with the 2nd highest population of African Americans, adjacent to the state with the highest population (Mississippi). Two other states with the highest African American populations are within the immediate sphere of NOBTS influence (Alabama and Georgia). If ever there were a school that should be reaching, equipping, and deploying the next generation of Black ministers, it is New Orleans.

But that is not what has been happening, according to the seminary’s publicly available accreditation reports. In fact, for every Black student who graduates NOBTS with an M.Div. or D.Min., there are 10 white graduates. And for every Black student graduating with a Th.M. or Ph.D., there are 37 White graduates.

So Dr. Kelley, I ask you two questions very plainly:

  1. Have you stated in any context a concern that the election of an ethnic minority to succeed you as seminary president would harm the seminary’s recruitment or fundraising efforts? If so, will you explain your thinking in this regard or offer some clarification about your meaning?
  2. Do you believe that NOBTS record with respect to the recruitment, training, and graduation of ethnic minority students reflects a commitment to serve the churches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia? If so, how best can Southern Baptists understand this success?

I eagerly anticipate your response, and have prayed today that the Lord will give you great clarity of thought, wisdom of speech, and focus of mind to reassure Southern Baptists that New Orleans Seminary understands its unique ministry opportunity with respect to race relations in the SBC and that you are personally committed to seeing ethnic minorities assume senior executive leadership roles as presidents of our convention’s entities.


Benjamin Cole


Whittaker Chambers Sitting in Committee Hearing

(The following adaptation is excerpted from a letter of Whittaker Chambers to his children, which also serves as the introduction to his 1952 bestselling memoir, Witness.)

But one day, a Southern Baptist pastor really hears their screams. He is going about his routine ministry assignment. He is making the rounds at the local hospital. He is arguing predestination or closed communion or the documentary hypothesis with his fellow pastors at an associational meeting. He is writing his sermons and counseling young couples planning their wedding vows. He is reviewing the packet of materials from the entity where he serves as a trustee in preparation for the coming semi-annual board meeting. Suddenly, there closes in around that pastor a separating silence, and in that silence he hears the screams. He hears them for the first time. For they do not merely reach his mind. They pierce beyond. They pierce to his soul. He says to himself, “Those are not the screams of a child in pain. Those are the screams of a soul in agony.” He hears them for the first time because a soul in extremity has communicated with that which alone can hear it — another human soul.

Why does the pastor ever hear the screams? Because in the end there persists in every minister of the gospel, however he may suppress it, a scrap of soul. The pastor who suffers this singular experience says to himself: ‘What is happening to me? I must be sick.’ If he does not instantly stifle that scrap of soul, he is lost. If he admits for a moment that his entire congregation has within it the most horrible ugliness of the human condition and that he is completely incapable of curing them, he will soon recognize the scream of his own soul.

The denominational apparatchik will sense his weakness, and the protectionists are peculiarly cunning at sensing such weakness. They will humiliate him, degrade him, condemn him, expel him. If it can, the system will destroy him for he has betrayed that alone which justifies its existence — the vision of Almighty Man. He has brushed the only vision that has force against the vision of Almighty Mind. He stands before the fact of God.

Once, I was reading Shakespeare to a small child and I came to that passage in which Macbeth, having murdered Duncan, realizes what he has done to his own soul, and asks if all the water in the world can every wash the blood from his hand? At that line, his whole body twitched and I gave great silent thanks to God. For I knew that if he could as a child feel in his own soul the reverence and awe for life and the world, which is the ultimate meaning of Beethoven and Shakespeare, as man he could never be satisfied with less. I felt a great faith that sooner or later he would understand what I once told him: ‘True wisdom comes from the overcoming of suffering and sin. All true wisdom is therefore touched with sadness.’

1990 ARCHIVES: Mike Huckabee’s “Ten Commendations”

No title provided

On Oct. 30, 1990, Mike Huckabee — then pastor of Beech Street Baptist Church in Texarkana, Ark. — delivered the president’s address at the Arkansas Baptist convention. The message was entitled, “The Ten Commendations.” Huckabee had been elected convention president the previous year.

Having reviewed the message in recent days, we are wondering why the Executive Committee search team has not made any effort to pursue Gov. Huckabee as the next President and CEO in Nashville. Maybe at 63, Huckabee would be considered too old for the position. Nevertheless, the SBC would do well with a little more of Mike Huckabee’s spirit and vision in the mix of leadership.

Below is the full text of Huckabee’s address, as prepared for delivery:

“If ever in my life I have prayed to communicate the right message in the right spirit, it’s today. As much as I love speaking to groups of people, it still scares me to death because I feel such a burden in wanting to say just what the Lord wants me to say. I try to pray like the old preacher who beseeched the Lord by saying, ‘Lord fill my mouth with the right stuff, and nudge me gently when I’ve said enough!”

There’s always the fear of being misunderstood or — even worse — forgetting what you’re to say altogether.

One of the famous lines in the movie Cool Hand Luke is uttered by a brutal prison guard who says, ‘What we have here is a failure to communicate.’ I think that has been one of our greatest problems as Southern Baptists these past few years. We haven’t communicated very well with each other. We’ve said a lot about each other, but not enough to each other. My prayer is to communicate with you and to you in a way that will help us put aside some of the past and genuinely strive to lock arms in Christian brotherhood rather than lock horns in an ungodly and unholy war of words.

I would like to title my message “10 Commandments for Arkansas Baptists.” I recognize that no Baptist can tell another Baptist what to do. Even God has a tough time getting Baptists to do what He wants us to do! I’m not so stupid as to think that I have the right to “tell” you what we have to do in the family of Arkansas Baptists. Ted Turner got into a lot of trouble some time ago by advocating we replace the 10 Commandments with the “10 Voluntary Initiatives.” In light of that, I think it would be best to simply present to you what I call “The 10 Commendations.” My purpose is to propose for your consideration my prayer and hope for Arkansas Baptists.

1. Thou shalt love like a family

The theme of our convention is “Building God’s Family.” My burden is that we have become a fractured family; instead of a ‘family of faith’, we are headed toward becoming a divorced denomination.

These days extraordinary effort is required to keep a marriage together. Good marriages result when each partner strives to respect his spouse instead of suspect his spouse. The goal of a good marriage is to protect one another — not neglect one another. I don’t want my three children to grow up in a broken home, but neither do I want the spiritual children I lead to Jesus to grow up in a disrupted denomination.

The relationship of people within a denomination is akin to that of a family. No two family members agree on everything. We’re different in attitude, personality, interests, and hobbies. We’re not bound together by a mutual affinity for Mexican food; or tennis; or on the hidden meaning of an old movie. What binds a family together is the mutual and yet voluntary choice to act in the best interest of one another, and to trust the motives of others in the family. Unconditional love — the kind Jesus demonstrated on the cross — will hold a family together even through crises and conflicts of daily living. Continue reading “1990 ARCHIVES: Mike Huckabee’s “Ten Commendations””

The SBC Committee on Credentials


The Southern Baptist Convention does not need a confusing constitutional amendment to deal with the issue of sex abuse, and the Executive Committee of the convention is not the appropriate committee to be handling inquiries into the faith and practice of cooperating churches.

It is time to bring the convention’s governing documents current, which includes establishing a permanent Committee on Credentials that is authorized to act on behalf of the entire convention and not just as a workgroup of a subcommittee of the Executive Committee. That process has proven inadequate. But enough blame can be passed around. It’s time for something that works.

Today, we are sharing the following proposed language for consideration by the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, leaders of the Great Commission Council, the convention parliamentarian, and other individuals who have expressed interest in an effective, efficient means of addressing not only the issues of sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches, but other issues that may arise as well.

Southern Baptists, this doesn’t have to be difficult or divisive. We’ve managed to reorganize the entire convention before, and we’ve handled those complexities with clarity and grace. But a rushed process and a stubborn insistence on a poorly-worded constitutional amendment will keep us from doing what is possible — and necessary — to protect innocence in Southern Baptist churches.

Simply put, many state conventions already have permanent standing credentials committees. It has worked at the state and associational level, and would work at the national level. We offer this proposed text as a work-in-progress. Any revision to SBC Bylaws — unlike constitutional amendments — requires a 2/3 vote in a single year. (All proposed edits are in red)

One more thing: It would be prudent for the Executive Committee to consider rescinding the proposed constitutional amendment and taking action along these lines before the convention in Birmingham.

FIRST, the convention needs to amend Bylaw 8 to read something like this:

8. Messenger Credentials, Church Affiliation, and Registration:

A. Each person elected by a church cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention as a messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention shall be registered as a messenger to the Convention upon presentation of proper credentials. Credentials shall be presented by each messenger, in person, at the Convention registration desk and shall be in the following form:

(1) A completed, properly authorized, official Southern Baptist Convention registration document, certifying the messenger’s election in accordance with Article III. Composition, of the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention; but if the messenger does not have the messenger registration document,

(2) A letter from the messenger’s church, signed by the pastor, clerk or moderator of the church, certifying the messenger’s election in accordance with Article III. Composition, of the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention; or

(3) Some other document (which may include a fax, email, or other physical or electronically transmitted document) from the messenger’s church which is deemed reliable by the Credentials Committee or qualifies under guidelines approved by the registration secretary and the Credentials Committee.

Messengers registered in accordance with this section shall constitute the Convention.

B. The Committee on Credentials shall be a standing committee of the Convention responsible for verifying the credentials of prospective messengers, for certifying that churches sending messengers are in friendly cooperation with the Convention in accordance with Article III, for investigating any contention arising out of the enrollment of messengers, and for reporting its findings to the Convention.

C. The Committee on Credentials may at any time initiate an inquiry concerning the faith and practice of cooperating churches. In all instances, the committee shall exercise due diligence with respect to such inquiries and rule upon questions which may arise concerning the credentials of messengers or the status of cooperating churches. Any such ruling may be appealed to the Convention during a business session. Contentions arising on the floor concerning the seating of messengers shall be referred to the committee for consideration, and the committee shall report back to the Convention as soon as possible, but no later than the next annual session. An interim report may be provided to the Executive Committee between annual sessions, provided the report has been published thirty (30) days prior to a regular meeting of the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is authorized to act on the findings of the Credentials Committee. All decisions of the Executive Committee regarding the fellowship of cooperating churches must be ratified by the Convention at the next annual session.

D. The Committee on Credentials will be comprised of twelve (12) members and the registration secretary. As an elected officer of the Convention, the registration secretary will serve as the permanent committee chairperson.

E. The members of the committee when established shall serve for three (3) years with four (4) members appointed each year by the president of the Convention, in consultation with the vice presidents. The appointments shall be announced at least thirty (30) days before the annual session. Members of the committee are limited to two (2) successive terms until as much as one (1) year has elapsed in between terms. The president may appoint replacements to fill committee vacancies. Members who fill vacancies of unexpired terms will be permitted to serve two (2) additional terms. 

F. The registration secretary shall be at the place of the annual meeting at least one (1) day prior to the convening of the first session of the Southern Baptist Convention for the purpose of opening the registration desk and registering messengers. The registration secretary also shall convene the Credentials Committee at least one day prior to the annual meeting and shall assist the committee in reviewing questions concerning messenger credentials. The registration secretary shall report to the Convention the number of registered messengers.

SECOND, the convention needs to amend Bylaw 15 to read:

15. Committee on Nominations:

A.  The Committee on Nominations shall be composed of two (2) members from each qualified state, who shall be elected by the Convention. Nominations for each position shall be made by the Committee on Committees. The Committee on Committees shall make its recommendation of nominees to the Convention in the form of a single motion to elect all those persons it recommends for the Committee on Nominations. The motion may be amended but no messenger shall be allowed to propose more than one (1) person at a time for election. When adopted by the Convention, the motion of the Committee on Committees, as amended, shall constitute the election of the persons named in the motion to the Committee on Nominations. One (1) person nominated to the Committee on Nominations from each state shall be a person not employed full time by (or retired from) a church or denominational entity. Persons nominated to the Committee on Nominations shall have been resident members for at least three (3) years of Southern Baptist churches either geographically within the states or affiliated with the conventions of the states from which they are elected.

B. The Committee on Nominations thus elected shall prepare its report through the year, carefully following the provisions of the Constitution and Bylaws of the Convention and the documents of the respective Convention entities, and shall recommend to the next Convention the following:

(1) Members of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention
(2) Directors/trustees of the boards of the Convention
(3) Trustees of the institutions of the Convention
(4) Trustees of the commissions of the Convention
(5) Members of any standing committees, except where otherwise provided herein.

C. Excluding the president and recording secretary of the Convention, and the president of Woman’s Missionary Union, and unless otherwise specifically permitted or required by these bylaws, no person shall be eligible to be elected or appointed to serve simultaneously on more than one of the boards, institutions, commissions, or committees of the Convention, or as a member of the Executive Committee, and no person shall be elected or appointed to serve on one of these bodies if that person’s spouse has been elected or appointed to serve on one of these bodies for a time which would be simultaneous.

D. The committee shall not recommend a fellow committee member or the member’s spouse or a member of the previous year’s Committee on Committees or the member’s spouse for a first term on an entity.

E. The committee shall recognize the principle that the persons it recommends shall represent the constituency of the Convention, rather than the staff of the entity.

F. No person and no person’s spouse shall be eligible to serve on the board of any one of the above entities (1) from which the person receives, directly or indirectly, any form of payment or financial benefit except for reimbursements for reasonable and authorized expenses incurred in the performance of the duties of a trustee, or, (2) which provides funds for which he/she has a duty of administration. When such conditions become applicable, that person or that person’s spouse shall be considered as having resigned and such vacancy shall be filled in accordance with established Convention procedure.

G. All of the above entities shall include both church or denominational employees and those who are not church or denominational employees. Not more than two-thirds of the members of any of these entities shall be drawn from either category. Where a person was serving as a church or denominational employee at the time of retirement, he/she should be counted as a church or denominational employee after retirement as far as the work of the Committee on Nominations is concerned.

H. Any person elected to serve on any of the boards, institutions, commissions, or the Executive Committee, shall at the time of such election have been continuously a resident member for at least the preceding three (3) years of a church or churches which were in those years in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work, and, where representation is by qualifying states, which were either geographically within the state or affiliated with the convention of the state from which the person is elected. Any person who is a member of one of these entities shall be considered as having resigned when the person ceases to be a resident member of a church either geographically within the state or affiliated with the convention of the state from which he/she has been elected as a representative.

I. No person who has served on the board of an entity or on the Executive Committee shall be eligible to serve on the board of any entity or on the Executive Committee until two years after the conclusion of his or her term of office, except that a person may be re-elected to an authorized successive term or serve by virtue of a separate office.

J. The report of the Committee on Nominations shall be released to Baptist Press no later than 45 days prior to the annual meeting of the Convention and shall be published in the first day’s Bulletin. Persons desiring to amend the report of the Committee on Nominations are encouraged to publicize the nature of their amendment sufficiently in advance of the annual meeting of the Convention to allow information concerning the amendment to be made available to Convention messengers.

K. The Committee on Nominations shall make its recommendation to the Convention in the form of a motion to elect those persons it recommends for specific terms of office. The motion may be amended but no messenger shall be allowed to propose more than one (1) person at a time for election. When adopted by the Convention, the motion of the Committee on Nominations, as amended, shall constitute the election of the persons named in the motion to their respective terms of office.


It’s not too late for the EC to do the right thing…


The Southern Baptist Convention has arrived at a moment that was unforeseen one year ago. Leaderless for twelve months, and seemingly rudderless, the institution charged with acting on behalf of the convention in between annual meetings has devolved into confusion. Consider a few events of recent weeks:

  • Responding to back channel expressions of frustration from a handful of megachurch pastors that SBC President J.D. Greear publicly stated that 10 churches — including Second Baptist in Houston — warranted inquiry into the handlings of sexual abuse claims, the EC Bylaw Workgroup (1) rebuked Greear in a half-baked statement that (2) prematurely exonerated at least one Southern Baptist Church and (3) claimed no authority to undertake the very action they were reporting.
  • At the insistence of EC Chairman Mike Stone and with the blessing of Augie Boto, the Bylaw Workgroup approved a poorly-worded and structurally ill-advised constitutional amendment which, if approved by 2/3 majority of messengers in two consecutive annual meetings, serves to permanently empower the Executive Committee to take actions it is woefully inadequate to perform. If allowed to come to the floor of the convention in June, it is unlikely the amendment will receive the required 2/3 majority vote. (More on that tomorrow)
  • EC leadership — including acting president Augie Boto — communicated with pastors of churches named in the Houston Chronicle stories and, in at least one instance, apologized to the pastor of a church with a confessed child molester serving in a senior ministry position. The pastor of that church has now publicly repented of his actions and asked forgiveness. The executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention has likewise apologized for his hasty statements in support of the church. Meanwhile, no clarifying statement or transparent account of Augie Boto and Mike Stone’s actions have been offered.
  • The Bylaw Workgroup — led by former chairman Ken Alford — cobbled together a preliminary report on ten SBC churches that is now nakedly inaccurate and negligent. Alford resigned — citing his own sensed inability to lead the effort — and now acting Chairman of the Bylaw Workgroup is Mark Ballard, a graduate of the Criswell College who continues to give Paige Patterson a platform and have him lecture at the Northeastern Baptist College, where Ballard serves as president. Additionally, a former Southwestern Seminary professor who was terminated, in part, because of actions that violated the confidentiality of a sex abuse victim, now serves as a trustee of Ballard’s school. (page 80).

Meanwhile, the presidential search team has yet to name their candidate, whom EC Chairman Mike Stone claimed is “God’s man.” Augie Boto has fallen deafly quiet, while officers of the Executive Committee openly question the prudence of the direction taken by Chairman Stone. In short, there is reason for EC members to express disappointment — even anger — that they were asked to act on good faith that the Bylaw Workgroup had done due diligence, only to realize now that hasty and premature actions were recommended for consideration by the convention. Meanwhile, the workgroup was issuing ill-advised statements that further confound efforts to deal effectively with sex abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention.

If Mike Stone were a physician, he could be subject to a malpractice claim. If Augie Boto were a lawyer. . . well never mind. (Keep in mind, Augie has had more than 10 years to develop a plan to deal with scenarios that are now playing out.) Either the EC’s disastrous actions of recent weeks are the intended product of Augie’s 10-year plan — in which case he is incompetent — or there was no plan at all, in which case he is still incompetent. You cannot blame Mike Stone — who was trained as a music minister — for his seeming inability to grasp the problematic consequences of his proposed actions. But Southern Baptists should certainly ask some hard questions about what Augie’s been thinking.

Nevertheless, the convention needs to find a prudent path forward. How may the Executive Committee take action before messengers arrive in Birmingham to foster clarity, certainty, unity, and integrity as the convention grapples with a crisis of its own making? Short of replacing the EC’s senior leadership — including its general counsel — and electing a different board chairman (which it will have opportunity to do in June anyway), what are the options?

Or more simply stated, what can Mike Stone do in the final months of his current chairmanship to restore confidence in the Executive Committee’s actions?  We see three necessary steps:

  1. The Executive Committee Bylaw Workgroup needs a new chairman who was not party to its prior actions. Simply put, no person who signed off on the disastrous “preliminary report” regarding sex abuse should be asked to formulate an action plan going forward. Mark Ballard must not become chairman of the Bylaw Workgroup. Chairman Mike Stone must, as a first action item, name a new chairman of the workgroup. We would support whole heartedly the selection of Robyn Hari of Brentwood, TN, to serve as chairperson of the newly organized workgroup.
  2. The newly-configured workgroup must rescind its preliminary report without prejudice and issue a new, straightforward statement that the Bylaw Workgroup is working with SBC President J.D. Greear and the Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Council to consider all options for effectively and efficiently addressing the issue of sex abuse, including but not limited to appropriate amendments to the SBC’s governing documents. The workgroup must vote to request the full board rescind the current proposal to amend the SBC Constitution that was drafted and promoted by EC Chairman Mike Stone. Augie Boto should recuse himself from all participation in this course of action, and SBC Attorney Jim Guenther — who represents the convention and not just the Executive Committee — should be asked to provide necessary legal counsel.
  3. Once the matters of the constitutional amendment and the preliminary report have been resolved, the Bylaw Workgroup should prepare for consideration by the Executive Committee at its June meeting a bylaw amendment that stands up the SBC Credentials Committee as a permanent, standing committee of the convention. Such an amendment would bring the SBC’s governing documents up-to-date with demands on the committee, expand the committee’s role to address numerous issues affecting convention participation, preclude the need for a two-year vote to amend the SBC constitution, prevent a floor vote that would be framed as a referendum on the Executive Committee’s recent failures, and provide an appropriate mechanism to begin establishing sound, proactive protocols to maintain standards of confessional and ministry integrity among Southern Baptist churches.

In tomorrow’s post, we will explore #3 at length.

Thoughts on Trinity


This morning, our thoughts have turned to Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Ga. Last night, we spent some time looking through the pictures and postings on the church’s Facebook page. There are images of Valentine’s Banquets, food drives, and renovations of their worship space. There are Christmas celebrations, and New Years greetings and postings about an upcoming fish fry.

There are prayer requests for members who have had strokes, and reminders to invite friends to special services. There are calls for workers to help with cleaning out the church refrigerator, and notices about the deaths of longtime church members.

This church — like so many in the Southern Baptist Convention — is probably a place where everyday people who love Jesus have found a fellowship of faith and a gathering of worshippers every Lord’s Day. Most of them have not asked for the national attention they are receiving. Many of them had no idea what was going on. Some of them will probably stay home this morning. Some of them may never return to church again.

Over the next weeks, a remnant of them will come together and try to put back together the pieces of a scandalized ministry. They will probably cry together, and hug one another, and turn their trust toward the Lord. They will covenant together to do everything they can so that their church is a safe place for children. And hopefully, out of the ashes of failure something beautiful can emerge.

Southern Baptists are a broken people. But they are not a bad people.

And when given the chance to do the right thing, more often than not they will try.

Gnashville, Part II


The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, long regarded as a consistent element of stability, decorum, and caution in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, has devolved for the moment into something unruly, erratic, and altogether unprofessional.

The Executive Committee’s general counsel, Augie Boto, is not entirely to blame. He had some help from two Georgia pastors, EC Chairman Mike Stone and Bylaw Workgroup Chairman Ken Alford. Add to the mix a few years of insufficiently vetted appointments, and we have arrived at this moment of imminent ecclesiastic disaster.

Simply put, the present committee is ill-equipped, under-staffed, and — we hate to say it so plainly — too morally-compromised to perform the investigative and oversight functions it has arrogated to itself without convention authorization. Never in the history of the Executive Committee has so foolish an action been taken as hastily as the recent report of the Bylaw Workgroup. Add to that the misguided — not to mention poorly constructed — constitutional amendment that is now headed to the convention floor, and a perfect storm has been set in motion for the annual meeting in June.

Unless, that is,  cooler heads and more sensible members of the committee prevail before messengers start arriving in Birmingham.

Here are a few of the fundamental miscalculations of the Bylaw Workgroup as we see them:

  1. The Bylaw Workgroup has proceeded on a purely pragmatic basis without first establishing a framework that is consistent with historic Baptist ecclesiology and within the ministry assignment authorized by the Southern Baptist Convention.
  2. The Bylaw Workgroup, having established an inadequate framework for its actions, has acted hastily to resolve a crisis of its own making in a way that introduces confusion rather clarity about the Southern Baptist Convention’s determination to prevent sex abuse.
  3. The Bylaw Workgroup, operating on a false narrative of urgency propagated by the current EC Chairman, has been manipulated into an ill-advised action without full examination of the precedence that would inform a more prudent course.
  4. The Bylaw Workgroup, in an explicit determination to preempt the convention in Birmingham, has fallen prey to the most predictable unforced error in Baptist life: don’t attempt to get ahead of the messengers or reduce their options to redress a convention crisis.

So let’s explore each of these.

  1. Either autonomous congregationalism is the New Testament model for church governance, or it is not. But if it is the way Jesus intended to govern his church, then autonomous churches are the best way to protect children, not the worst. It has become readily apparent that the Executive Committee is run by second-rate lawyers and not first-rate theologians. Lawyers are necessary, to be sure. But the Southern Baptist Convention’s identity is first and foremost a confessional organization with a missiological function. It is not a trade association for ambulance chasers or municipal barristers. The Bylaw Workgroup failed the convention this month by seeking legal counsel before it sought theological counsel. That Augie Boto was sitting at the table and not Albert Mohler, for instance, is telling. Moreover, the Executive Committee is neither charged with the responsibility of “investigating” churches and ministers nor “reporting” on their findings apart from explicit convention authorization. You simply cannot have a convention board of trustees approving new job descriptions for themselves, then acting on those new job descriptions in the same meeting, without the approval of the sole member. Imagine what would happen if the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission had, for instance, determined to investigate individual churches and issue public reports about those churches? Ever hear the word “escrow?”
  2. There is no question that ALL the confusion surrounding the SBC’s response to the sex abuse crisis is a result of the Bylaw Workgroup’s foolish actions. For nearly a year, the Sex Abuse Advisory Council convened by J.D. Greear has been working methodically, cautiously, and with determination to formulate a plan of action that respects Baptist ecclesiological commitments, addresses the concerns of victims and victim advocates, and equips churches to do a better job of protecting innocence. In fact, the Executive Committee appropriated convention funds to support the work of this group. Why on earth the Bylaw Workgroup decided that a handful of Executive Committee trustees, acting within the space of a week, were better equipped to frame a response for the convention than the advisory council convened by the elected president of the convention and already drawing on the input and expertise of convention leaders at state and national levels, as well as non-Southern Baptist advisors from the legal and licensed counseling communities, is beyond explanation. Mark our words, if the Executive Committee persists in its present course, they will turn the convention floor in Birmingham into a referendum on their actions. In that referendum, the EC will lose.
  3. We sat in the Bylaw Workgroup meeting before they went into executive session to scold J.D. Greear. On numerous occasions, EC Chairman Mike Stone insisted that action MUST be taken at that meeting because (1) the EC needed to send a message and (2) there would not be time during the June meeting of the committee to recommend a constitutional amendment. On both counts, Mike Stone is either uninformed or purposefully deceptive. On the first count, the message coming out of the EC was already clear after the presentation by J.D. Greear. His ten-point plan had already won support across the convention and from victims and victim advocates. By insisting on his own script, Stone proved unwilling to allow the elected convention president to define the convention response and seemed stubbornly insistent that his own agenda prevail. He is singularly responsible for the clumsy language of the proposed constitutional amendment, and he alone insisted that it be approved concurrent with the release of J.D.’s ten-point plan. During the Bylaw Workgroup meeting, Stone said over and over that the June EC meeting would not have sufficient time to consider a constitutional amendment. He insisted the committee must act during the Feb. 2019 meeting. But Stone has not done his homework; or Augie didn’t do it for him.  In 1992 — the last time the convention considered a constitutional amendment of this nature — the matter was brought to the Bylaw Workgroup by Gen. T.C. Pinckney during the February meeting. The bylaw workgroup did not originally act on Pinckney’s proposed amendment, so the Virginia trustee brought his recommendation to the full committee which, in turn, requested the Bylaw Workgroup to draft language. Then, in the June 1992 meeting, after the workgroup had worked carefully through proposed language, the EC approved the amendment and it went to the convention floor the next day. Stone’s insistence that the EC act in haste to approve his proposed language was not only ham-fisted, it was sloppy both in text and tone. Now the EC is spending countless hours doing damage control that could otherwise have been used to craft appropriate language and consider all options for convention action with plenty of time at the June meeting to get it right. Instead, we are left with more confusion, anger, frustration, and new questions about the Executive Committee’s competence at both the trustee and staff level.
  4. Simply put, a constitutional amendment is not the only option that messengers should consider in Birmingham. And we can guarantee you, dear reader, it is not the only one they will be given a chance to consider.

Stay tuned . . .

ARCHIVES: Boto suggests “no tolerance” policy on sexual abuse is “window dressing.”


The Mar. 1, 2007 edition of the Baylor Lariat contains a published letter to the editor written by the current interim president of the SBC Executive Committee, D. August Boto.  We found a copy in an old briefcase this morning. We reproduce it here unedited, apart from added emphasis.

SBC not conspirator in abuse
By D. August Boto, Alum 1974

I just received your Tuesday editorial titled “Bring all abusers to justice.” The title is good advice indeed. I was a little disappointed to see an editorial of my alma mater accept at face value assertions and questionable solutions suggested by those on only one side of the issue.

In fact, the editorial actually misstated an assertion, making what is thus far an unsubstantiated claim sound even worse.

You said, ‘In the last six months, there have been about 40 complaints of sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches.” If you intended to quote the AP story on the subject, you need to re-read what was reported.

In that story, the claim was made that ‘In the last six months, SNAP (Survivors of Network of those Abused by Priests)  has received reports of about 40 cases of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist ministers — with some of the incidents dating back many years.’ If not crafted to mislead, the statement certainly has that effect.

Sexual abuse of children is a horrible crime and the fact that it occurs in churches at all hugely compounds the shock.

Making hasty judgments about how to prevent or address it helps very little.

A good step would be to make sure suggested solutions are really possible. SNAP highly commended an investigatory review panel used by another denomination and suggested similar action be taken. Add to the fact that Southern Baptists disdain a hierarchical construct and it soon becomes obvious that the idea has little utility for Southern Baptists.

I have yet to understand what’s meant to be accomplished by declaring a ‘no-tolerance’ policy for something every Southern Baptist should have absolutely no tolerance for. While it may have some PR value, we should not be enamored with window dressing.

I appreciate the fact that you are concerned about the problem, but it deserves more thoughtful analysis than most people are giving it. Making the SBC out to be a co-conspirator, as SNAP implies, is completely unjustified.

Please pray for our churches and equip them with quality information. My having read your editorial is proof that you are much more than a campus paper. You are informing a wide readership and even those on campus won’t soon forget things they have read as they assume their occupations and take their places of service and ministry.”