Two weeks ago I placed a call to SBC President J.D. Greear, whom I have known since 1997 when we both attended Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. Through the years, we have had a distant but always cordial and fraternal friendship. Our conversations in those early days were about Scripture, preaching, and at times, the convention.

In the past few years, our conversations (albeit infrequent) have been about sundry SBC kerfuffles. One thing I love about JD (and Veronica) is that even when the stress is high and the issues are controversial and conflicted, he always manages to have a cheerful disposition. You can’t be around him long without realizing he loves people…all kinds of people.

One of the highlights of my denominational engagement was in 2006 when I orchestrated the nomination of California pastor and much-loved SBC rabble-rouser, Rev. Wiley Drake. The speech, if we must admit, was the best that has ever been given. My late friend and one of the early advocates for Guidestone’s Mission Dignity ministry, Dr. Bill Dodson of Kentucky was a great sport and executed the speech flawlessly.

Wiley Drake beat J.D. Greear (and Jay Adkins) on the first ballot, thereafter earning the consternation of the SBC Executive Committee as he routinely mailed letters to political leaders far and wide on letterhead he’d created himself, improperly utilizing the convention’s official logo, of course.

The downside of helping get Wiley elected was that I had to work against my friend, J.D. Greear. He took it in stride, and we’ve shared plenty of laughs about it through the years.

But our phonecall the other day had a more stern tone.

I’d called J.D., against my better judgment perhaps, to let him know what I was planning to do on Tuesday afternoon in Nashville.

SBC Bylaw 10 (On the election of officers and voting) stipulates that only one (1) speech may be given for each nominee to convention office, and that speech may not exceed three (3) minutes.

It was my plan, and was until this morning, to go to the microphone during the first election of officers and make a nomination. It would have gone something like this:

ME: “Mr. President, I am Benjamin Cole, a messenger from Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX. Before I make my nomination, I put a parliamentary inquiry to the chair. SBC Bylaw 10 stipulates that no more than one speech may be given for each nominee, and that speech may not exceed 3 minutes. Do I understand the bylaw correctly?”

JD: “The chair advises the messengers that Bylaw 10 does stipulate exactly that.”

ME: “Thank you, Mr. President. I nominate Mike Stone of Georgia.”

At that point, I would just walk away from the microphone.

The result, of course, would have been that Mike Stone’s preferred nominator would have been legally barred from giving a second speech for Rev. Stone, unless the messengers voted to suspend the rules.

JD laughed for a moment, and then got quiet.

“Ben, what am I supposed to do with that?”

”Your job is to enforce the rules, JD. You’ll have to decide if you are going to do that, or if you’re going to break them.”

”But I don’t think what you have proposed is fair to Mike Stone. I want to ask you NOT to do that.”

”What won’t be fair is when you break the Bylaws to let Mike Stone have two nomination speeches and none of the other candidates to have the same.”

”I’m still going to ask you to stand down,” JD said.

We ended the call, and I went on with my day. A handful of friends have learned in recent weeks that I was planning such a parliamentary hijack. Everyone has laughed.

It then became a running joke. I thought about wearing a MAGA hat, or a Confederate lapel pin. I thought about wearing a face mask that read “Come and Take It” or was emblazoned with the Jolly Rogers.

But early this morning, I decided JD was right.

This election needs to be straight down the middle, fair and square. No monkeying around with the rules, and no abuse of the rules to score a momentary parliamentary advantage.

Messengers arriving at the Music City Center this morning do not know who is going to win the election, or any of the associated ballot votes that will be put to us.

But we can have absolute confidence that JD is going to play it straight. No favoritism. No shenanigans. No funny business.

If my instincts are right (and they usually are), the convention is about to behold the closest thing we’ve seen to Adrian Rogers command of the platform in 1987, 88.

And that, dear readers, is the kind of leader J.D. is. He loves his friends, but he’s not afraid to tell them he thinks they are wrong.

It would have been a CORRECT application of the bylaws to do what I planned, but it would have been an UNCHARITABLE appropriation of the parliamentary rules to do that to Mike Stone.

If he wins today, we hope next year he will be just as fair to others as JD has been to him, even when he had no clue.

The Griffins

I first met Neil and Elizabeth Griffin outside the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City. As I stood at the hotel entrance with my longtime friend, Lollie Cogswell, and her elder sister Louise Brooks, Neil and Elizabeth drove up in a Lincoln Town Car to retrieve us for a Sunday brunch hosted by Judge Paul Pressler at the Cliff Lodge in Snowbird. We piled into the car — Elizabeth insisted on sitting in the back seat with the ladies — and Neil drove the 27 miles where we would meet another messenger (and law school classmate of Judge Pressler), Jack Ingram of Commerce, TX. A young assistant to Judge Pressler, Jay Lifshultz, rode separately with the Presslers and their son, Paul IV.

I learned on the ride to Cliff Lodge that the Griffins were longtime members of Bellevue Baptist Church and close friends of Dr. Adrian Rogers. In fact, the Griffins had lived around the corner from the Rogerses for years. Then in their 70s, the Griffins were childless. But they had cultivated a love for young ministers and a desire to underwrite their ministry preparation that filled the void.

Along the way, Neil told me about his childhood in rural Tennessee, about barefoot days of poverty during the depression. and about entering the hotel business and banking. The Griffins had driven all the way from Memphis to Salt Lake, as they usually did for the annual meeting, so they would have their own car and be able to chauffeur their friends and fellow messengers around the convention host city. Brunch that day was paid for by Jack Ingram, but only after some protest by the Griffins, who were not used to having others pay for their meals.

We rode back to Salt Lake City together to make the Pastor’s Conference.

Before leaving Salt Lake, I exchanged contact information with the Griffins, who invited me to stay at their home any time I was in Memphis. Later that year, while driving back to Texas from Wake Forest, NC for the Christmas holiday, I stopped at the Griffins and attended Bellevue with them on Sunday morning. We went to lunch at a cafeteria not far from their home, and I drove on to Texas.

Two years later, I ran into the Griffins again in Orlando for the SBC annual meeting. That Sunday morning, Neil and Elizabeth drove me to church (my memory tells me it was Aloma Baptist in Winter Park, but it may have been First Baptist) to hear Dr. Adrian Rogers preach. After the service, Neil introduced me to Dr. Rogers, who pulled on my necktie and then bear hugged me.

I was star struck, as most young preachers were when meeting Adrian for the first time. Later that week, after the adoption of the BFM2k, I sat in the lounge on one of the top floors of the Rosen Hotel with my friend Bruce Ashford watching news coverage of the day’s events. After a few minutes, we realized someone was standing behind us.

It was Adrian Rogers.

So there we sat, with Adrian standing behind us, watching Al Mohler explain what Baptists had done earlier that day to a world that never seems to understand the complexities and, in fact, beauty of Southern Baptist polity.

The 2000 convention ended, and I went back to Wake Forest later that summer. (I had briefly attended SWBTS in 1999-2000 while serving as interim pastor of a small church in North Texas). Along the way, again, I stopped at the Griffins house for the night.

Early the next morning, after coffee, I was preparing to pack up my car and continue the journey to Wake Forest when Neil asked me to wait a few more moments. He ventured downstairs to the basement, and after a few moments he slowly climbed the stairs to meet me in the entryway to their home. He handed me an envelope, his eyes filling with tears.

Inside that envelope was a check made out to Southeastern Seminary for $1000.00. Choking through his tears, Neil told me he and Elizabeth wanted to help pay for my seminary education. I cried a little with him, we hugged, and I drove to Wake Forest to finish my M.Div.

That was the first of several $1000.00 checks the Griffins wrote to help cover the costs of my seminary education. When I graduated from Southeastern in Dec. 2002, they sent me a card with a $100.00 bill.

Over the years, we corresponded back and forth and would see each other at annual meetings. When Adrian died, I called Neil and Elizabeth to express my condolences. Neil died in 2007, and I wrote Elizabeth a note expressing my thanks for how Neil and she had invested in my life.

I didn’t see Elizabeth again until the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando. One afternoon, Elizabeth and I found each other standing at the bank of elevators. We got on the elevator together and started to ride up.

It was a little tense. I knew she was upset with me.

“Ben, you know Dr. Rogers would not approve of what you’re doing to Paige.”

“Mrs. Griffin, I don’t think he’d approve of what Paige is doing to the convention either.”

I told her I loved her, and that I would never forget how kind and generous she and Neil had been to me through the years. I gave her a hug and we went our separate ways. I never saw Elizabeth again after that.

Last summer, I received an assortment of photos that appeared to have been taken from surveillance videos. They showed Elizabeth, thin and frail with a walker, being escorted into a law office by Dorothy Patterson, bent over and bloated with a cane. They showed Dorothy being chauffeured around Memphis in a white BMW. They showed them at Mid-America Seminary with Paige Patterson and his aide-de-camp, Scott Colter. And they showed them at an executive terminal in Memphis as they prepared to board a private jet. A note accompanying the photos asked questions about why the Pattersons — at the height of COVID closures — were taking a private jet to meet with Elizabeth Griffin and her lawyers.

My instincts told me what was up. They were working on another old woman to get a piece of her estate, just like they had years before in Dallas and countless times in between. It made me sick. It made me angry.

The Griffins had been supporting SEBTS for years, beginning with the trustee service of their pastor, Dr. Rogers. They had supported SWBTS, Mid-America, and countless other ministries and ministry students through the years. But now Elizabeth was in poor health, into her 90s, and living in an assisted living facility in Germantown.

When I got those pictures, I thought of writing Elizabeth again and telling her what the Pattersons were up to, how they’d hollowed out SWBTS, defunded faculty retirement and health benefits, purchased fake Dead Sea Scrolls for millions, mishandled sexual abuse, misappropriated institutional funds, absconded with valuable seminary property, and the list goes on.

But I decided the last thing a dying old woman needed was the burden of all those facts. I determined then to simply pray for her, and that God would in good time reveal the truth about the Pattersonian penchant for bilking little old ladies.

Today, the estate of Elizabeth Griffin is still in probate. I do not know how she resolved to modify her testamentary gifts to Southeastern, Southwestern, or other ministries she and Neil had supported through the years. But this I do know.

Neil and Elizabeth Griffin were the best kind of Christian laypeople. They were honest, faithful, and generous. I also know this:

They were determined to use their money to underwrite the legacy of Adrian Rogers. That is why they gave to SEBTS. It’s why they gave to SWBTS. It’s why they gave to Mid-America.

As for the Sandy Creek Foundation?

There doesn’t seem to be anything about that organization that represents the character, vision, and commitments of the greatest preacher Southern Baptists have ever known.