“Is the Pope Catholic?” The ironic humor behind this expression is intended to convey the kind of certainty that is beyond all question. We could even travel a rung or two down the hierarchy and pose: “Are the Cardinals and Bishops Catholic?” Obviously, we would anticipate the same answer—unless we were Southern Baptists.
“Are Southern Baptist leaders Southern Baptist?” No, they are not. Not always. Not anymore. Not on the day they are hired—although presumably, most of them become Southern Baptists once they are hired to lead us. One might even view such a conversion to Southern Baptist life as an expression of gratitude for the paycheck.
Historically, it was indeed the case that vacancies in Southern Baptist leadership would be filled from among a pool of candidates who were already Southern Baptists on the day they were hired. This is the normal pattern within other religious groups. As nearly as I can tell, when Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses select their leaders, they choose from among candidates who are already part of their faith organizations.
While it is no longer true that Southern Baptists always choose Southern Baptists to lead us, I believe that we should—in the same way that a nation’s Presidential candidate should already be a citizen or a prospective team captain should already be a team member.
Evidence of this new hiring pattern whereby Southern Baptists select executives from outside our denomination can be found within at least four of our entities.
1. Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
On September 11, 2013, Trustees of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention approved President Russell Moore’s appointment of five new staff members—Phillip Bethancourt, Joe Carter, Daniel Darling, Trillia Newbell and Daniel Patterson. Three of these new hires were not actively involved in a Southern Baptist Church on the date of their hire. Carter was active in a non-denominational church in Ashburn, Virginia. Darling was the Pastor of the Gages Lake Bible Church in Gages Lake, Illinois, which is not Southern Baptist. Newbell was active in the Cornerstone Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, which is affiliated with the Sovereign Grace family of churches.
By way of disclaimer, I am in no way impugning these individuals on any type of personal or professional basis. I have no reason to doubt their character or competence. Presumably, Carter would be a terrific employee in a non-denominational parachurch organization. Darling would be a competent servant in the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA). Newbell would make outstanding contributions within the Sovereign Grace denomination. My major concern is that they were not Southern Baptists on their hire date.
Incidentally, while only 40% of Moore’s first five hires were Southern Baptists, 100% were Gospel Coalitionists—actively involved in this Calvinist-only organization which recently posted articles supporting Hillary Clinton for President. Regrettably, membership in the Gospel Coalition appeared to be a greater hiring consideration than membership in the Southern Baptist Convention. ERLC executives and trustees would do well to remember that the name of our organization is not the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Gospel Coalition.
2. North American Mission Board
In the spring of 2015, NAMB’s Vice President of Mobilization, Aaron Coe, resigned from his position as a Southern Baptist executive—a decision entirely appropriate since he was no longer a Southern Baptist. For a period of time, Coe had been actively serving on the ministry staff of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia, a non-Southern Baptist congregation. Take a moment to let that marinate. On most Sunday mornings, the person Southern Baptists had hired to lead our church planting efforts was actively involved in planting a church not even affiliated with Southern Baptists. Perhaps it would have stung even more if Coe had been serving a Methodist or Lutheran congregation. Still, by planting a non-denominational church while being paid to plant Southern Baptist churches, Coe created a conflict of interest to which NAMB eventually put a stop. However, it is interesting to note that for almost a year, Coe continued to draw a paycheck, simply transitioning his role from NAMB employee to outside consultant.
3. International Mission Board
In late 2015, the International Mission Board was preparing for an organizational reset driven by financial realities. The aim was to reduce the payroll burden by at least 600 employees. As things turned out, the number of employees actually removed from the payroll was 1,132—almost double the original estimate.
To accomplish this reduction in force, IMB President David Platt brought in three IMB outsiders. One of these, Lukas Naugle, is a rebranding consultant and founder of Changegoat, a term meaning, “someone or something that bears the change for others” and whose stated agenda is to “humanely kill and dispose of the status quo.” Naugle previously served two Calvinist organizations—The Gospel Coalition (see ERLC above) and Desiring God, the ministry organization of John Piper.
At the time Naugle was hired to help Southern Baptists remove hundreds of missionaries from the field, he was a member of Redemption Church in Phoenix, Arizona, a non-Southern Baptist Church affiliated with The Gospel Coalition and the Acts 29 Network, both of which are Calvinist only organizations. Southern Baptists deserve to know that the point man brought in by David Platt to accomplish the recalling of a thousand Southern Baptist missionaries was not even a Southern Baptist himself.
Additionally, IMB eliminated its entire stateside communications staff, indicating that part of their work would now be outsourced to “trusted ministry partners.” Sources indicate that these partners include The A Group, the Brentwood, Tennessee, organization that marketed David Platt’s book, Radical. The President of The A Group, Maurelio Amorim, is a non-Southern Baptist elder at a non-denominational church.
4. LifeWay Christian Resources
To list the number of non-Southern Baptists selected to lead LifeWay sponsored FUGE youth camps as preachers and worship leaders in recent years would be a truly formidable task beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, when we send our youth to camp, they may or may not be led by Southern Baptist ministers and musicians.
In September 2013, LifeWay hired Barnabas Piper to serve as a Content Marketing Strategist and Brand Manager for Leadership Development. Piper was not raised as a Southern Baptist. On August 12, 2011, he wrote an article in which he stated, “I am a baptistic guy attending a Presbyterian Church.” At the risk of being redundant, please allow me to underscore the fact that the official name of Piper’s employer is LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Since our organizations and entities are Southern Baptist, it follows very logically that our leaders should be Southern Baptist too. They should not only be willing to become Southern Baptist, but they should actually already be Southern Baptist when we select them. One must follow the herd before one earns the right to lead the pack. “Is the Pope Catholic?” Yes, of course he is. “Are Southern Baptist leaders Southern Baptist?” Unfortunately, that is a much harder question to answer.
Transparency Agenda Survey Results
In a recent poll of SBC Today readers, we asked Southern Baptists to indicate if they “approved” or “disapproved” of the idea that we “Fill Southern Baptist executive vacancies with Southern Baptists.” With 233 respondents, 78.97% approved of such an action, while 21.03% disapproved.
This article addresses Item Six of the Ten Item Transparency Agenda. You may READ the Transparency Agenda or COMPLETE the survey yourself. To read the articles reporting results from the other survey items, see the links below: