|Dear Trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and the Churches and Baptist Bodies of our Convention Family,|
When I arrived in Nashville to serve the Lord and our Baptist Family on Monday, May, 20, 2019, I did so with a strong vision and passion to inspire a renewed sense of cooperation, all for the sake of reaching a world that was, and is now, in desperate need of knowing Jesus Christ.
On the day this calling was extended to me, I stated the following to the members of the Executive Committee:
We are a mission-driven network of churches that voluntarily cooperate together to reach the world for Christ. We cannot be driven by policy, but we are driven by our mission…the Great Commission of Jesus Christ! Policy is one of our important tasks on this committee, but policy serves our mission; mission does not serve our policy.
I stated then and now I say again: I will filter all decision-making and leadership of the Executive Committee with this compelling vision and passionate obsession of reaching the world for Christ.
When I came to the Executive Committee in 2019, there was a cloud of concern relating to sexual abuse across the Southern Baptist Convention. Even before I arrived, I gave many hours to working with others on how to address these matters through our SBC Constitution and Bylaws. Once I was here, these things were able to be brought to completion and then adopted by our 2019 SBC in Birmingham and reaffirmed in our 2021 SBC in Nashville. While the decision related to an additional SBC standing committee being created and then called The Credentials Committee, was accomplished in 2019, the constitutional amendments were voted on and affirmed in 2021. I believe if we had been able to meet to together in 2020, we would have continued to make more progress together.
While I knew this was only a beginning in our response to the sexual abuse crisis, each were significant actions. Without question, there was a resolve among our Convention to address these matters and do so effectively.
In June 2021 at the SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, messengers spoke loudly and clearly by asking the newly-elected President to appoint a task force who would hire a third-party independent firm to do a thorough investigation and review of the actions and deliberations of the SBC Executive Committee members and staff all the way back to the year 2000.
The SBC Executive Committee fully welcomes this review. The debate has not been about conducting this review. We want this review to be thorough, fair, and reveal the truth. We have nothing to hide, and if something is discovered that we are not already aware of, it is past time for it to be discovered and handled in a more appropriate manner. Anything discovered needs to be revealed, repented of, and addressed in every way possible. Our team is ready to work with this firm and has been making preparations since the week following the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting.
Since September 9, 2021, when the Sexual Abuse Task Force released its desires through this firm, Guidepost Solutions, we have been evaluating everything related to the fiduciary responsibilities also given to us by the Southern Baptist Convention. Again, the debate has not been about the need for the investigation. We welcome it. The adopted motion by our Convention has placed us in a tension unknown to anyone in modern SBC history because of the additional responsibilities with which we are already tasked.
As President of the SBC Executive Committee, I do not have a vote in these matters. The eighty-six trustees of the SBC Executive Committee do, and have deliberated and tried to come to agreement on the best path forward.
The request of the Task Force was delivered on September 9, and a complex contract requiring much review was received by the Board of Trustees a few days prior to our meeting. Through our SBC Executive Committee meetings on September 20-21 and a five-hour virtual meeting this past Tuesday, September 28, the final decision on the best path forward has not been reached. It was decided to resolve this by the end of day on Tuesday, October 5, and I left the meeting with a glimmer of hope that we can find a way to come together.
To my knowledge, no one is trying to defy the will of the messengers, rather to prayerfully and carefully fulfill the will of the messengers.
As I have watched all of this unfold, it has been difficult and challenging to say the least. My appeal to all Southern Baptists is to see the real dilemma before our Committee. They are trying to wrestle with accomplishing this process in the right way as they weigh their duty as trustees to conduct the business in a manner which does not bring harm to either the entity they serve or the SBC they serve.
Yet, they do not do this in a vacuum. They each have a real passion to be sensitive to the survivors of sexual abuse and provide each of them the assurance, confidence, and care they deserve from us. Additionally, each of our members want to do all they can to guard against any further incidents of sexual abuse.
Yesterday, Dr. Morris Chapman, former President and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee for eighteen years, released a letter of appeal to all of us. His words of appeal captivated me when I read them again early this morning. He stated:
“For nearly 100 years, the Convention has entrusted to its Executive Committee the authority to act on behalf of the messengers ad interim. If the Cooperative Program and the Convention are to survive the present challenges, the Executive Committee must prioritize every effort that maintains the sacred trust of the churches and their messengers.”
I say, Amen.
What is the path forward? I appeal to each of us: To the members of the Executive Committee, it is time to finish this debate and give this Convention the confidence and assurance it needs regarding these matters.
To the members of the Task Force and to Guidepost, please help us not only fulfill the desires of our SBC Family, but fulfill these desires in the most prudent manner for our entire Convention, bringing all of us together as we share the future before us.
To the Task Force, Guidepost, and to the members of the Executive Committee, for the sake of our Convention and its mission around the world, I urge you to cooperate and find a way forward together.
To the entire SBC Family, for the sake of our Great Commission work, I appeal to all of us in the following manner as stated by the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of God’s Spirit in Ephesians 4:3, “Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The final goal in all of this is to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ our Lord. We have no other choice. This is our mission. The Great Commission of Jesus and the Great Commandment of Jesus do not compete with one another. They are each the will of God. It is time for us to move forward, living these out daily.
One of the hard lessons I have learned in recent days is I cannot make people believe me. But God knows my heart, the hearts of our trustees, Task Force, Guidepost, and our Southern Baptist Convention. From my vantage point, everyone, however they voted or whatever they believe, is trying hard to do the right thing.
I have been broken before the Lord in repentance during these days, crying out to Him for a breakthrough. I have shared my brokenness with others about where we find ourselves as a spiritual family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. These days have been filled with high emotion and passionate beliefss. Please resolve with me to move forward together, “And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” Ephesians 4:32.
Baptist leader, Dr. Paul Chitwood, who is also our President of the International Mission Board, stated to their Board of Trustees yesterday these words in his address: “We cannot slow down. We cannot be distracted. We cannot be divided. We must not be deterred. The vision of heaven is not yet fulfilled. The nations are waiting. We still have work to do.”
Again, I say, Amen.
Like almost all of you, I do not have a vote on the Board of Trustees, but I do have a vote in heaven from my knees. I am praying to the God of Heaven to perform a miracle that will bring us all together.
The time is now. Let’s go forward together.