On May 1st, the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee held a vote to confirm Jared Wellman as their next president. He failed to get enough votes. This development was unexpected, to say the least. But it serves as an example of just how bad faction warfare has gotten in this denomination.
Recently, I showed you the drama around the selection of a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leadership role: the President and CEO of their top-ranked Executive Committee (EC). Previous Chairman Jared Wellman had thrown his hat into the ring. But in a stunning upset, he failed to get enough votes from their larger voting committee to win the position. The beleaguered denomination still has no official president for its EC. Here’s what their vote failure means for the denomination’s near future.
Captain Cassidy’s guide to Southern Baptist faction warfare
More and more, Southern Baptists align themselves into two opposing factions. They haven’t ever formally named either faction, so I’ve helped them out by doing so:
The Old Guard: Staunch traditionalists and deeply-politicized ultraconservative culture warriors who think the SBC’s last schism, the Conservative Resurgence, didn’t go nearly far enough. They use calls to focus more on evangelism (recruitment) as a dogwhistle indicating that they don’t want to do anything at all about the denomination’s current twin crises of racism and sex abuse. An extremist sub-faction has nearly taken over the whole thing.
Pretend Progressives: They understand that the denomination’s voting members want to see progress made regarding those two crises. They’re still traditionalist warriors who differ barely a degree from their enemies’ viewpoints. In no universe could anyone reasonable even call them moderates. But they at least make noises about wanting to resolve those crises. After several years, they’ve finally begun making some, well, progress with sex abuse. Every step they take, however, is taken over the kicking and screaming of the Old Guard.
A Southern Baptist shoo-in who fails to, well, shoo in
The Executive Committee (EC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) contains two distinct entities.
One consists of the main officers of the EC and their paid staff. This end handles the denomination’s day-to-day business, their main regularly-updated websites like Baptist Press, and their publications, like the Book of Reports that goes into their Annual Report every year. They also set yearly budgets for a number of SBC entities, like their seminaries.
Many EC officers hail from Southern Baptist pulpits across America. No women serve as main officers. However, the EC does employ some women as paid staffers. Until very recently, Presidents and Chairmen alike have generally been white.
The other part of the EC is a large voting committee of about 80 trustees. These people can be ministers or laypeople, men or women. They get together to vote on larger issues—like the election of officers and how the SBC will handle denominational investigations. This larger committee’s members can also raise motions in EC meetings that govern how the EC will operate.
And somehow, the EC just failed to elect a nominee for their presidency who was an absolute shoo-in.
How the EC presidency opened and why it’s still open
The last EC President and CEO was Ronnie Floyd. Elected to the presidency in 2019, he’s a leading member of the SBC’s ultraconservative traditionalist faction, which I’ve dubbed the Old Guard. In October 2021 and along with the SBC’s then-law firm and other SBC leaders, Floyd quit his position.
In June 2021, Floyd initially hired Guidepost Solutions, a secular firm, to investigate the EC’s role in the Southern Baptist sex abuse crisis. But the way he hired them, he had the transparent intention of stonewalling its investigation and chaining it to the EC’s control. However, these attempts backfired on him hard. All kinds of people complained about how sketchy this arrangement looked.
Soon enough, the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Task Force took over the investigation by asking Guidepost Solutions to make a full and independent investigation of sex abuse in the ranks of SBC ministers. In October 2021, the EC committee trustees also successfully voted to waive attorney-client privilege for their officers, meaning that Guidepost would have full access to all EC records and testimony.
So Floyd quit rather than deal with that kind of investigation.
Since Floyd’s departure, the EC has not filled the role except on an interim basis. (Willie McLaurin is their interim president.) In February 2022, they appointed a search team to work on finding his replacement.
Jared Wellman doesn’t come out of nowhere here
In 2015, Texas pastor Jared Wellman began serving on the trustee committee. Very quickly, he gained a reputation for proper and zealous Jesus-ing. In fact, it was Wellman credited with raising the motion to waive attorney-client privilege in the first place.
In June 2022, the EC voted for Wellman to become their newest Chairman.
Then, in mid-April this year, Wellman entered the running for the vacated position of EC President. To prepare for his new hoped-for role, Wellman even warned his church about the near-certain probability of him leaving soon to become the EC’s next president. He also vacated his position as Chairman of the EC.
(In accordance with
prophecy EC rules, the EC’s vice-chairman, David Sons, moved up and into the chairman role. Back in February 2022, the EC had earlier named Sons to serve on the official presidential search team.)
On May 1st, the EC’s leaders held a big special meeting in Dallas to vote for their next president. Wellman was their only named candidate. That’s perfectly normal, according to section 6.5.2 of their bylaws. According to that same paragraph, he only needed “a majority of votes of trustees present.”
And that vote declined to accept the nominee by 50-31.
That means Wellman won’t be president. It also means he’s still resigned from his other EC positions. In addition, the EC had to appoint a new search committee to start the nomination process all over again.
Cue the Southern Baptist infighting
I wasn’t the only person who fully expected Wellman to cakewalk his way to the presidency role in that meeting. Baptist News Global (which is not affiliated with the SBC) declared that vote result “one of the most unusual events in Southern Baptist Convention history.” Christian Post called it “an unexpected outcome.” And The Baptist Paper quotes some trustees who described the meeting “a hot mess.”
Some of the Old Guard faction came out guns blazing, though. One of them, Rod D. Martin, tweeted a vicious accusation at Wellman. Someone tweeted that they were sad that a Black man hadn’t gotten nominated, but they said that wasn’t Wellman’s fault. To Martin, it most certainly was:
Well actually, Jared [Wellman] pretty much picked the committee, served for months on the committee, and then got the committee to pick him. So yeah: it IS pretty much his fault.Martin’s tweet, quoted in Baptist News Global
It’s worth noting that Martin’s not only an Old Guard extremist, but also an ex-EC trustee. Back in October 2021, he resigned from the EC right before Ronnie Floyd did. And he resigned, like Floyd soon did too, over waiving attorney-client privilege.
Incidentally, Martin’s extremely pious and super-Jesus-y concern at the time—expressed on the record and in his out-loud voice—was that the EC might lose their lawsuit insurance forever if Guidepost found out too much about the EC’s role in the denomination’s sex abuse scandal. And without that insurance, he oh-so-innocently wondered, how oh how would the SBC pay out all of those abuse claimants?
(WWJD? Apparently, Jesus would rationalize concealing major information about his own committee’s role in his denomination’s decades-long tradition of shielding sex abusers.)
And this absolutely stunning slapdown
Martin had made one hell of an accusation, considering Wellman wasn’t even the EC Chairman until four months after the search team was formed. He was just a trustee at that point. Officially, what he alleges wasn’t possible. It’s objectively false. Wellman couldn’t have “picked the committee.”
But Martin has hated Wellman for years.
Benjamin Cole, who writes about Southern Baptists doings as “Baptist Blogger,” called the accusation “a damn lie” and invited Martin to show his evidence for it, or at least chat with Cole about where he got these ideas. Martin did nothing of the sort for what are likely obvious reasons.
Then, Mike Stone stepped in. He’s the current unofficial leader of the most extremist Old Guard sub-faction. He’s also Martin’s superior over at their main clubhouse, the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN). It’s clear that Martin thought his tribe would approve of his accusation, since Stone has also criticized Wellman in the past.
However, Stone’s response slapped his lackey into next year:
The @SBCExecComm search team that presented Bro Jared was elected months before he was elected chairman. Whatever process issues existed, Jared selecting his own team wasn’t one of them.Mike Stone, quoted in Baptist News Global
That “Bro Jared” was the heavy gold ring on the hand that backhanded Martin. “Brother/Sister Firstname” is evangelical Christianese for a member in good standing of the Jesus club.
I felt the sting of Stone’s slap all the way over here.
But Southern Baptist observers did have some deep concerns over Wellman as the nominee
When I saw Mike Stone’s response, I got very curious about Wellman as a nominee—and the EC’s current presidential search as a whole. It’s clear that the Old Guard had gotten some ideas in their heads about impropriety.
But Wellman, as a candidate, had no real scandals in his past. As I’ve mentioned, he talks the Jesus talk extremely well. He also seems well-thought-of by many Southern Baptist observers. Even extremist Old Guard leaders have nothing bad to say about him.
But the Pretend Progressives might just have overplayed their hand. There are, indeed, some deep concerns about Wellman’s path to the presidency. Though they primarily get discussed in Southern Baptist Old Guard-controlled spaces, they might have aroused enough sympathy to stymie Wellman’s election.
One such space, Baptist and Reflector, described those concerns a couple of days before the vote:
- The search team declined to nominate Willie McLaurin. By all accounts, he has performed well as interim president. Moreover, the search team’s chair, Adron Robinson, asserted in February that McLaurin was still “a viable candidate” for the nomination. McLaurin also has way more experience and qualifications to lead than Wellman does.
- Apparently, Wellman recused himself from being an ex officio member of the search team right after that statement. (Remember, Wellman served as the EC Chairman at that point. The Chairman, along with the President, is an ex officio member of a lot of EC subcommittees and teams.)
- For weeks, nobody told the EC trustees about the recusal.
- It’s weird that Wellman resigned his chairman position two weeks before the presidency vote.
- It’s also weird that Baptist Press, the official SBC site and an EC duty, didn’t report that resignation at the time. Nor has the site reported much of anything else related to the search for a new EC president.
As far as I can tell, all of these statements are factually true.
For whatever it’s worth, I know Wellman explained some of the lack of official Southern Baptist reporting. He said he wanted his church to hear about this stuff from him first. It’s still weird.
Was this nomination process driven at least in part by Southern Baptist racism?
Baptist and Reflector expressed the hope that Wellman’s nomination wasn’t racially motivated, since McLaurin is Black. I share that hope. So do a lot of Black Southern Baptist leaders. A.B. Vines, who was elected to the vice presidency of the SBC itself a few years back, echoed that particular concern. (By the way, an Old Guard big name, Johnny Hunt, nominated Vines for that role.)
Dwight McKissic, a Pretend Progressive who unfortunately wants real progress, clearly attributes the situation to racism. As we’ve seen elsewhere, he expressed no concerns about Wellman himself. However, he lamented that a Black man would never “be elected as an entity head. It’s simply counter culture to SBC DNA.”
Baptist and Reflector concludes that some “Inner Ring” network arranged Wellman’s nomination. They also suspect that it occurred sometime after Robinson’s statement in February.
Both concerns (racism and an “inner ring” network) are entirely possible. In my opinion, Southern Baptist leaders tend to do a lot of backroom dealing. These leaders, like those in many other evangelical flavors, also rely heavily on internal networking. And they are extremely clique-y. We don’t know that Wellman’s nomination (and/or McLaurin’s passing-over) was crony-driven or part of a backroom deal, but anyone would be completely safe in suspecting it.
However, anyone can assert with confidence that white Southern Baptist leaders are racist af. If the question is was this SBC action or decision motivated by personal if not deep systemic racism, the answer will be probably—if not a solid yes.
(No wonder the Old Guard fights so hard against critical race theory!)
This vote has only divided Southern Baptists further
In dysfunctional authoritarian groups, tribalistic factions form very easily. They also don’t need much of an excuse to fight with each other. So it’s not like these two Southern Baptist factions needed a reason like Wellman’s nomination or the vote failure.
The Old Guard recognizes Wellman as an enemy—a Pretend Progressive. That appears their main reason for not wanting him to be the EC’s president. They simply want an Old Guard guy in the spot. (Similarly, it was clearly their main motivation in wanting previous SBC president Ed Litton to resign.)
The Pretend Progressives like to act like they’re completely above all this silly faction warfare, but they’re not. In 2020, Jared Wellman had some thoughts about CBN. In January 2023, Joel Rainey (a pastor with some distressingly-common opinions about pastoral sex scandals) seriously proposed that churches led by CBN members be kicked out of the SBC.
Of course, the Old Guard took Rainey’s proposal as an invitation to take their gloves off. In a burst of pious Christian unity and brotherly love, they even called Rainey “a demented liar” who “ranted” about them. (Similarly, they’re fond of calling Pretend Progressives “leftists,” “woke,” “snowflakes,” and “Democrats.” WWJD? Blatantly lie about his tribalistic enemies, clearly.)
The Old Guard has been aware for years that the Pretend Progressives are on the upswing. But as hard as they’re pushing for schism, they are completely unwilling to leave the SBC just yet. If their enemies think they can just shove them out the door or squeeze them out of the ring, then they’ve got another think coming. In fact, the Old Guard has eleven billion dollar-bill-sized reasons a year to keep fighting for control of this huge denomination.