Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors – Proverbs 1:19
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death. – Proverbs 21:6
The wisdom of scripture always seems to bare itself out. Over the last few days, I have had a chance to digest the Guidepost report, read responses from the leaders within the SBC, and read a number of online commentaries from pastors and critics. I have transitioned from outrage to disgust, to anger, and finally, problem-solving mode.
Which lands me here.
Many of you would ask why my take would matter. Fair question. For all you know, I am some keyboard warrior who has no understanding of the Southern Baptist Convention. You would be wrong.
Every church I have attended has been an SBC church. That is until the last couple of years. I am still somewhat affiliated with an SBC church despite not attending.
I received all of my post-graduate degrees from Southern Baptist institutions. I have an MBA from Liberty University with an emphasis in leadership. I have an MDiv from Luther Rice Seminary with an emphasis in Pastoral Leadership. I have my Doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with an emphasis in leadership. My dissertation was on organizational change. I was ordained through an SBC church. I was on the board of an SBC college, and I served as the COO of that same SBC college.
My educational and professional background puts me in a position to review organizational culture, identify core problems, offer solutions and execute them. My spiritual gift, without any doubt, is administration. I embrace that, love it, and am thankful to God every day that he created my mind to work the way it does. I do not say this to gloat or brag, though those that know me know I do that.
I say these things so you understand that I am not a fly-by-night, back seat driver here. I have been in the SBC arena. I am not the “young lord who but for the vile guns would have been a valiant soldier.”
My review of this report is twofold. First, I believe the root problem was missed by the Guidepost report. Second, while its recommendations are excellent procedural changes, they do not fix the root problem. This post will walk through the root core of the problem. The next several posts will be my professional recommendations to the SBC to solve these problems.
For those who are only familiar with the recent headline, the Guidepost report on sexual abuse dates back to a Houston Chronicle report in 2019. SBC President J.D. Greear spoke at the 2019 convention about sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. The response from the power brokers in the convention was not positive. When I say those in the Convention, I am not talking about the SBC pastor in Liberty, Missouri who just leads his church. I am talking about those who currently hold or aspire to hold positions through committees within the Convention; the ones playing in the game or on the sideline waiting to get in the game. While the public face of the SBC was silent on the Chronicle report, the SBC convention was going into overdrive eating its own. They were targeting J.D. Greear and Russell Moore. Both of whom had intimate knowledge of the sexual abuse scandal. In 2021, the messengers took matters into their own hands and voted on a resolution to have the matter investigated. There was some back and forth between the Executive Committee on attorney-client privileges. Ultimately, a task force was created, and Guidepost was hired.
If there is one thing you should know about the SBC it is their Borg-like mentality. They present a facade of sola scriptura, sola fide and gospel above all. The reality is that their loyalties lie solely with the Convention. They see it as the means to advance God and that there are no other means. A threat to the organization is a threat to the advancement of Christ. My personal experience with national and state convention types has shown that, moderate questions of efficiency and improving aspects of some organizations are seen as threats. Those of us in the business world know that these saboteurs aim to protect the organization for their own benefit and to secure their own fiefdom.
This Borg-like mentality is bred into anyone who becomes part of the SBC. It is almost Scientology like. SBC seminaries have mandatory classes on the “awesomeness” that is the SBC for new students on its campus. The attitude is pervasive from the President of the Convention down to the state directors, most of whom served at the national convention in some way.
The SBC also suffers from the same issues that our government suffers from. Like our government, the SBC, instead of turning over staff or removing those that have done wrong, just promotes them or provides lateral moves. It is how a former President of the SBC becomes the President of one of its seminaries. It is how Vice Presidents become State Directors. It is how former Presidents become the head of NAMB or the head of the ERLC. It is how a student at Southern can become the President of Southern in three years.
Those that are in power never go away.
Those that are currently circling the power structure of the SBC are all related to the conservative resurgence.
In fact, three of the names mentioned in the report, Paul Pressler, Paige Patterson, and Al Mohler, were all fathers of the conservative resurgence. Except it wasn’t a resurgence. It was a well-orchestrated political takeover of the Convention with Pressler, Patterson, and Mohler at the helm. The tactics used were done in an “ends justify the means” manner.
This is important because an organizational culture built and defined by specific behaviors and actions will characterize that organization. How Patterson, Pressler, and Mohler accomplished their takeover was harsh in their own description. Consider this quote from Paige Patterson, “I confess that I often second guess my own actions and agonize over those who have suffered on both sides, including my own family.” This quote clearly speaks about damage that had to be done in order to win the war.
These, and others below them, fought to take over all aspects of the SBC to make it more conservative.
Once the war was won, they would need to fight to ensure that nothing would destroy it. They would have to ensure that the organization was cleansed of “liberal” theology. They would have to fight to secure a leadership and power structure that remained in power. This is the only way to ensure that the conservative nature of the organization would be engrained permanently.
To say that these leaders are all connected is an understatement. Yes, you have some outliers, but the overall power structure of SBC is oriented toward the conservative resurgence. Those that are the outliers are ostracized by those that legitimately hold power. Whatever you think of their politics, or theology, Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, and Ed Litton faced that opposition. It is important to note that many of those in the power structure of the SBC see a current threat of liberal or moderate theology taking over in the SBC. In fact, Ed Litton’s election marked a consecutive SBC Presidential election where the President was not seen as a conservative powerhouse. Litton defeated Mike Stone, someone who is connected with the advancement of the resurgence/takeover.
The culture of the SBC is important to understand in light of the Guidepost report. While the sexual abuse issue came to a head in 2019, a majority of the actions, which led to the report, took place from 1998 to 2018.
These issues started within the first decade of the takeover. Within the first 5 years the culture was defined, and set. This report is evidence of that. In fact, it was the conservative takeover culture, which defined, managed, and responded to the sexual abuse scandal. A Borg-like culture where the ends justify the means and the theological views must be protected at all costs. That protection also means that those who support those views must be protected at all costs.
The core problem of the SBC is not its procedures; it is the culture. Guidepost mentions culture 16 times in the report. In context, it primarily focused on the culture of the Executive Committee or the culture in dealing with sexual abuse specifically. There is only one piece that speaks to the culture of the SBC at large, a quote from Ronnie Floyd on page 103. In a news report in 2019 he was asked why it took so long for the SBC to respond to sexual abuse. He stated, “Quite honestly, I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is that there’s a pretty unhealthy culture at times in the Southern Baptist Convention, which personifies probably the unhealthy culture of many of our churches. And the more unhealthy a church is, the less likely they are going to be able to deal with whatever may come their way, especially this kind of very difficult issue.” He goes on to urge Southern Baptists to establish a healthy culture together.
Ronnie Floyd correctly identified the root problem of the SBC. Its not just the procedure. It’s the ends justify the means, war-like culture established in the conservative resurgence.
It would appear, once again, that Solomon knew what he was talking about.