(RNS) — The Southern Baptist Convention’s effort to fill the top administrative post on its Executive Committee will start from scratch after members of the committee rejected Texas pastor Jared Wellman on Monday (May 1) by a vote of 50-31.
The vote seemed to reflect disappointment that Wellman, who had been chairman of the Executive Committee for nearly three years before resigning in mid-April, was nominated despite being an ex-officio member of the search committee for the new CEO and president.
His role on the search committee had become an issue in the days before the vote — after A.B. Vines, a prominent Black SBC pastor, raised concerns about the search process in a letter to the committee and in a series of Tweets.
Jared Wellman’s Church, Tate Springs Baptist Church, sponsored Cornerstone in our inception. We are fellow Pastors in Arlington. I’ve had nothing but positive interaction with Wellman. However, I affirm every single word in the attached probative letter from Rev. A.B. Vines. pic.twitter.com/pFdumQVzqk
— Dwight McKissic (@pastordmack) April 27, 2023
“How does an Ex-Officio officer involved in most of the process get an interview in a process he helps develop?” Vines, a former SBC vice president, asked in the letter, which was reposted on social media.
Vines and other critics of the process also asked why interim President Willie McLaurin, who is Black, had been passed over by the search committee. McLaurin has served as interim since the resignation of former President and CEO Ronnie Floyd in October 2021. No SBC entity has ever had a top leader of color.
Wellman reportedly recused himself from the search committee after he became a candidate in January, though his move was not made public until recently, and Wellman had presided over a regular meeting of the Executive Committee in February. His mid-April departure from the committee itself was also not made public until days before the vote.
The Texas pastor, who was elected chairman in June 2022, had served on the committee since 2015. He came to prominence due to his advocacy for abuse reform. In particular, he advocated for the committee to waive privilege as part of an investigation into how SBC leaders had dealt with the issue of abuse. Doing so allowed investigators from Guidepost Solutions to see communication between SBC leaders and their attorneys and allowed their findings to be made public without any control by the Executive Committee.
He has also served repeatedly on the denomination’s Committee on Resolutions, which plays a high profile role during the SBC’s annual meeting.
Operating mostly out of the spotlight, the Executive Committee president and CEO plays a key role in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and oversees the denomination’s operations between annual meetings, held most years in June. The president and CEO also helps raise money for the Cooperative Program, which funds much of the denomination’s national and international ministry.
Though the role has little formal authority and oversees only a few dozen staff members, the president and CEO has a great deal of influence, in part because it is a long-term appointment that comes with a salary. By contrast, the SBC’s president is a volunteer who is term-limited.
The last two people to lead the Executive Committee resigned in less than ideal circumstances. Frank Page, who held the office from 2010 to 2018, left after admitting misconduct. Floyd, who held the office from 2019 to 2021, left in the fallout of the SBC’s abuse scandal.
Whoever is eventually named president and CEO will face a series of challenges, including denominational conflict, a Department of Justice investigation into abuse, and the complicated work of implementing abuse reforms.
Wellman, who is pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, was gracious in accepting the vote.
“It’s been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve the Southern Baptist Convention through the Executive Committee,” Wellman told committee members, according to Baptist Press, the SBC’s official news publication.
After the failed vote, the Executive Committee appointed a new search committee, which will begin the process over. This new committee is less diverse than the committee that nominated Wellman, which had several members of color.