Categories
Controversy Ecclesiology New Liberalism Reform

ERLC Trustee Justin Sampler Claims Widespread Abuse Cover-Up is Implausible; Implies Fellow Trustees Are “Lying”

Editor’s Note: Since the documentation is so important to the piece below we are going to include links to referenced content within parenthesis following the relevant items. Please read the piece thoughtfully and click the links to see the supporting information.

Justin Sampler, pastor of First Baptist Church, Inola, Oklahoma and doctoral student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, serves as a trustee for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC is in hot water after bombshell reports from SBC-related news outlets like the Capstone Report (https://capstonereport.com/2021/09/27/whistleblower-russell-moore-exploited-abuse-allegations-to-harm-political-foes/37102/) and the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector (https://baptistandreflector.org/erlc-leaders-accused-of-blatant-deception/) highlighted a letter from an ERLC whistleblower.

That letter, written by ERLC trustee and lawyer, Jonathan Whitehead, provides evidence that the board officers of the ERLC covered up information pertaining to an investigation of the SBC Executive Committee. (https://baptistandreflector.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/210917-JRW-Letter-to-TF-and-SBC-EC-3.pdf)

In response to these well-reasoned revelations, ERLC trustee Sampler makes the shocking suggestion that widespread cover-up is implausible. (https://twitter.com/justinsampler/status/1445879493084598273)

Wait. What?

If cover-up is implausible, (https://twitter.com/justinsampler/status/1445862562113916928) then why are former ERLC president Russell D. Moore and the SBC wringing their hands and spending millions to investigate the Executive Committee for alleged cover-up? Moore and his fellow hang-wringers obviously don’t think cover-up is implausible when it comes to the EC.  So shouldn’t Sampler say it’s more likely Moore is lying?

Or, to borrow a term, is it more plausible a double standard is in play with Sampler’s tweets? Or even something more disturbing?

Notice Sampler passively-aggressively claims Whitehead is “unlike” the other ERLC trustees, and implies he’s “lying.” (https://twitter.com/justinsampler/status/1445574748507758595)

Lying about what? Again – because this is crucial to the dispute: lying about what?  Even if Whitehead were mistaken in his inferences, the information is all here to support his claims. Sampler acts like someone credibly accused of abuse cover-up.

Here are the facts:

1. Moore addressed a letter to the Board of Trustees of the ERLC in February of 2020, making accusations against the SBC EC.

https://religionnews.com/2021/06/02/russell-moore-to-erlc-trustees-they-want-me-to-live-in-psychological-terror/

2. Moore addressed another letter to SBC President JD Greear in May of 2021, referencing his earlier letter and specifying it was directed to his “board officers.”

https://baptistblog.files.wordpress.com/2021/06/rdm-final-letter.pdf

Here we come to an unavoidable choice between two alternatives:

Did Sampler receive the letter in February 2020?

If no, then Sampler should not slander other trustees who claim this letter was hidden from them by the board officers. (https://twitter.com/ponddogtoo/status/1445914923872178185)

If so, then Sampler helped hide alleged evidence of abuse cover-up for over a year.

Either way, it now appears the ERLC should be investigated for potential cover-up based on the testimony of its own trustees.

Categories
Controversy Ecclesiology Reform

On Waiving Attorney-Client Privilege

A current hot-button issue among Southern Baptists is the task force created to oversee an independent investigation into the handling of sexual abuse allegations by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. We reached out to a faithful brother who is an attorney to ask about the ramifications of the investigating bodies’ request that the Executive Committee waive attorney-client privilege. Why does attorney-client privilege exist? What does it mean and what does it cover?  How should Christians think about attorney-client privilege? Below is his answer.

What happened at the annual meeting? What did the motion say?

Among the numerous items of business that were considered at the SBC Annual Meeting this past June was a “Motion to Investigate the SBC Executive Committee.” This motion received no small amount of attention at the time, as part of a larger campaign to investigate allegations of sexual abuse. Part of the motion (with emphasis added) is included below:

“We further move that the task force agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.”

Waiver of attorney-client privilege is no small matter, yet that portion of the motion seems to have received relatively little attention.

What is attorney-client privilege? Why is the privilege important?

​​Most readers probably have at least a general idea of what is meant by the attorney-client privilege. Nevertheless, defining the concept a little more concretely will be helpful for the purposes of this article.

One of the oldest concepts in the Anglo-American system of common law, the attorney-client privilege is (as the name implies) a privilege held by legal clients (and exercisable by them) that protects the confidentiality of a client’s communications with the client’s attorney. Writing for the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, Sue Michmerhuizen helpfully explains further:

The attorney-client privilege only protects the essence of the communications actually had by the client and lawyer and only extends to information given for the purpose of obtaining legal representation. The underlying information is not protected if it is available from another source. Therefore, information cannot be placed under an evidentiary “cloak” of protection simply because it has been told to the lawyer.

The important points to highlight here are: (1) communications, not information, are what the privilege protects and (2) not all communications with an attorney are protected. Hopefully the readers’ eyes haven’t begun to glaze over at what looks like legal minutiae, but at least a basic understanding of the contours of the privilege is important if one is going to assess what the messengers actually did when the motion was approved in June.

Photo credit: https://www.feldesmantucker.com/u-s-supreme-court-tackle-implied-certification-theory-false-claims-act-liability/

One might reasonably ask, “Who cares? Why should communications between an attorney and his clients be kept confidential?” The United States Supreme Court has succinctly explained the importance of the privilege:

Its purpose is to encourage full and frank communication between attorneys and their clients and thereby promote broader public interests in the observance of law and administration of justice. The privilege recognizes that sound legal advice or advocacy serves public ends and that such advice or advocacy depends upon the lawyer’s being fully informed by the client.

Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383, 390 (1981).

Thus, although it may not seem so at first, the goal of the privilege is to promote justice, not stifle it. The very purpose of seeking advice from an attorney is so that the client can be reliably informed about how to conform his actions to the law. If clients are afraid that their communications with their attorneys may be used against them, they will be deterred from seeking out that advice and will be left to do their best to discern for themselves what the law requires.

What is the relationship between the EC and the rest of the SBC?

Another issue that is important to flesh out before thinking about the implications of the motion is the relationship between the Executive Committee (“EC”) and the rest of the Southern Baptist Convention. In one sense, the Southern Baptist Convention writ large exists only once per year when the messengers assemble for the annual meeting. In between those meetings, however, the EC acts as “the fiduciary, the fiscal, and the executive entity of the Convention in all its affairs not specifically committed to some other board or entity.” Among other duties, the EC is “specifically authorized, instructed, and commissioned to . . . act for the Convention ad interim in all matters not otherwise provided for.”

In other words, the EC takes actions on behalf of the messengers (and by extension the churches they represent), but it is not a separate entity unto itself with any inherent authority. As some have pointed out, the polity of the SBC leaves little room (perhaps none at all) for the EC to decline to follow direction given by the assembled messengers. The EC has only a delegated authority, but because that delegation covers “all matters not otherwise provided for” the scope is potentially quite broad.

What are the unanswered questions arising from the motion to waive privilege?

With that background in view, hopefully Southern Baptists will begin to ask some questions about the motion. 

Photo Credit: Julie Roys
https://julieroys.com/hannah-kate-williams-sues-sbc-alleged-sex-abuse/

For instance, it’s not entirely clear what the motion is asking for. Was the intent that the EC waive privilege for the EC itself? Some of the more recent discussion (online and elsewhere) seems to assume that was the intent, but that does not line up with the wording of the motion which refers to “staff and members waiving attorney client privilege.”

Yet, that only leads to another question: can the EC waive privilege on behalf of its members or its staff? It is well-established that the privilege is held and can only be waived by the client. But who is the client in this scenario? Is it the EC itself or the staff and members? Can the messengers of the SBC require individuals to waive their own attorney client privilege? If the motion requires that the EC waive privilege for its staff and members, have the messengers asked the EC to do some action that the EC has no legal authority to do?

It’s not so much that these questions don’t have answers, but they are certainly answers that would be unknown to the vast majority of the messengers who were at the meeting, few of whom were attorneys with more than superficial knowledge in this area of the law.

Additional questions about what the motion intends remain unanswered. What is the scope of this waiver? It certainly reads as if it is meant to be a blanket waiver, but is anything so broad really necessary or was this meant to be more limited in scope?

Alongside the “what” the messengers might well want to ask the “why.” Given just how important the attorney-client privilege is, why is anyone being asked to surrender that legal protection at the outset, before anyone has even had the chance to assert the privilege? Why was the motion stated in terms of a blanket waiver rather than one more limited in its reach? Why ask that privilege be waived in the first place, knowing that the prevailing legal advice would be not to do so?

All of those questions are important and ought to have been answered in Nashville. Even if the presiding officer’s asking the messengers whether there was discussion was more than a mere formality, the kind of deliberation necessary to answer these questions never would be possible from the floor of the meeting. Ample time seems to have been allotted for that portion of the meeting, but no meaningful discussion actually occurred.

Photo Credit: https://religionnews.com/2021/06/07/after-leaked-letters-southern-baptist-pastors-demand-inquiry-into-handling-of-sex-abuse-cases/

It’s clear, however, that SBC leadership was prepared to deal with motions that had legal implications. An attorney was called to the stage to render an opinion about the ability of the messengers to rescind a resolution passed by the previous annual meeting, but no one thought it would be a good idea to have an attorney speak to the ability of the messengers to instruct the EC to waive the attorney-client privilege of its individual staff and members? One struggles to find a satisfying explanation for that disparity.

One also struggles to discern more than the most superficial of justifications for the waiver part of the motion. It seems to boil down to the naked assertion that “the commissioned third-party” said the EC has to waive in order to have a thorough investigation. Even that claim, however, seems to have been subjected to very little scrutiny. One is forced to speculate, but the rejoinder may well be related to recent actions by the Attorney General of Michigan who cancelled one investigation and refused to begin another unless the institutions under investigation would give up attorney client privilege. Regardless of the merits of such a demand by the Attorney General of Michigan, no one seems prepared to attempt to justify such a demand in the case of the SBC. 

Across the country, countless investigations of even the most heinous criminal wrongdoing proceed every day without law enforcement officers or prosecutors demanding that individuals waive the privilege. That is because, as noted above, investigating the facts of a situation does not require stripping confidentiality from the communications between clients and lawyers.

A common bromide in discussions of privilege (as well as discussion of the right against self-incrimination) is “If you’ve done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to hide.” Without meaning to be uncharitable, such statements are as ignorant as they are harmful. The privilege was not established and maintained over the past centuries as a convenient means to cover up wrongdoing but, as explained above, to encourage individuals to consult legal professionals so that they can know what is the right thing to do.

In fact, given the way that abuse has been defined of late, asking the staff and members of the EC to give up legal rights out of a claimed spiritual obligation is itself a form of abuse. Unquestioning proponents of a blanket waiver of privilege would do well to consider whether they, in fact, are the ones engaged in wrongdoing (even if only because they are uninformed).

Finally, the tactic of insisting that individuals or organizations under investigation waive attorney-privilege is a practice of prosecutors that has come under significant scrutiny as its use has increased since the late 1990s. David M. Brodsky, Steven K. Hazen, R. William Ide, and Mark O. Kasanin, commenting on proposed changes to the Federal Rules of Evidence, brought into sharp relief the problematic aspects of this “you must waive privilege for us to do our investigation” approach:

Under current governmental policies, companies do not realistically have the option to preserve the confidentiality upon which an effective attorney-client relationship is so heavily dependent and otherwise protected by the privilege and doctrine, or they run the considerable risk of being deemed “uncooperative” by the government authority— a characterization that can be a virtual corporate death sentence or, at least, extraordinarily financially punitive. Putting it another way, if the government decides a company is not being cooperative, in essence the government can act as a prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.

Although their comments were written in the context of government investigations, the danger to the SBC is the same. The messengers may well have put “the commissioned third-party” in the position to “act as a prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.”

Photo Credit: https://ph.news.yahoo.com/southern-baptist-president-calls-action-sexual-abuse-035855894.html

If the staff and members of the EC (whether in keeping with SBC polity or otherwise) do not waive privilege, will they be criticized for being “uncooperative”? If that is not what the authors of the motion intended, is it at least something that they considered? Again, these questions are ones that could have been answered months ago. They should have been answered months ago. That they were not answered in June puts the EC in a dilemma that seems, at this point, impossible for them to resolve without doing significant damage to the SBC. That’s a particular shame because the dilemma that has been set up for the EC is one that need not be faced in order to have an investigation.

Joseph Knowles is an attorney who lives and works in Virginia.
He also co-hosts the Church History Matters Podcast.

Categories
Controversy Methodology

Adam Greenway: “Anonymous Social Media Accounts” Sound Off on Litton

During Ed Litton’s appearance at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Chapel he sat down for a conversation with Seminary President Adam Greenway.

In one segment of the conversation President Greenway references his own announcement of Litton’s appearance and makes reference to “anonymous social media accounts” posting “snark” in reply.  You can see the clip in this tweet from Tom Buck, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Lindale, TX:

What makes Greenway’s comment truly inexplicable is his assertion that it is particularly anonymous accounts that offered snarky replies to the announcement. “Particularly” implies a pronounced role – pronounced, specifically, in contrast to non-anonymous accounts.

Since his tweeted announcement is still up we can check the replies and see who it was offering criticism of the Litton chapel invitation.

Some quick screengrabs from Twitter’s unsorted (i.e. not logged in) view:

In reality it appears real-name accounts outpace anonymous accounts replying by an 8-to-1 factor or better. Of course, the term snark is not defined here but it seems reasonable to conclude it is a synonym for criticism of the decision to bring Litton in. As a result, placing particular emphasis on the anonymous accounts seems both strange and inaccurate.

Again, what is going on in that chapel conversation?

Categories
Controversy

If the Pirates Leave, Only the Parrots Remain

You’re tired of pirate analogies? Me too. But the continued drifting of the Southern Baptist Convention since Nashville has only served to, now more than ever, call faithful Christians to stand for integrity and truth.

Recently I’ve seen threads by men like Pastor Jimmy Scroggins that seem to imply that the real problem in the SBC is people bringing up the problems. James Merritt told me “Talk is cheap.” But what I’m trying to communicate in this post is that not talking is quite costly.

An Old Testament Example

The prophet Micah wore no patch on his eye, and yet he still wasn’t all that beloved by his contemporaries. In fact, you might say some would have wished he would have just shut his mouth and not have been so “mean-spirited” in his proclamations. He alludes to such in Micah 2:6 –

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
“one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”

The house of Jacob preferred not to be warned of the impending doom. They much preferred the parroting messages of “Peace” (cf. Micah 3:5) instead of facing the reality of their precarious condition and need for repentance.

Calvin notes, “The ungodly think, that if they close the mouths of the prophets, all things would be lawful to them, and that their crimes would be hid, in short, that their vices would not be called to an account; as though their wickedness was not in itself sufficiently reproachful, were God to send no prophets, and no reproof given.”

The children of Jacob thought the problem was the prophets. That if the prophets would just be nicer then unity and prosperity would ensue.

But the problem wasn’t the prophets. It was the house of Jacob’s disobedience. It was their lack of concern for the Word of God. It was their own stubbornness to go their own way instead of trusting the Lord’s way. It was their increasing comfortability with the surrounding world.

But Calvin goes on to give these sobering words: “It is an extreme curse, when God gives us loose reins, and suffers us, with unbridled liberty, to rush as it were headlong into evils, as though he had delivered us unto Satan, to be his slaves.”

Silence is costly.

The Need for Prophetic Boldness

The Southern Baptist Convention finds itself in a tumultuous storm. As the ship takes on more and more water, you have some men willing to point out the holes. And you have others that seem to be less concerned about the ship’s breaches, and more about the fact that people would be so bold as to point out the obvious!

Beloved, what I am saying is we need courageous pirates. I admit it’s not the best of analogies, but here we are. We need men willing to take the ship with truth in love – to restore unequivocal surrender to her true captain, Christ.

This was never about just a last stand at Nashville. This was about continuing to be a prophetic witness to our beloved convention, preaching the truth in love, pleading with our brothers and sisters not to go the way of the world, not to abandon the sufficiency of Scripture, and not to reject the Lord’s kindness.

I am convinced that if the pirates leave, all that will remain are the parrots. Those who repeat the same poor theology. Those who proclaim to one another the peace, safety, and greatness of the Southern Baptist Convention without dealing with the cancer of pragmatism that has all but fully enveloped so many of our churches and entities.

I am not endorsing everyone who says anything negative about the S.B.C. But I am saying there are some godly voices out there like Tom Ascol, Tom Buck, Jared Longshore, and Gabe Hughes (so many more names I could mention) who love the convention so much, and those within the convention so much, that they are willing to boldly point out our errors so that we might seek the Lord’s mercy instead of arrogantly presuming upon His grace. Oh that we would fear the Lord and repent rather than being upset about tone!

I know so many get frustrated by this boldness, but do you not see how much worse it would be for the S.B.C if the Lord simply removed those voices from our midst? Can you imagine pragmatism, partialism, plagiarism, and women preaching going unchecked?

Please note that all of this isn’t about “winning” or “being proven right.” This is about the glory of our King. This is about standing for truth and calling our brothers and sisters to repentance and resting again in the gospel we proclaim. This is about standing strong in our Baptist identity. This is about being more concerned with the fact that God is watching us than we are that the world is watching us.

Let us then make it our aim to please Him.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:10)

Thus, let us say, in the words of the small-town prophet, Micah:

“But as for me, I will look to Yahweh; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7)

Christ is King.

Categories
Controversy

Do you Desire Repentance or Revenge?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:14-21).

“Love is Patient and Kind” (1 Cor. 13:4).

In the book of Jonah, we learn of Jonah the prophet who fled from God’s command to preach to Nineveh, Israel’s arch-enemy at the time. God told Jonah to preach of His coming wrath towards Nineveh. But Jonah ran away to Tashish instead. He was later swallowed by a great fish sent by God, vomited up on the shore, and then he went to Nineveh in obedience to God. He preached, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4)! Nineveh responded by repenting and calling out for God’s mercy (Jonah 3:6-10). Therefore, God showed them mercy and spared them. Jonah was furious. He argued, “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah fled to Tarshish because he did not want Nineveh to repent and receive God’s mercy. He wanted God to wipe them out. He desired revenge, not repentance (Jonah 3:1-4:11). God is God. He can show wrath to whom wrath and mercy to whom mercy, due to His holy and loving character. His ways are always just.

Have you ever been unjustly wronged? Has someone taken advantage of you financially? Has someone abused his or her authority over you? Have you ever been abused emotionally, physically, or mentally? Or, maybe you know someone who has been unjustly wronged?

If so, what is the correct Christian response to being wronged?

This issue is a difficult one. If we have been wronged or know others who have been made victims, the temptation is to desire evil things to happen to the guilty. Just look at the various “discernment” blogs across the blogosphere. Many prove their lack of discernment in blogdom. They want blood now, and they’re willing to sin (slander, speculate, believe accusations without evidence, etc.) to get it, all in the name of “desiring repentance,” “protecting the innocent,” or “protecting the truth.” Yet, how can one “protect victims” by creating more through slander and unfounded accusations? How can one truly “desire repentance” while seeking to destroy the reputations of others over sins that haven’t been proven? And how can one “protect the truth” by sinning?

If we’re to be like Christ, we should desire the repentance of those who have wronged us and wronged others, since their sin is ultimately against God. We should not desire to take vengeance into our own hands. A desire for revenge is sin. “Returning evil for evil is sin” (Rom. 12:17; 1 Peter 3:9). We must be like Christ who said about those crucifying Him, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Of course, it’s not wrong to desire the sword of justice to be wielded by the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7). That’s why God ordained governments. Furthermore, it’s not wrong to desire God’s justice (Isaiah 66:22-24; Rev. 6:9-11) or Christ’s justice displayed in the local church through biblical discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). What is wrong is to desire our own sinful justice as if we are gods, as if people ultimately sin against us and not ultimately against their Creator. Jonah should have rejoiced over Nineveh’s repentance instead of calling God’s mercy unjust. Who is Jonah to question God? The goal of life is God’s glory, and if He is glorified through showing grace or wrath, we must rejoice in Him. He is always just.

Therefore, in light of these negative examples, how do we define and recognize a desire for revenge in our hearts? Jonathan Edwards, America’s greatest theologian, is helpful here. Concerning the difference between desiring someone’s repentance and desiring revenge, he wrote,

To be satisfied for their repenting, when they repent from a sense of their error, is right. But a satisfaction in their repentance, because of the evil that is brought upon them, is revenge (Jonathan Edwards, “Diary,” in Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16), 779).

In other words, a loving heart says, “How dare they sin against God! Do they not know who He is!?” and thus, rejoices when they do repent and are reconciled to Him; while a vengeful heart says, “How dare they sin against me! Do they not know who I am!?” and thus, rejoices only when bad things happen to the guilty or when they meet some other arbitrary list of demands that go beyond reconciliation with God. Moreover, once someone repents toward God, those who desire repentance will be satisfied. They’ll rejoice in the repentance of those who have sinned against God. But those who desire revenge will rejoice over the evil that occurs to those who have wronged them or if no evil occurs to them, they’ll feel like justice hasn’t taken place, even though through the cross God is just and the justifier of those who repent (Rom. 3:23-26)! Justice has been served for the guilty who are repentant and are now in Christ! Oh, the wondrous cross!

Once again, it is not sinful to desire God’s justice or the justice of the governing authorities that wield God’s sword (Rom. 13:1-7) or Christ’s justice through biblical discipline in the local church (Matt. 18:15-20). But, when justice is not rendered, we must trust that vengeance is God’s, He will repay, says the Lord (Rom. 12:9). In other words, the sins of others in refusing to carry out God’s demands for justice does not justify our own sinful attempts to take justice into our own hands through slander, speculation, assuming the worst, etc. A lack of Christian love is never justified (1 Cor. 13:1-8). If we have not love for the guilty, we are nothing! If we’re willing to sin to get “justice,” it’s not justice we seek; it’s revenge.

With these realities in mind, do you desire the repentance of those who have wronged you or others, or do you desire revenge? Does vengeance belong to you or to God? If those who have wronged you repented before God and showed fruit of this repentance, would you rejoice or would you be like Jonah? Would you not be satisfied unless evil happened to them? Would you call God’s mercy unjust?

Categories
Controversy Critical Theory Ecclesiology Methodology Missions Reform Social Justice

Kyle Whitt Goes on the Record with Significant & Specific Concerns about NAMB

Kyle Whitt has released a video with several specific and distressing claims about the doctrinal fidelity and inner workings of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board discovered during his two years working to plant a church in Washington state.

From Whitt’s Reddit post:

For the past two years I’ve been working with NAMB to plant a church in Washington state. After hours of research and conversations, I came to the conclusion that NAMB’s church planting arm, the Send Network, is pushing us to teach a false gospel. There are many other serious issues at Send and NAMB, but this video only covers the biggest and most important. I get that this is a big accusation, and believe me this is not something done lightly or without a lot of prayer. I ask that you watch the whole thing, look into what I’ve pointed out, and use this as a starting point to answer this question. I’m extremely nervous right now, as I have no idea what posting this video will result in for me, so it might take me a little bit to reply to comments. I plan on doing some follow up to help answer questions/clarify things (livestream? AMA?), but for right now I’m taking this one step at a time.

More:

Some [at NAMB] are adding specific works as a “key component of the gospel.” I assumed they were wording it poorly, talking about obedience to Christ, and the good works we do as a result of the gospel transforming us. After lots of research, and conversations (including with Dhati Lewis, head of NAMB’s church planting arm, the Send Network) it was clear that no, they’re attaching these things directly as a part of the gospel.

Watch the video here:

For the sake of our cooperative missions endeavor here is to hoping NAMB will answer Whitt’s claims as forthrightly as he has made them; more this kind of direct speech is desperately needed in this era of Southern Baptist history.

Edit

Whitt’s claims seem to echo Dhati Lewis’ controversial statements in this video:

Categories
Controversy Ecclesiology Methodology

Upcoming SBC Presidential Candidate Interviews

It’s been a while since we released an episode of our podcast so I thought I would drop in to tell you about some upcoming episodes we hope you find helpful.

The CR:V site is SBC-facing and as you likely know the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting is coming up.  This year we have four people currently running for the office of President which, in and of itself is an indication of what most people are expecting to be a wilder version of the annual meeting.

We thought it would be helpful to give our audience an interview with each of the candidates running for office and began putting a series of short interviews together.  We have Randy Adams and Mike Stone recorded.  We initially had Ed Litton committed but his secretary reached out and said he no longer had time in his schedule to do the interview.  We also reached out to Dr. Mohler’s office but have yet to hear back from him.

Like me, you have probably read or heard people predicting a strange and contentious Annual Meeting is upon us for Nashville. Remember, too, that there is still a bit of time before the annual meeting and we are likely to see more strangeness.  We have already seen at least one seminary promoting a presidential candidate (and no, it wasn’t Southern and Dr. Mohler).  There are rumors that some kind of belittling caricature of Mike Stone is going to be released on Social Media in the days before the annual meeting.  Some are saying Dr. Mohler will drop out of the race altogether.

To help navigate the strangeness as best we can we are going to release our interviews with Randy Adams and Mike Stone in the coming weeks.  If you know or can reach Ed Litton and Al Mohler to encourage them to participate we would appreciate that greatly.  We want a healthy Southern Baptist Convention making disciples of the nations both domestically and internationally.  A healthy Annual Meeting is a vital step in that process. Healthy leadership is also vital.  Toward that end we want to help you get to know the candidates as best we can.

Finally, if you are listening to this I cannot stress how important it is that you attend the annual meeting as a messenger, bring as many people as you can with you as messengers, and encourage your sister churches to do the same.  We have heard reports of people on social media actually discouraging attendance to the annual meeting.  That is an indication of shenanigans and is antithetical to the cooperative work of the Southern Baptist Convention.

So give our interviews a listen, prayerfully consider how you should vote, show up at the annual meeting, attend ever session of business and reporting.  That’s the job now.  And if you think “I would go but I can’t afford a place to stay or dining or whatever else” please reach out; we’ll try to help connect you with people who can alleviate those burdens.

You can find the CR:V Podcast feed here.

Thanks for tuning in and we’ll look forward to giving you those interviews starting next week.

Categories
Controversy Reform SBC Author

PragNAMBtism: Dr. Ezell’s position on Women Pastors in SBC Church Plants

*At the time of this posting Echo Church is still listed as a NAMB church plant with a female teaching pastor. 

If the Southern Baptist Convention is going to see true reformation, the 11th Commandment has to end. For those unfamiliar with this rule, it is an unwritten agreement that you don’t talk publicly about anything negative in the SBC, particularly with any of the main entities.

Conservative Resurgence Voices is not a polemics site. But we are willing to speak publicly about what’s going on in the SBC because we truly long for a conservative resurgence. Part of the battle has been convincing some that there is even a need for a conservative resurgence. After all, the SBC is a “conservative” organization. Right?

Hopefully, last week’s piece on NAMB churches utilizing women as pastors has brought more awareness to some of what is going on in our convention. The reality is, this is not the worst of it. Dr. Ezell, and apparently NAMB Trustees, know this is happening. As a result, I’m forced to wonder if they either do not care or perhaps are pushing it.

Bad as the ’80s?

I’ve had several phone conversations since the NAMB piece last week. In most of them, folks were concerned about the direction of the SBC. But in one of them, with a NAMB employee, the topic was brought up by the other party that “This is nowhere near as bad as 1985-1986.”

Well, I was born in 1986 so I cannot speak to that. But this would be similar to me telling you that I was diagnosed with stage 2 cancer and you responding with “Oh yeah? I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and beat it.” Praise the Lord you beat cancer! But this does not take away from the seriousness of my own diagnosis even if it appears to be at an earlier stage. If left untreated it will kill me.

Maybe people are not publicly denying the inerrancy of the Bible – yet. But the situation we are currently in is that people are saying one thing with their mouths and doing another in their actions. This is a terrible direction. It is pragmatism at its worst.

Dr. Ezell’s Position

It’s never been my desire or hope to get to a point in SBC life where we need to publish an entity head’s emails. But this is where we are. The doublespeak has to end. The political maneuvering has to end. Transparency is what we want.

Let me state a few things up front. First, a lot of what I am publishing from Dr. Ezell has been said similarly by him on social media or in the public arena. Secondly, at least one other SBC pastor received what I received verbatim (his was on 1/12-1/13/2021). So, these answers seem to be pretty public for anyone who wants them.

Still, to be as charitable as possible I’m only publishing what I think needs published. I will leave out the rest. After the fiasco with the Florida Church Plant that had a woman lead pastor, I reached out to NAMB. I got a form letter in reply but asked to speak to Dr. Ezell directly. He did email and said he was willing to answer questions so I sent him this on January 29, 2021:

Dr. Ezell kindly and promptly replied on January 30, 2021. Again, this information has been emailed to more than just me. Understandably, I’m sure Dr. Ezell got a lot of the same questions, so it seems there were some who received basically the same information. So again, this information isn’t really hidden for any who would care to write Dr. Ezell. Here is his 1/30/21 response:

The yellow highlighted portion was done by either Dr. Ezell, or someone else. And I have to be honest, it was very encouraging to read that. It says a few things very clearly:

  1. Only biblically qualified men are approved in the role of pastor which are endorsed and funded by NAMB
  2. SBC Plants are required to whole-heartedly embrace the BFM 2000 and
  3. specifically the role of women. Which just to remind us here the BFM says this: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

So, again, quite encouraging. Shouldn’t, then, we reasonably assume that what this means is that NAMB will not support churches that intentionally violate the BFM 2000 by having women serve as pastors? That’s what I assumed when I read it.

I was even tempted to leave it there and basically say in my mind, “Whatever is going on with NAMB it must be that Dr. Ezell does not know and things must fall through the cracks at times.”

I think this is probably what a lot of Southern Baptists believe. And when they see reports about church plants with women pastors they think, “Sure, but we trust Dr. Ezell. We know that he’s not allowing this to happen intentionally.”

Thus, I decided not to let it go and on 1/31/21 I wrote this back to Dr. Ezell:

And here is what I think Southern Baptists need to know. I think it is what they deserve to know. On Monday, February 1, Dr. Ezell replied:

Here is what is frustrating as a Southern Baptist. In one email Dr. Ezell assured me that SBC Plants are required to whole-heartedly embrace the BFM 2000 and specifically the role of women. That is, the Southern Baptist Convention has unequivocally stated in its statement of faith that only qualified men can serve in the role of pastor.

Yet, when pressed on this, the real story is: “We don’t look at staff rosters.” That is, “We don’t really care if women are serving as pastors or not.” Now, which is it? Because these two emails are contradictory. A church cannot be whole-heartedly embracing the BFM 2000 and have women serving in the role of a pastor.

After these emails and talking with a NAMB employee, I can tell you definitively and beyond any shadow of a doubt that NAMB’s position is that female pastors are fine as long as they are not the “lead” pastor.

I do not understand the strategy in this. It seems that Dr. Ezell and the leadership at NAMB, without informing the Convention, have reinterpreted the BFM 2000 to mean something its writers never intended it to mean: that women are only barred from serving as “senior” pastors. This is an absolute butchering of the BFM 2000. And what’s more concerning is that this is a classic liberal tactic: To say you affirm a statement when you just redefine the terms. This is not me calling Dr. Ezell a liberal. This is me saying he is undeniably using a liberal tactic.

How can an SBC entity adopt a policy that is in contrast to the clear doctrinal parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message (2000)? Without asking or informing the convention, an entity that is under the authority of the churches in the convention has usurped the authority of these churches and carved its own path. And then, at best, they have been very political in their wording, and at worst they have bold faced lied to Southern Baptists about their strategy.

Since last week’s posting there has been some shuffling around with NAMB’s website. It appears some churches with female “non-lead” pastors have been removed? Is this being done silently?

What about the Trustees?

In a Baptist Press Article that posted February 4, 2021, NAMB Trustee board chairman, Danny de Armas, said this:

“Several trustees related being frustrated by the notion that some are putting forth that the NAMB trustees are not doing our job and that we don’t know what is going on at NAMB. Not only do we know what is going on, in most cases we initiated and, in every case, we affirm the strategies and changes that are being implemented.

This is not a comforting statement. I’m trying to be fair to this statement but it seems rather reasonable that I could plug this in: “Not only do NAMB trustees know that women are serving as pastors in NAMB plants in most cases they also initiated it, and in every case, they affirmed it.”

So, not only are NAMB employees “in” on this. Apparently, so are the trustees? And this is not with the consent of the Convention. How is this happening if the SBC really is under the authority of the local churches?

Does NAMB work for the local churches in the SBC or not? If so, why does it get to do what it wants in terms of disregarding the Baptist Faith and Message? And if it doesn’t work for the churches of the SBC, why are we giving them money under the guise that they do work for us?

I did email Danny de Armas, Chair of the Board of Trustees for NAMB and wrote, “Please brother, we must hold NAMB accountable to planting churches that are in true agreement with the BFM 2000.” He did email me back thanking me for reaching out but did not respond to the comment about the Baptist Faith and Message. Perhaps it was an oversight. But it is hard for me to continually pursue these avenues as a Southern Baptist Pastor only to time and again have my questions ignored, overlooked, or answered deceptively.

Brothers and sisters, this is beyond heartbreaking. It is well past time to contact our NAMB trustees and reiterate to them that our standard of cooperation is the BF&M 2000. Maybe other trustees will listen. As Denny Burk wrote last week, “Our ability to cooperate is materially compromised when a cooperating church ignores what we have all agreed upon as the doctrinal basis for our work together—the BF&M.”

We should believe more than what is in the BF&M, but we cannot believe less (see Why the SBC Needs a Tent Revival).

Does this Really Matter?

Absolutely. The SBC is sick. She has a cancer that is spreading through her churches that if left unchecked will eventually be terminal. One may think “Oh we are just arguing about words here.” No. We are arguing over whether or not we actually believe and practice that the Word of God is our highest authority and wholly sufficient for how we understand the leadership of the church.

Consider what Dr. Mohler said in a 2019 9Marks Panel at the Southern Baptist Convention:

“A lot of younger Southern Baptists…understand that complementarian or the gender relations, that’s a second-order issue. But what they’re missing is second-order issues are also constitutive of the Southern Baptist Convention. And so just understand we had a 30 year battle over 1st and 2nd order issues. One secondary issue we were fighting over was should women be pastors. The convention has declared itself so emphatically on that it’s in the confession of faith. Our confession of faith that constitutes the basis of our cooperation is inherently complementarian…

The Baptist Faith and Message requires an understanding that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture and that there are distinct roles for men and women in the home and in the church…But this is where I think a lot of younger Southern Baptists are acting as if Southern Baptist can embrace a pluralism on this that would include egalitarianism. No! We spent 30 years struggling with Scripture and each other to define the fact that this fellowship is established upon Complementarianism.”

And on January 28, 2021, Danny Akin tweeted out:

“[W]omen cannot serve as a pastor. Pastors are always men in the Bible. To call a woman a pastor in any capacity is not faithful to the biblical revelation. She can serve in many capacities but it is theologically in error to call her a pastor.”

What does this mean? It means we can argue about whether or not churches that have women pastors are true churches or not. But what we cannot argue about is if they are Southern Baptist churches, because they are not – not if we “wholeheartedly embrace the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”

Categories
Complementarianism Controversy Ecclesiology Gender Methodology Missions

NAMB Follow-Up | Current Church Website Profiles

Yesterday we released an article describing concerns over egalitarianism in NAMB church plants. Since then, the most frequent question we’ve received is whether or not these are current NAMB churches.

Each of these churches was verified on the NAMB church plant database prior to publication. Each church was re-verified today and that is documented below. This website information does reveal the names of the churches. We want to again stress that our intention is to seek clarification from NAMB and all our SBC entities, not to interrogate the practices of any individual church.

This post is being provided so that those interested can see the accuracy and timeliness of our concerns. Our previous article stated that one of the five churches has already left NAMB affiliation. If more of these churches have since left NAMB and the SBC, this does not change the substance of our questions. Indeed, if that is the case it raises questions about our assessment process on such a key doctrinal issue.

While how we got to this point would still be concerning, many Southern Baptists would be relieved to see a statement from NAMB clarifying our current church planting practices in regards to egalitarianism.

We want to hear that NAMB does not plant or partner with churches who violate the BF&M2000 by appointing women to the office of pastor. The office of pastor is not arbitrarily limited only to one position in a local church known as a “senior” or “lead” pastor, and this language is found nowhere in the BF&M2000. We would expect that any SBC entity would be eager to affirm such a statement, and to correct any practices found to be in violation of this.

Categories
Complementarianism Controversy Debate Ecclesiology Methodology Missions

Planting a Church with the North American Mission Board: What is it Like?

The recent news about North American Mission Board church plants identifying women in their congregation as pastors may have piqued your interest in what the process is like for those interested in planting.

Some insight can be found on the Southern Baptist subreddit on Reddit.com in a thread named “Church planter in residence at an SBC church in WA state. Struggling with whether or not to go through the accreditation/ assessment process.

As you can read, the anonymous author speaks to worries about whether or not to plant with the North American Mission Board because of the current controversy as well as a degree of ambivalence about specifically affirming the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.