Worrisome finances, role of women as pastors: Key takeaways from top SBC committee meeting

Worrisome finances, role of women as pastors: Key takeaways from top SBC committee meeting

As the Southern Baptist Convention continues to deal with the aftermath of a historic report on abuse, the SBC Executive Committee discussed a discouraging financial audit and voted on key measures at a meeting Tuesday.

The executive committee is comprised of about 30 staff and an 86-member board of elected representatives and manages denomination business outside the SBC annual meeting.

For more than a year, the executive committee has dealt with business related to a third-party investigation by Guidepost Solutions into the Nashville-based SBC and a subsequent report published last May with Guidepost’s findings.

Here are three other key moments from the committee’s meeting.

Audit paints worrisome picture

The executive committee’s liquid assets decreased by $6 million last fiscal year, mainly through costs incurred by abuse related legal expenses, executive committee members and staff explained at a session Tuesday.

The 50% loss in cash is evidence the current model for financing abuse response is “unsustainable,” executive committee interim CFO Mike Bianchi said Tuesday, relaying the auditors’ assessment.

The steep decline in assets followed legal expenses to deal with a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the SBC and legal liabilities. The SBC is facing several abuse related lawsuits in which plaintiffs reference Guidepost’s report as evidence against the SBC.

“For the future, this trustee board (executive committee) will have to make difficult decisions to avoid going into a direction that cannot be sustained,” executive committee member Dwight Easler told fellow committee members Tuesday.

Bianchi said executive committee staff are considering future financial alternatives and workarounds, such as asset liquidation and pursuing other funding sources.

Baptist Press revisions approved

Executive committee members approved recommendations about Baptist Press to ensure the newspaper is free of undue influence.

Though it operates as an independent news service, Baptist Press receives funding from the executive committee. Guidepost’s investigation found that previous executive committee staff and legal counsel exerted pressure on how Baptist Press wrote certain stories about abuse.

The recommendations approved Tuesday establish clearer guidelines between Baptist Press and leadership at the executive committee and other SBC-affiliated agencies. There will also be an advisory team that Baptist Press can consult for stories on sensitive issues.

Rob Collingsworth, who made a motion at the 2022 SBC annual meeting calling for a review of Baptist Press, said he was satisfied with the outcome.

“The SBC is healthiest when our news service has the independence to tell not only the good stories about our work around the world, but also the hard stories that keep Southern Baptists informed and aware of what’s happening in our churches and entities,” Collingsworth said in a statement.

Female pastor constitutional change discussed

Executive committee members had an initial discussion on a campaign growing in popularity throughout the SBC, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, calling for constitutional changes related to female pastors.

Virginia Pastor Mike Law penned and circulated a letter that 2,000-plus supportive Southern Baptists have signed. The group wants to completely ban women from holding the role or title of pastor through a constitutional amendment.

The momentum behind Law’s campaign has led to discussions at state conventions and a response from SBC President Bart Barber. Proponents of the amendment are trying to get the proposal before Southern Baptist voting delegates, called messengers, for a vote at the SBC annual meeting in June.

But first it must clear the executive committee, which will decide on whether the item can go before the full convention. Executive committee members will make a decision before the annual meeting.

Law’s campaign has touched a nerve in the SBC amid a debate about women in leadership. On Tuesday, the executive committee voted to disfellowship five churches that have women serving as lead or senior pastors, including well-known Saddleback Church in California.

Major decision:Southern Baptist Convention ousts Saddleback Church over woman pastor

The SBC statement of beliefs, called the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, already says women cannot serve as pastors. A constitutional amendment would codify that and create a strict standard for church affiliation with the SBC.  

Liam Adams covers religion for The Tennessean. Reach him at ladams@tennessean.com or on Twitter @liamsadams.