By Todd E. Brady
You can lose respect for someone leading the cause without losing faith in the cause itself.
Last Thursday, Willie McLaurin, interim CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee and the leading candidate for the permanent role abruptly resigned fter admitting he had falsified his resume.
Another cringe-worthy moment for the SBC denomination.
In recent years, several leaders within the SBC have resigned in ignominy. (Full disclosure—I belong to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).) Sadly, my denomination has seen more than its share of unfavorable headlines.
McLaurin was serving in the interim role after Ronnie Floyd, former CEO of the SBC Executive Committee had himself resigned in 2021 because of what the Washington Post called an “internal fight over sex abuse allegations.” Floyd was in the CEO seat at that time in 2018 as a result of Frank Page suddenly resigning due to “a morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.”
Other SBC denominational leaders have also resigned in the midst of controversy. Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission resigned after a letter offering a devastating indictment of the denomination’s executive committee came to light. In it, he suggested that there was a breach between him and trustees because of the stands he had taken against sexual abuse within the SBC and on racial issues. He alleged that his stands infuriated trustees.
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth Texas was fired in 2018 for mishandling abuse allegations. Patterson was followed by Adam Greenway who resigned after four years saying he was unprepared for the enormity of the “legal and financial realities” facing the seminary. An investigation into Greenway’s institutional spending later revealed that he spent $1.5M of School funds on an extravagant home makeover, an $11,000 expresso machine, and $60,000 worth of Christmas decorations.
There has been a lot ugliness on the national level but Southern Baptists like me would rather focus on my local church right here at home. In my opinion, the good and godly Baptists are those I go to church with; not the denominational leaders that we read about in the headlines.
I have been encouraged that our denomination is acknowledging and has made progress concerning the sex abuse issues highlighted by the 2019 “Abuse of Faith” story in the Houston Chronicle. We have come a long way, and we still have a long way to go.
One of my favorite professors in college was a Religion Professor. He was a tremendous communicator and an excellent teacher. I sought to take him for whatever he taught each semester. I remember sitting in my Old Testament Survey Course one Monday morning when the University President walked in, told us that our teacher had committed immoral and illegal acts, and introduced us to our new teacher.
I was shocked, to say the least. At a formative time in my life, someone I liked and respected had been deceptively living a life contrary to what he was teaching. Then and there, I realized for the first time that a person may let you down but you can’t let that person get you down. I had to make the conscious decision that I was not going to punt the whole proverbial system because one person in the system was untrustworthy.
Sure, they say that a bad apple spoils the whole bunch, but we are misguided if we think that the whole bunch is like that one apple. A bad apple will spoil the bunch if it’s left there for any amount of time, but the whole bushel of apples and the bushel basket itself are not bad simply because one apple has been found to be bad.
To use another phrase, we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
We may lose respect for a person but we can’t allow that person to cause us to lose Faith.
It is terribly short-sighted and irresponsible to blame the entire organization for the fault of one person—or a handful of people—regardless of the visibility or role that they had.
I’m old enough now to have experienced fellow minister friends, who since school days have engaged in immorality, committed illegality, and disqualified themselves from ministry. While these things are unfortunate and while there is always grace and forgiveness, my responsibility is to “…not grow weary of doing good, for in due season [I] will reap, if [I] do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
I am thankful and continue to remind myself that my Faith is not in another person, regardless of how much I like or respect them. Instead, my Faith is in Jesus Christ, the one who “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Todd E. Brady serves as Staff Chaplain and Advanced Funeral Planner at Arrington Funeral Directors. He and his wife, Amy have five sons. You may write to him at email@example.com.