Secrecy: The Problem in the Southern Baptist Convention

Declining baptisms. Declining attendance. Every year new details are reported about the sad state of the Southern Baptist Convention. Why is the Southern Baptist Convention in decline? Secrecy. It permeates everything. Want to know how much SBC employees are paid? Good luck. They won’t reveal it. Want to hold the IMB accountable for how it handles sexual abuse? Well, good luck finding out about it—as everyone is sworn to secrecy.

And that is one of the troubling elements in the sad, heartbreaking Houston Chronicle report on abuse within the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The latest story uses the word secret or secrecy in troubling ways to describe how Southern Baptist elites hide from accountability.

“(Former IMB president Jerry) Rankin, as a former missionary in Indonesia, had served with McElrath and admitted he’d heard ugly rumors. As board president, he advocated for keeping the incident within a small circle.

’I see no constructive purpose by making a general accounting of (this) matter to all our missionaries and to Southern Baptists in general,’ Rankin wrote to Ruble.”

No constructive purpose.

Warning your employees and the public wouldn’t be a constructive purpose?

Was protecting the revenue stream for the IMB was more important than protecting people? Because that is what it looks like.

The story highlights the problem with the present trustee system. It doesn’t serve the people, but the entities. Notice this from the report, “In addition to the president, the IMB is overseen by a board of trustees, who also are sworn to secrecy under its policies.”

Sworn to secrecy. That’s a huge problem. Trustees should be able to speak out when problems exist within an organization. Trustees work for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and not the entity chiefs.

Want answers? You can’t have them.

As we reported in 2017, Cadwell Baptist Church requested information on what the IMB, the North American Mission Board and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission paid their top employees. The requests were ignored or denied.

According to Cadwell Baptist Church, all such information was “sealed” and would not be provided.

“All we are asking for is transparency and open communication,” the pastor of Cadwell Baptist said at the time. “As pastor, I am fighting hard to keep some of my congregation from wanting to totally dissolve our relationship with the SBC.”

For a congregational denomination our leaders act like the Roman Curia. This is a serious problem for the SBC.

The churches and ultimately the people of the churches cannot hold the SBC to account. Serious reforms are needed, or the SBC risks continued decline. Business should be conducted in the open. Trustees should be free to speak. And churches should know how much Russell Moore and other SBC insiders earn.

Transparency should be how God’s people conduct business.

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