When Alabama’s Neal Hughes was elected chair of the second presidential search team for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee on June 1, he consistently stated a commitment to “due diligence” in the process.
That commitment allowed a potentially scandalous situation related to Willie McLaurin to be handled prior to a nomination, vote and likely election as the next SBC EC president.
McLaurin, considered the recent frontrunner in the presidential search, resigned from his role as interim president and CEO on Aug. 17, effective immediately.
Effective Aug. 18, Jonathan Howe, EC vice president for communications, stepped into the role temporarily.
McLaurin’s resignation came in response to the search committee’s discovery of falsified academic credentials on his current resumé.
Philip Robertson, chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, released the news in an Aug. 17 statement.
“While considering McLaurin as a candidate for Floyd’s permanent replacement, the SBC Executive Committee’s Presidential Search Team discovered disqualifying information during their process of vetting and due diligence,” Robertson said in the statement.
“McLaurin’s education credentials that he presented in his resumé are false,” he continued.
“In fact, in his resignation letter, McLaurin stated, ‘In a recent resumé that I submitted, it included schools that I did not attend or complete the course of study.’ ”
Baptist Press reported that on his resumé, McLaurin listed earned degrees from North Carolina Central University, Duke University Divinity School and Hood Theological Seminary.
Hughes said three different search committee members did individual investigations into the validity of the credibility of McLaurin’s degrees, and that each institution confirmed McLaurin did not graduate.
In a statement released Aug. 18, Hughes said, “The SBC Executive Committee’s presidential search team continues to be grateful for your prayers after the shocking revelation that led to the sudden resignation of Willie McLaurin. … We will continue on to our next phase in the search process with the goal of attracting a strong pool of potential candidates.”
The search team has regrouped and opened up a new opportunity for applicants. Resumés may be sent to email@example.com through Sept. 30, Hughes noted.
“Expect the next report from the search team at the September meeting of the SBC Executive Committee,” he said in the statement.
Mired in controversy
The EC has been mired in controversy for several years over various issues. The two previous EC presidents both resigned amid controversy (Frank Page in 2018 for a moral failure and Ronnie Floyd in 2021 in a power struggle with the board of trustees).
Still, the news about McLaurin stunned the SBC family and left those closest to him heartbroken.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, where McLaurin was employed for 15 years before joining the EC staff in 2020 as a vice president, said, “I am profoundly saddened right now.”
“To say that I am grieved would be an understatement,” Davis said in a statement released Aug. 17. “Willie McLaurin has been a shining light of encouragement to pastors and churches, both in Tennessee and across the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“Unfortunately, the situation in which we now find ourselves is beyond belief, and I am simply trying to process all that has happened, and the enormous damage inflicted by the fraud perpetrated on his resumé regarding his educational background,” he wrote.
Acknowledging his deep friendship with McLaurin, Davis noted, “I will continue to walk with him through this current storm as a friend.”
Robertson announced Howe as the new interim president and CEO in a statement released Aug. 18.
“The SBC Executive Committee’s bylaws require that the Executive Committee officers appoint an existing SBC Executive Committee vice president to serve temporarily, pending full trustee board approval,” Robertson explained. “Therefore, we have tasked Jonathan Howe, vice president for communications, to step into that role in partnership with the officers until our next trustee meeting on Sept. 18–19. At that trustee meeting the full board of trustees will elect, without restrictions, a continuing interim president/CEO.
“Know that as chairman, I am committed to working alongside the 85 professional and gifted women and men, who represent Southern Baptists across our convention, to carry out the work with which we have been tasked, with purpose, transparency, and reliability for such a time as this. I am grateful for our partnership as Southern Baptists toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”
Davis urged all Southern Baptists “to go before God with our brokenness and run toward humility and holiness. It is not the time to be the kind of army that shoots its wounded.”
“It is not a time to posture. It is a time to pray. Together.” (Comments from Randy Davis were provided by the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector)