Tennessee pastor Willie McLaurin has been named interim president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. This is the first time a Black person has headed the predominantly white denomination.
“My prayer is that this season will bring healing and unity to our Convention,” McLaurin said in a release.
“When we love each other the way Jesus loves people then we create the atmosphere for cooperation.”
The church’s executive committee is facing allegations of racism and mishandling of sexual abuse claims.
He said in the release his focus will be on the committee’s day-to-day operations, including cooperating with the sexual abuse investigation task force.
“All of us here on this earth are interims, and I am humbled and honored to be selected and wholly dependent on the Lord to carry out His will in this time of transition,” he said.
McLaurin was named the committee’s vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization in 2020. The position was created by the organization to focus on spreading the gospel and fostering relations with various demographic groups of Southern Baptists.
McLaurin worked at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board for 15 years and previously held pastoral roles in churches in that state.
In June 2020, the Rev. Rolland Slade, senior pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, was elected as the first African American chair of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. The office runs the business of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination outside its annual meetings.
“We hope that he will help us to reset the tone by which the EC serves Southern Baptists,” Slade told the Baptist Press, the SBC’s news service. “Immediately before us is the challenge to regain the sense of trust of Southern Baptists.”
Following Slade’s appointment, the Rev. Emmett G. Price III told Boston Public Radio the organization has been dealing with issues of racism and sexism for years.
"The culture has been inbred to the fact that no matter if you have people of color who are pastors of churches, they'll never get to be decisionmakers at the table," said Price.
And you have women who have suffered tremendously, who have been horrifically traumatized, who have not received justice or even an opportunity to tell their story. So, at this moment, you have a couple of leaders choosing to move away from the centerpiece of that table."
Russel Moore, leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, left the position in June to join Christianity Today magazine. Two letters he sent to Southern Baptist leadership in which Moore described a culture of racism and mishandling of sexual abuse claims were leaked to the public.
"As George Floyd was an inflection point last year, this change right now is an inflection point for the Southern Baptist Church," Price said.