A Teachable Moment Regarding Recent SBC Leadership

A Teachable Moment Regarding Recent SBC Leadership

Throughout Scripture, we see repeatedly that a person’s character is revealed not just in what they say—but even more in what they do. Character is especially revealed in what someone does in moments of crisis.

Last week, a pastor in Florida was arrested on charges of possessing child pornography. His (former) church belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and was listed on several church search lists, including those found on the websites of the SBC, 9Marks, and Founders Ministries. Up until this horrific sin came to light, there was no way that the SBC, 9Marks, Founders, or others could have known about this pastor’s secret sin. No amount of abuse reform can grant powers of omniscience.

Once we at Founders heard of the arrest, we immediately removed the church from our search list, wrote to the church to inform them of our actions, and offered to help them in any way that we could. Leadership in the church has expressed appreciation for our actions. They, like all of us, are repulsed by the accusations. They were also caught completely off guard and are fully cooperating with proper authorities in seeking justice.

Addressing a Serious Accusation

The actions that Founders Ministries took upon learning about the arrest of this pastor demonstrate our priorities. Likewise, the actions taken by others upon learning of this horrific crime reveal where their priorities lie.

We can see another example of one’s actions revealing their priorities in how Jared Wellman responded to this awful situation. For those unfamiliar with Wellman, he is the pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. He has also been very involved in SBC politics and attempted to become the single most powerful leader in the convention.

Here is a brief rundown of Wellman’s involvement in SBC leadership:

  • Member of the 2020 ERLC Leadership Council under Russell Moore
  • Member of the SBC Resolutions Committee in 2019 (of “Resolution 9” fame), 2021, and 2020
  • Executive Board Member of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, 2009-2013 and 2013-2017
  • Trustee at Criswell College, 2020-2021
  • Land Center Fellow at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS)
  • Adjunct Professor at SWBTS
  • Member of the Executive Committee (EC) of the SBC, 2015
  • Chairman of the SBC EC, 2022-2023
  • Chairman of the Cooperation Group appointed by SBC President Bart Barber, 2023-2024

Numerous people alerted me last Saturday night that Jared tried to implicate Founders Ministries in the sordid accusations against the Florida pastor because his (former) church was listed on our church search list. After linking to a story about the pastor’s arrest, Wellman posted this on X:

Why does Founders have zero accountability for churches they officially recommend as “healthy, biblically-grounded” churches while being so adamant about what kinds of churches can cooperate through the SBC?

I’m genuinely confused.

Founders’s own house is out of order.

Almost immediately, multiple pastors raised legitimate concerns about Jared’s post. Here are just a few excerpts of the many concerns raised:

“Knowing secret sins is not the job of a church search. They evaluate what confessions you claim to hold & look over a church’s teachings then list them. If your pastor engages in sexual sin privately & the church doesn’t even know, how is a church search supposed to know?” (Source)

“…this is how most church searches work (Founders, 9 Marks, TGC, etc). People submit their churches, and there is a disclaimer that this is the church identifying themselves and not an endorsement. Even a quick “verification of facts” can not identify evil men harboring secret sin.” (Source)

“What kind of accountability should be applied to a church who was unaware of the creep’s crimes and acted when it was revealed?” (Source)

“This is disingenuous but more importantly, simply being used as an opportunity to strike out at an ‘opponent.’” (Source)

“If you go after Founders for recommending the church but removing their recommendation when they became aware of the pastor’s sin, how do you not take responsibility for the SBC recommending the church while you were chairman of the Executive Committee?” (Source)

Jared’s response was not to engage with these concerns in good faith. Instead, he hid several critical replies before turning off the ability to respond to his post entirely.

As the President of Founders Ministries, I offered to talk to him privately about his public castigation of Founders. Sadly, he has not has responded. But his antics are instructive.

Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste

Some will think Jared’s question is innocent and legitimate. Those more familiar with the radical progressive activist Saul Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals will recognize that Wellman is simply following a script. Jared’s accusation doesn’t come from a confused mind. Rather, it comes from one that has an agenda.

Following the maneuver popularized by President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rham Emanuel (but first articulated by Machiavelli), Wellman simply could not let a serious crisis go to waste. That’s what his post on X was about. He took this tragic, horrific story and turned it into an opportunity to signal his virtue to a watching world while casting aspersion on Founders Ministries. Why? I will leave motives to God, but it is obvious to anyone who has kept up that I have been among those who have repeatedly protested the way that recent SBC leaders have been steering the SBC into bad paths.

Sadly, this is not the first time that Southern Baptists have seen such behavior from Wellman. He saw his political profile rise during a crisis, and he has continued to go back to that well. Every serious crisis is an opportunity for Wellman and those like him to gain more political power and attack those perceived enemies.

After Ronnie Floyd resigned as president of the EC over controversy related to an abuse investigation, Wellman used his position as Chairman of the EC and member of the search committee to attempt to take the vacant presidency for himself. He secretly resigned from the Executive Committee days before the search committee announced that he was their pick for one of the most powerful positions in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Once these back-alley dealings were brought to light, an unforeseen groundswell of opposition arose from rank-and-file SBC churches. Even liberals who liked Wellman recognized that he did not act ethically when he attempted to use a search committee on which he served to secretly appoint himself to the most powerful role in the Southern Baptist Convention. The opposition that arose led to several EC members breaking ranks, and Jared failed to be elected to the post.

Not only have we seen Jared Wellman brazenly attempt to use crises to gain power, we have also seen him use the lofty perch of SBC leadership to attack those he considers his enemies. While Wellman was on the Executive Committee, there was a misunderstanding between the outgoing chairman, Mike Stone, and the incoming chairman, Rolland Slade. Slade was mistaken about when his duties as chairman actually began and expressed frustration when he thought that Stone had overstepped. Wellman, again seeing an opportunity not to let a good crisis go to waste, used what was a simple misunderstanding to write an article filled with misrepresentations about Mike Stone and the Conservative Baptist Network. Later, when Slade recognized that he was mistaken, he apologized before the entire Executive Committee. Wellman continues to stand by his lies.

A Teaching Opportunity

Many of the current problems in the Southern Baptist Convention have been self-inflicted due primarily to failed leadership. Lack of integrity and lack of courage are two chief ingredients of such failure. Jared Wellman put both on display on Saturday night.

Lack of integrity and courage is why many SBC leaders like Wellman are quick to capitulate to worldly ideologies when doing so can curry favor with a watching world. Did I mention that Wellman was on the Resolutions Committee that railroaded the SBC into affirming critical race theory and intersectionality at the 2019 annual meeting? Or that he led the charge for the EC to waive executive privilege?

Sadly, we have seen that agenda play out in the way the SBC has been steered to address such issues as racial prejudice, women pastors, and even the atrocity of sexual abuse in ways that are more concerned with signaling virtue to hostile critics than with pursuing true virtue in the fear of the Lord. Every crisis has become an opportunity for SBC leaders like Wellman to use emotional manipulation and political maneuvering to advance their own ambitions and gain the approval of those who hate Christ and His church.

That’s why Jared Wellman’s social media post is a teachable moment. If Southern Baptist pastors and church members are willing to see it for what it is, they will find a specimen of the type of leadership that has guided the SBC over the last several years—the kind of leadership that has paid millions of dollars to LGBTQIA+ affirming organizations in the name of helping the SBC address the supposed apocalypse of sex abuse in our churches. To date, according to the estimates I have heard, the SBC has spent over $14,000,000 on “sex abuse reforms” and helped 0 abuse victims in the process.

If we had the kind of leaders who would challenge SBC pastors to pursue biblical justice (heeding such teachings as Proverbs 18:13,17; Deuteronomy 19:15-19; Matthew 18:15-20; and 1 Corinthians 5), we would see much healthier churches and provide much greater protection and care for the most vulnerable among us. That type of approach will never win the world’s applause. But it honors our Lord Jesus by taking His Word seriously. Sadly, for too many in the current SBC leadership class, fear of the former outweighs the desire for the latter.

The EC was right in 2023 when they listened to concerns raised by SBC churches and rejected the recommendation of Jared Wellman as the next President of the EC. The convention narrowly dodged a bullet as a result.

If we hope to see a much-needed course correction in the SBC, we must stop entrusting leadership to men whose ambition surpasses their godliness and start following those who fear God more than they fear people and who pursue biblical virtue even if the watching world does not approve.

Pray that God will give us such men to lead us.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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