NASHVILLE (BP) -- The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee elected its first African American chair in a special called meeting Tuesday.
Rolland Slade, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, Calif., was unopposed as EC chair and was unanimously elected by ballot vote. Outgoing chair Mike Stone called for a ballot vote, he said, to mark the historic moment.
"I think we all realize by what is going on in this country as well as in our convention, this timing is in many ways the providence of our Lord," said Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga.
Many, including Slade, attributed his election to God.
"I don't think there was ever a plan for me to be in this position," Slade told Baptist Press. "I think it's what God has done. … I believe God loves diversity; He created us and we are all diverse. I think for us to not embrace it is saying that, 'We've got a better idea than You [God].'"
In other business, the EC voted to recommend SBC Annual Meeting sites for 2025 and 2027 in Dallas and Salt Lake City, respectively; elected a complete slate of officers and EC committee chairs; voted to allow the EC to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program if deemed necessary; and received Cooperative Program allocation and EC operating budget reports.
The called meeting was conducted on Zoom and livestreamed, as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the EC from meeting at its Nashville headquarters. The EC conducted business delayed by the cancellation last March of the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting, originally slated June 9-10 in Orlando, Fla.
Slade served the last two years as EC vice chair. As EC chair, Slade leads the SBC's fiduciary, fiscal and executive arm. He was nominated by EC member Jared Wellman, pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. After the vote, Slade thanked EC members, his family and his church for their support.
"We praise God together and let's pray together and let's stay together," he said, "because I've learned that a family that prays together, stays together."
Marshal Ausberry, SBC first vice president, said Slade's election shows how far the SBC has come, and also shows the "mighty hand of God at work."
"His election shows the positive transformation that is occurring in the Convention," said Ausberry, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC and pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va. "When you think of the founding of the SBC in 1845, largely over the issue concerning the ownership of enslaved persons by missionaries, to the election of Rolland Slade in the 175th year, this is a seminal moment for the Convention and all Southern Baptists."
Slade served on the EC search committee that recommended in 2019 the hiring of Ronnie Floyd as SBC EC president and CEO.
"For the first time in the 103-year history of the SBC Executive Committee, we have today elected our first African American chairman," Floyd commented during the meeting. "God bless [him] and may others follow [him] in days to come."
SBC President J.D. Greear, who has made diversity a major emphasis of his term, has lamented that SBC leadership does not reflect current SBC diversity. He called Slade's election an "exciting day for our convention."
"Rolland Slade's election demonstrates we are moving in the right direction," Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., told Baptist Press. "During my two years as SBC president, I have worked alongside Rolland and seen his leadership and character to lead this body at this time.
Fred Luter, the only African American ever elected as SBC president, praised God for Slade's election, especially in the midst of nationwide racial tension.
"Rolland is certainly deserving of this historical honor not just because of the color of his skin but because of his knowledge, skills, and leadership as a member of the Executive Committee through the years," Luter said. "I am proud of Rolland and proud of the men and women of this committee for making this such a historic moment in the Southern Baptist Convention. To God be the glory for the things He has done!"
Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was SBC president from 2012-2014.
Tom Tucker, a vocational evangelist from Rock Hill, S.C., was elected as EC vice chair. Joe Knott, an attorney from Raleigh, N.C., was reelected EC secretary.
The EC also elected four committee chairs:
Robyn Hari, a financial advisor from Brentwood, Tenn., was elected chairman of the Committee on Convention Finances and Stewardship Development. Rob Showers, an attorney from Leesburg, Va., was elected chairman of the Committee on Convention Missions and Ministry. Jim Gregory, senior pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Mountain Home, Idaho, was elected to chair the Committee on Southern Baptist Relations. Rod Martin, CEO of The Martin Organization in Destin, Fla., was elected to chair the Committee on Convention Events and Strategic Planning.
Paycheck Protection Program
The EC granted permission for the entity to apply, if deemed necessary, for a Paycheck Protection Program loan of up to $750,000 through the U.S. Small Business Administration under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Bill Townes, SBC EC chief financial officer, noted that a loan could be used to potentially offset an anticipated decrease in Cooperative Program giving during the economic downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The EC voted to recommend that messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting move the 2025 SBC Annual Meeting from Salt Lake City to Dallas. The proposed date of the Dallas meeting would be June 10-11, 2025.
EC members also voted to recommend to messengers that the 2027 SBC Annual Meeting be held June 8-9 in Salt Lake City. Both recommendations are contingent upon satisfactory contract negotiations.
At the close of the meeting, the Credentials Committee notified the EC of the election of a new chairman, Mike Lawson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Sherman, Texas, and an EC member. Stacy Bramlett, the outgoing chairman who is also a member of the EC, remains a Credentials Committee member.
Messengers to the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting established the committee to receive reports of a church's suspected departure from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine or practice and to make recommendations to the SBC Executive Committee regarding the possible disfellowship of churches from the SBC.
In other business, the EC received a 2019-2020 second quarter Cooperative Program budget report of $101,138,686, dated March 31, a 0.40 percent increase of the report for the same time the previous year.
The EC received a second quarter 2019-20 EC and SBC operating budget report, showing a negative total change in net assets of $1,882,883. During the first six months of the fiscal year through March, revenue was under budget by $395,098, and expenses were under budget by $441,131.
Neither report reflected the impact of the economic downturn. The next EC meeting is scheduled for September 21-22 in Nashville.