After not being renewed for a second term as trustee to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for allegedly appearing to be “in the pocket” of ERLC president, Russell Moore, Southern Baptist messengers overturned SBC due process to renew the trustee’s term after a passionate plea from Russell Moore supporters.
In Southern Baptist life, church members are told to “trust the trustees.” This mantra is brought out from the woodshed and hoisted high like a moniker whenever Southern Baptist entities do something incredibly stupid. What “trust the trustees” mean is “mind your own business.”
Paige Patterson enrolls a Muslim at Southwestern? Trust the trustees!
Russell Moore throws Southern Baptist clout and power behind getting a Mosque built in New Jersey? Trust the trustees!
IMB wastes and mismanages hundreds of millions of dollars? Trust the trustees!
Bob Reccord pilfers millions of dollars from NAMB and they give him a 500k severance package? Trust the trustees!
Lifeway sells theological rat poison? Trust the trustees!
The idea behind the slogan is simple; trustees know more than you, they’re chosen (implicitly, by God) for the job – and you are not – and that you should trust whatever negotiated decision they make in a smoke-filled backroom out there. If you ever disagree with the decision of the trustees, the Convention is told, it’s probably just because they were privy to more top-secret information than you. Dave Miller wrote about this in his peanut-gallery blog, SBC Voices, in his post, Trustees and the SBC: A Key to Our Future.
Trust the Trustees.
It is not just a suggestion for Southern Baptists, it is a way of life. You can gripe and moan and rage and resolve and move, but in the end, the direction of the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention is set by the Trustees. Even our actions at the SBC Annual Meeting have far less control over these entities than we think. We approve the budget and we elect the trustees, but the trustees are entrusted with the oversight of the entities. People have railed about the injustice of entities that don’t bend and bow to SBC resolutions.
“Trust the Trustees” is another way of saying, “Move along, Citizen, there is nothing to see here.” However, at the Southern Baptist Convention, messengers representing the ERLC Deep State took to the floor to demand that the bureaucratic system in place to appoint trustees be overturned to allow a (supposedly) pro-Russell Moore former trustee another term, in spite of the fact he had been found unfit to uphold his fiduciary responsibility as a trustee.
Trustees, in theory, keep entities in check. Southern Baptist entities (such as seminaries, Lifeway, the North American Mission Board, the International Mission Board, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and so on) are essentially free agents, not bound by resolutions at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. They are independent and receive a cut of the Cooperative Program pie, the portion from offering plates given to the denomination by Southern Baptist churches. The control that the SBC has over entities is limited to the trustee selection process, after which, the trustees govern the entity. However, as I’ve explained many times, the process of trustee selection is often corrupt, with entity heads directing the trustee selection process with only those individuals agreeable to the entity heads being nominated for trustee positions (this is especially true with seminaries). A certain fraction of trustees at SBC entities are rubes, hillbilly preachers or rural pastors or clueless inner-city ministers who are simply thrilled to have been given the offer to serve as a trustee and to have their travel compensated financially and their time compensated with finger-sandwiches and shoulder-to-shoulder time with VIPs; this contingent is widely kept out of the decision making process altogether, which is explains why so much of the time, SBC trustees have gone on record stating their absolute ignorance of entity actions whenever those actions are controversial. Another fraction of trustees at SBC entities are chosen because they are hard-core supporters of the SBC Industrial Machine, and champion the vocational employee heads of the entities.
The ERLC trustee controversy began this week when Dan Anderson was not given a second term as a trustee at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is ordinary to give a trustee two one-year back-to-back terms. However, SBC bylaws do not require any trustee to be given a second term. In fact, it is suggested that the one-year, two-term process was chosen over a one-term, two-year process in order to ensure that someone was fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities before being given more time as a trustee. A “fiduciary duty” is one in which a steward or trustee is trusted with doing what is in the best interest of the organization they are overseeing. As a trustee of the ERLC, it was Dan Anderson’s job to make sure that Russell Moore was serving the Southern Baptist Convention as he should and that the entity itself was reflecting the beliefs of SBC messengers, pastors, and laypeople. According to Anderson, he was not given a second term because the Committee on Nominations asked him whether or not he would speak up if he felt Dr. Moore had done anything inappropriate, and he didn’t answer to their satisfaction.
According to Moore acolytes, there is a conspiracy by the Committee on Nominations to stack the ERLC with anti-Moore individuals. However, the Committee on Nominations denied that the conversation took place or that such a question was asked. It has been reported to Pulpit & Pen that Anderson is not necessarily a strong advocate or opponent of Russell Moore, and fits into the clueless “it’s an honor just to serve” category of trustees. It is likely that the Committee on Nominations – which made their decision unanimously – saw the same problem with Anderson. Trustees should be willing to hold entity heads accountable, or the trustee system itself is pointless.
However, flexing his muscle, Russell Moore had some of his strongest supporters run a blitzkrieg propaganda campaign, insinuating that there was something nefarious behind the decision of the Committee on Nominations. After several impassioned pleas ranging from lauding Anderson’s personal integrity to arguing that not giving a second term hurts the continuity of leadership (an asinine argument if there ever was one, considering there’s already a one-term, two-year limit and with nearly 80 trustees the departure of a single man would make no difference whatsoever, Anderson was reinstated as an ERLC trustee.
My best guess is that in reality, there’s little truth to Anderson’s claim and no substantiation for it. My best guess is also that the Committee on Nominations asked a question like, “Would you speak up if you disagreed with Russell Moore” and Anderson – without guile – answered in a way not conducive to fulfilling trustee fiduciary responsibility. Anderson then cried foul on the question and the Moore contingent was aghast that trustees were being asked if they were willing to do their actual job. To Moore and the powers that be in the ERLC and SBC, trustees are expected to support, rather than oppose, entity heads. This was likely a signal to what few critics of the ERLC that exist that there will be no resistance from among trustees to Russell Moore’s agenda, and to demonstrate that the messengers to the SBC will support Moore against any attempt (even if imagined) to oust him.
It was a massive win for Russell Moore’s solidification of power, and ensures the SBC that there will be no serious effort of the trustee system to keep Moore’s influence in check. Apparently not only can we not trust the trustees, it’s out-of-line to ask if they can be trusted; they are to support the entity head or else. It is safe to say that there is no man in the SBC who wields as much influence over the Southern Baptist Convention as Russell Moore (not even the venerable Albert Mohler), and with much of his influence being among younger, more progressive Baptists, his influence is only sure to grow for decades to come.