The story of David and the little ewe lamb comes to mind, as staff cuts at the SBC Executive Committee sink in. Among the five full-time staff and two contract workers terminated to save money, two were heads of ethnic ministries. For a denomination that has seen significant growth among ethnic groups and language ministries in recent decades, those losses are significant.
Asian and Hispanic pastors are pointing that out. And they’re asking, do you realize the impact of what you’ve done?
The need to save money is understandable, especially after the EC revealed that it had lost another $2 million last year, with cash assets reduced from about $14 million two years ago to $4 million now—although we have not seen the audit yet, since publishing of the SBC Annual by EC staff has been delayed. Lawyers are expensive, some people have observed, given the assumption that the ongoing work around sexual abuse claims requires continued legal representation. But again, that’s speculation at this point.
Still, it falls to the EC to operate within their 2.99% of the Cooperative Program budget, so staff was cut to 21 full-time employees, including the team at Baptist Press, which lost one reporter to pink slips.
The complaints are about the termination of Peter Yanes, Associate Vice President of Asian Relations and Luis Lopez, Associate Vice President of Hispanic Relations. Charles Grant, Associate Vice President of Black Church Relations was retained and his title broadened to include all ethnic mobilization.
As The Baptist Paper reported, “The positions held by Yanes, who came on board in 2019, and Lopez, who filled the position left vacant by Julio Ariola in 2022, were originally created in 2019 as a collaboration between the EC and the North American Mission Board. The EC/NAMB partnership, designed to reach and mobilize ethnically and racially diverse churches in the SBC and increase ethnic engagement, transitioned completely to EC positions in January of 2022, the EC announced.”
In other words, a reliable alternate funding stream was shut off.
Some 18 Asian church leaders have objected, pointing out the growth in their ranks while the majority of churches have declined. And three Hispanic leaders from Florida, Texas, and California representing 3,300 churches in the National Hispanic Baptist Network are joining them in asking for a meeting.
Peter Ramirez, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention wrote, “With a void in these important positions, where only diverse leadership can understand and minister to these specific differences, I’m not sure the EC will be able to fulfill this vital initiative.” He also pointed out there is no Hispanic representation among EC trustees now.
“This represents a step backwards in our communication and collaboration when we should be moving forward together to reach and disciple the lost in the U.S. and beyond (including the more than 52,000,000 lost Hispanics in the U.S.),” Ramirez wrote.
If this sounds familiar, in June the National African American Fellowship of 4,000 churches asked for a meeting with SBC President Bart Barber and others to discuss the role of women in church leadership and use of the word pastor after votes at the New Orleans convention. Barber met with them during Black Church Week at Ridgecrest in July. And Barber said he would meet with Hispanic leaders at the end of September and with EC interim president and CEO Jonathan Howe in November. Howe called the terminations a very painful action during what was thought to be his only month in the position.
“I think it’s fair to say I never expected to be in this spot,” Howe told the EC Trustees in his CEO’s report in September, while filling the spot left vacant by Willie McLaurin when his inflated resume was revealed. “I didn’t expect it a month ago, didn’t expect it a year ago, and I certainly wouldn’t have believed it a decade ago,” Howe said quietly. But after his potential replacement fell through, Howe is still there. And it will be up to Howe, with Barber and EC Chair Philip Robertson, to explain their actions to the Asian and Hispanic pastors.
Underlying all this is the simple message: Talk with us before you make big decisions that affect us. Representation means having a place at the table. And protect our ewe lamb.
–Eric Reed is Illinois Baptist media editor