J.D. Greear serves currently as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He pastors a “megachurch” in North Carolina and strikes some people as young and hip. While he can’t be blamed if people impose that stereotype on him, I will make the case briefly, in this post, that he feeds a frat-boy stereotype of himself, behind which hides a grossly failing presidency. Let’s start by looking at the public perception of Greear in the summer of 2018, when he was elected. There was a YouTube video of various superstars of the Southern Baptist Convention–ranging from Beth Moore to Russell Moore and a bunch of famous people that we’re supposed to consider cool–rapping praises to Greear:
I encourage you to force yourself to get through that whole video. We must face even the most cringeworthy scenes of our church’s downgrade.
In case you don’t recognize Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, Beth Moore, and the rapping brunette, these are people with a lot of prominence and power in the Southern Baptist Convention. They form a close-knit clique of people who speak at each other’s conferences and push each other’s books. Their close relationships with each other and with well-heeled funding sources explain their obvious view of themselves as extremely up-to-date, stylish, and popular. In truth, the average secular American would find them as embarrassingly uncool as you probably do watching this video. They suffer from a big-fish-small-pond syndrome. They fall for an illusion that what seem like large crowds and huge social-media followings actually reflect a profound connection with the zeitgeist and an earned authority about the “pulse” of the popular culture. In truth, the Southern Baptist Convention is hemorrhaging members and losing ground both with conservative churchgoers and with the increasingly liberal popular culture. Despite the seemingly sizable audience these hipsters draw within the SBC, they really aren’t that hip.
As you can see from this YouTube video, Greear arrives as a creature birthed from this Astroturf Baptist celebrity class. In the summer of 2018, he took to Facebook for a supposedly impromptu broadcast of himself in jeans and a tight t-shirt talking about how important it is for Baptists to stay united, stay positive, and shun people who get divisive. This was a barely veiled reference to the controversy swirling around the Paige Patterson firing.
The incoherence in this early Facebook live video seemed rather obvious. He wants unity but seeks to divide; he wants inclusion but looks to exclude; he insists on positivity but goes negative. Such would remain the tenor of his two years as president: incoherent, self-contradicting, lacking in precision or clarity.
Greear rose to the presidency at the June 2018 annual meeting, a time when Paige Patterson’s firing presaged a massive coup d’état by the social justice crowd in the SBC. It was a time of tumult when huge constituencies of traditionalist, non-Calvinist conservatives were being marginalized because of Patterson’s ouster. Greear had serious issues before him. At that meeting, I submitted a resolution affirming support for ex-gay ministry, which was blocked unceremoniously by the resolutions committee led by Jason Duesing of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The resolutions committee explained in the vaguest terms their reasons for not forwarding the resolution to the floor. They forwarded a bunch of trendy liberal resolutions, including one that denounced preachers who used the curse of Ham to justify American slavery. I have never heard, in my entire life, anyone refer supportively to the age-old abuse of Genesis 9 to justify slavery. Yet my resolution on ex-gay therapy was extremely urgent in the context of current events. Here is what I wrote about the drama at the June 2018 convention–the one at which J.D. Greear was elected president.
Events forced my hand, and I had to come out of hiding. The law against ex-gay therapy in California had ramped up and alarmed most people in the Christian world. It was the most totalitarian “stay gay” bill to come forward yet and had no religious exemption. After about eight weeks of looking for someone to submit a resolution on this to the Southern Baptist Convention, I submitted “On Ministry and Counseling to Lead People from Homosexuality to Heterosexuality” under my own name.
It turns out mine was the only resolution submitted to the SBC addressing the rash of bans against ex-gay therapy. Partly the SBC owed its silence to Russell Moore and the ERLC. Coming out of talks with the HRC in October 2014, Dr. Moore had denounced reparative therapy. The Nashville Statement, which came out in 2017, had avoided discussing sexual orientation change or reparative therapy. So the bans on ex-gay therapy could proliferate while SBC leaders lulled and placated Baptists by the constant claims that they supported marriage – an issue already moot because of Obergefell in 2015. In context, the gay movement’s aims faced no obstacle in Baptist support for marriage.
The real need lay in clarifying the denomination’s stance on sexual orientation change. By 2018, the ERLC’s position aligned with the pro-LGBT people forcing California’s law down the pipeline. I had written about the complex ways that conservatives contributed to the bans at the Stream.
On June 12, the SBC announced that my resolution was declined in committee and would not be brought to the floor. Sixteen resolutions went to the floor, mostly with left-wing inflections. These included statements on the immigration crisis, gun violence, rights for women, diversity, racism, thanking the Rockefeller family, and celebrating the memory of Billy Graham. The same day, the judiciary committee of the California state Senate was moving to approve the California law banning any ex-gay counseling. The Southern Baptist Convention was deciding, it seemed, to give up on helping anyone in its churches leave homosexuality for heterosexuality. These people would choose not only indifference, but rather supportive dialogue with gay groups that seek to punish people for trying to make such changes. (See Revoice.)
The SBC was falling apart at the seams. It was swirling down the toilet and Greear was born of the whirlpool like Aphrodite emerging from the foamy waves of Cyprus in a painting by Botticelli. Not only did the disasters in the resolutions committee foretell bad news for the Convention (and this was a whole year before the debacle of Resolution 9), but also, the June 2018 meeting saw a host of public-relations disasters that president-elect Greear never sought to correct. Tom Littleton was thrown out of the convention by Dallas Police who told him that someone in SBC command had said he was posing a threat. Later investigations revealed that someone in leadership had falsely told a police officer that Littleton threatened to “kick someone’s ass.” This appeared in the Dallas police report. The SBC leaders denied having told the policemen this and simply refused to explain who had given the orders for him to be forcibly removed.
Thomas Littleton is a lifelong Southern Baptist and a journalist. For him to be thrown out by Dallas Police and for nobody to explain why, the SBC reveals it has a massive problem. It shows that Baptists can’t trust the Convention leaders because they lie and violate basic rights of the people they are supposed to serve. The story of Littleton’s expulsion reached the press; it was covered on Janet Mefferd’s radio show and in the Christian Post, Capstone Report, and Pulpit and Pen. To date, J.D. Greear has never made a statement or sought to resolve this grave breach of ethics in leadership.
In addition, many Baptists behaved rudely and purposefully disrespected Mike Pence, who came to speak at the Convention. Sincere concerns about the way the Southwestern Baptist trustees handled the firing of Paige Patterson were brushed aside. Sincere concerns about the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, as well as apparent cronyism in the composition of the ERLC trustee board, were likewise blown off as if the “little people” who worried about the mismanagement of the whole convention didn’t matter at all.
Greear showed zero care for these multiple warning signs. His main preoccupation going forward would be to talk about the sex abuse crisis and push his diversity agenda. Both these fronts show inexcusable failures in leadership on his part.
First, regarding the sex abuse crisis, Greear chose immediately to give the ERLC responsibility for dealing with sex abuse allegations. Many people had already raised red flags about the ERLC’s nepotism and conflicts of interest. By June of 2018 these conflicts of interest were glaring. For instance, Karen Swallow Prior was an ERLC fellow reporting to Russell Moore at the same time that she started a petition against Paige Patterson, who was fired based on a firestorm of unproven charges. There was no due process. A “gentleman’s agreement” was being enforced, such that nobody in one entity could criticize any entity heads–thereby shielding Russell Moore from criticism–even as Paige Patterson, as an entity head, had been given no such accommodation. I don’t like gentleman’s agreements, period. But the only thing worse than an SBC-wide gentleman’s agreement is a gentleman’s agreement that’s weaponized so it protects the ERLC but does not protect people the ERLC doesn’t like.
An organization with all these conflicts of interest was NOT the appropriate body to take charge of sex abuse in the SBC. By 2018, the stories about Harvey Weinstein had already circulated widely and it was clear that Weinstein’s abuse flew under the radar for so long, largely because he could blacklist his victims and wield his influence to silence anybody who wanted to come forward. When you are dealing with abuse, conflicts of interest are not a laughing matter.
To be president of the SBC, J.D. Greear had to see the serious problems in having the ERLC handle the sex abuse issue. What happened next should not surprise us. The ERLC spent a year working on a response to the sex abuse issue. I submitted a resolution to the 2019 resolutions committee–this was a committee appointed entirely by Greear–and that committee blocked my resolution. The resolution I submitted called for the SBC to denounce retaliation against whistleblowers, non-disclosure agreements, gentleman’s agreements, and the so-called “eleventh commandment” forbidding Baptists from criticizing each other. I framed the resolution explicitly as a response to the sex abuse crisis.
As president of the entire Convention, Greear could not have been unaware that retaliation, NDAs, and gentleman’s agreements would all have to be eliminated if there were to be any progress in sex abuse within the SBC. As long as investigations could be weaponized and used by one camp against another (as happened with Patterson), and as long as “investigations” were kept in house, powerful people would be able to cover up crimes by pulling strings with their friends on other committees.
Greear said nothing about my resolution being blocked. He simply let the ERLC run a conference which did absolutely nothing substantial about the sex abuse issue. The Caring Well conference in October 2019 devoted almost no attention to same-sex abuse (more on that later) and unveiled no substantial process where people could come forward as whistleblowers. By October 2019, in fact, people were told to report instances of abuse or racism to the executive committee! Most of Caring Well was about how women needed to have more power in the SBC. A strong theme was that the SBC’s old-fashioned chauvinism created an environment that left women vulnerable to abuse. This was exceedingly foolish, even disingenuous, given that Harvey Weinstein was one of the most progressive and feminist men in the public eye and he was the great bogeyman of sex abuse.
Beth Moore, Rachael Denhollander, and the usual celebrities came from central casting to put on a women’s liberation pep rally. Meanwhile, even two figures who had come under massive criticism in the press for poorly handing sex abuse allegations — Albert Mohler and Matt Chandler — seemed to come under no pressure to resign or retire from leadership as a result of information that came out about them. As I had written in my summer 2018 piece for American Thinker, we had cause to doubt whether Greear would be aggressive about addressing sex abuse if his friends were involved. Those doubts, as it turned out, were not unfounded.
All the ridiculousness that happened to me in the SBC in 2019 has to be tallied and billed to Greear. He should have looked more closely at the process by which the Southwestern trustees ended up hiring Adam Greenway to replace Paige Patterson. Greenway swept in based on Patterson being removed over scandals involving responses to sex abuse claims. Yet less than three months after Greenway assumed office, the provost he hired — ERLC fellow Randy Stinson — took me to lunch and made it clear he did not like my having submitted the resolution on sex abuse. Greenway’s provost, Stinson, would actually act multiple times over the course of 2019 to tell me, either directly or through my dean as a proxy, that I had to limit my public engagement on the same-sex abuse issue or my future at the seminary would be in doubt. Ultimately when I published my testimony under a pseudonym about same-sex abuse, I was warned that I had to cease or I would be fired. I was fired after saying I could not back away from sharing my testimony on same-sex abuse.
Under Greear’s tenure, a climate of fear made it ever worse for whistleblowers to discuss sex abuse. Same-sex abuse was all but blocked as a topic, while Greear was making multiple overtures to liberalize the Convention’s view of homosexuality. While touting the usual smokescreen of “marriage is between a man and a woman,” Greear made multiple statements minimizing the seriousness of homosexuality, saying the Bible only “whispers” about sexual sin. The latter statement flies in the face of scripture’s repeated warnings about sexual depravity, with Jesus Christ condemning porneia or sexual perversion in the gospel of Matthew. Greear cited ERLC fellow Andrew Walker and Revoice supporter Preston Sprinkle to declare support for “pronoun hospitality.” While the Convention he led refused to support sexual orientation change efforts, blocked my resolution on whistleblowers, and allowed for me to be fired for discussing same-sex abuse, Greear plodded along expressing blithe sympathies for the LGBT movement.
Greear’s record on racial reconciliation is no better. He appointed the resolutions committee that blocked my whistleblower proposal and pushed Resolution 9 onto the Convention–the resolution endorsing the use of critical race theory and intersectionality. The biggest upheaval among the seminaries during Greear’s tenure took place at Southwestern, where Greenway fired 13 minorities and women and replaced them overwhelmingly with white men from Southern Seminary. Tensions have never been higher between the races in the SBC. Greear seems to do nothing about obvious cases of racism right in front of him, while his appointees do everything they can to inflame racial resentments over long-past history, over issues that the SBC has apologized for many times, and over vague claims that churches have a “race problem” that one can never document with any clarity.
The other entities have not done well under Greear. LifeWay closed all 170 of its retail stores and nearly went out of business. The mission boards, international and domestic, are troubled with myriad ethical concerns (see this show I did with Tom Littleton). We have not seen a turnaround in the falling membership and baptism numbers. The ERLC has gotten itself into so much hot water that the Executive Committee had to respond to grassroots pressure by opening an investigation into its harm to the cooperative giving program.
To follow up the bad showing of the resolutions committee Greear appointed for 2019, Greear has decided to double down on arrogance with his appointments to the resolutions committee this year. The chair will be Ed Stetzer, not coincidentally one of the men who rapped about him in the “Too Legit to Quit” farce and someone who’s haunted by ethical concerns. The vice chair will be a woman from a Baptist church in Cambridge, Massachusetts who works in academia and was part of the push for Resolution 9 a year ago. Also on the committee is Bart Barber, ERLC fellow and a former Southwestern Baptist trustee who had a high public role in getting rid of Paige Patterson. Another ERLC fellow and Southwestern appointee is Katie McCoy, a women’s studies professor who was foiled against the Pattersons in a public-relations imbroglio at the seminary last October. Katie McCoy’s dad is also a bigwig in the Missouri Baptist world so she’s basically a dynastic choice, a female Good Old Boy. Then there’s Bruce Ashford, the provost at Southeastern who got into a recent dust-up with Todd Starnes. These appointments betoken more nepotism and insider dealing at a time when discontent with the SBC elites is reaching a highpoint.
After his poor showing in 2018 and 2019, Greear’s appointments demonstrate his enduring frat-boy, you-can’t-stop-me, aren’t-I-so-darn-awesome attitude. He blows off real concerns and doubles down while the Convention rips apart. It’s such a shame.
During all this, Greear has seemed to enjoy his dazzling spotlight, brandishing his buttocks before a crowd of cheering women and overflowing with affection for people who express hatred toward Israel.
Why did the SBC put itself through this? I don’t understand why this man was ever president of the Convention. Judging from the “Too Legit to Quit” video, it seems some people think J.D. Greear is cute. But go ask Beto O’Rourke how far that will get someone. And to paraphrase what my Army buddy used to say to women who tried to use their beauty to get away with misconduct, “We’re not that impressed.” He has a megachurch, but so does Joel Osteen. He isn’t that cool. It’s time to put these two years of self-embarrassment behind us. And not to Southern Baptists–let’s not do this again. Ever.