One week ago today I handed the following letter to Dr. David Hankins, Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention just before, in protest, I walked out of the April meeting of the Louisiana College Board of Trustees (I will publish my thoughts on that event soon). I now publicly present my letter calling on the Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention to resign or retire his post.
April 2, 2014
It is with a heavy heart that I contact you today. In the past, I have expressed my concerns to you over the phone, in email and in person. Your actions over the last year have entirely dissolved any vestige of confidence I once had in your leadership. In particular, I am referring to (1) your extreme bias against an historically rich and respected soteriological tradition, (2) the undue influence you have brought to bear on the Board of Trustees of Louisiana College and (3) your manipulation and behind-the-scenes power brokering to satisfy your own agenda. I believe these actions have eroded your ability to be perceived as an impartial and fair minded officer who is responsible for overseeing our cooperative work, and as such, they have rendered you incapable of continuing in effective service as the Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention (LBC). Today, it is with due respect but considerable concern that I call on you to resign or retire your post as Executive Director of the LBC.
Dr. Hankins, you are one of the finest preachers I have ever been blessed to hear. Your intellect is undeniable. Your decades of service to the Lord are admirable. Your activity and stance on the inerrancy of Scripture is deeply appreciated. However, none of these things outweigh the abuse of power and questionable judgment you have displayed since September, 2012. I had no intention of coming to this point when I first offered my motion in the November, 2013 meeting. My hope was to simply show that our guiding documents do not allow a seat for the Executive Director on any of the four Boards of Trustees and I had hoped that the motion would be all that was necessary to address my concerns. However, since that time, especially after witnessing the activities of the last few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that nothing short of this sort of call is going to bring the problem to light.
Thus, I present here a number of my specific concerns. I cannot stress enough that I do not offer these concerns with malice or as a personal attack. As stated earlier, I have no negative feelings for you as a person or brother in Christ. I am concerned about the Louisiana Baptist Convention and I feel it is necessary to bring out these concerns at this time. Included in these few selected items are issues that can be confirmed by personal testimony, eye witness account or audio recordings. I now offer the three overarching areas of concern and cite specific examples of each. Also, to be sure that you receive this text I will be emailing you a copy of this letter.
Bias against Reformed soteriology
First, I believe your fixation on opposing a “particular” stream of soteriology is unhealthy and stifles cooperative work. As one who has been hired to oversee cooperative missions in the state of Louisiana, you have shown your personal bias (both privately and publicly) against those who are from the reformed perspective. I believe that, for the vast majority of Southern Baptists, the Baptist Faith and Message is more than sufficient for our faith and practice. However, in a phone call on July 3, 2012 you stated to me that you would like to see changes made to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 in the area of soteriology. You claimed that the current wording of Article IV it is “too broad” and “should be restricted to exclude Calvinists.” Yet, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 19-20, 2012, did formally resolve “that we affirm that The Baptist Faith and Message provides sufficient parameters for understanding the doctrine of salvation, so that Southern Baptists may joyfully and enthusiastically partner together in obedience to the Great Commission.” Further, you are aware that in 2013 an appointed committee, which your son helped to lead (and did, in my opinion, a wonderful job), presented a detailed and, I thought, thoroughly appropriate statement that, in part, concluded, “We must celebrate the unity we share together in our common Great Commission purpose, while acknowledging and celebrating variety among us. We must clarify the parameters of our cooperation where necessary but stand together without dispute.” Further, they argue, “No entity should be promoting Calvinism or non-Calvinism to the exclusion of the other. Our entities should be places where any Southern Baptist who stands within the boundaries of The Baptist Faith and Message should be welcomed and affirmed as they have opportunities to benefit from, participate in, and provide leadership for those entities.” This is the sort of balance and cooperative spirit we need at Louisiana College and among the leadership of the LBC. What we do not need are individuals that would call a college student an “aggressive rabid Calvinazi.”
Second, in Executive Session on February 25, 2013 while defending Dr. Aguillard’s action of making a public statement against some form of hyper-Calvinism you [this passage is redacted due to its contents originating from a Louisiana College Board Executive Session]. That you cited such information in your soliloquy defending Dr. Aguillard is intellectually dishonest at best and sheer manipulation at worse. This obfuscation and authoritative use of unpublished statistics in order to influence a vote is not only disappointing, it is deceptive.
Third, it has been rumored that you had hoped to have LC adopt the “Traditional Statement” as a guiding doctrinal document. Although I do not know how widespread your thoughts were on this matter, I do know that you made that desire known to the Executive Committee (EC). Again, there is evidence from the EC meeting on the morning of September 17, 2012 that you desired to replace the resolution prepared by the EC with the Traditional Statement stating, “I would be happy if we would take something like this traditional statement and just say this is what it is.” For almost 45 minutes you went on about your concerns over Calvinism and even came to the point of suggesting that the Baptist Faith and Message might need to be changed to “tighten up” the soteriological portion by saying, “I think the statements on salvation in the Baptist Faith and Message are fine unless people are using them to give themselves permission to teach things that Baptist generally do not believe.”
Interior Undue Influence on the Board
First, you asked to address the EC of the Louisiana College Board of Trustees on September 17, 2012. In that meeting you were the primary voice of dissent which influenced a reversal of a proposed resolution regarding Calvinism, which had been tentatively approved by the EC to be presented to the Louisiana College Board of Trustees (and had already been disseminated to us). This resolution had been sent out to the Board on September 7, 2012 for consideration. To suggest that the conclusion of the original resolution was troublesome, since it didn’t state a position but that, in your words, the resolution presents “we don’t have an opinion” is simply not the case. The resolution absolutely posited a position by stating “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the debate over Calvinism, inclusive of labeling for or against Calvinism, will not take place at Louisiana College.” The original EC prepared resolution was more than sufficient to articulate that LC would not advocate for Calvinism and your action was entirely inappropriate. Furthermore, one of the final statements in my motion also stated very strongly (even using some of your own language) that we would not advocate for Calvinism, “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that within instruction on soteriology at Louisiana College the Board of Trustees affirms instruction on, while not advocating for or against, Arminianism and/or Calvinism, the debate of which has encouraged rigorous and healthy exchange of ideas through the history of the church, sharpening theological discourse to the glory of God.” If the concern truly was about LC not advocating for Calvinism then either resolution would have been adequate. Without the Executive Director’s influence to rescind the motion the Louisiana College Board of Trustees would have at least voted on the resolution and it’s passage might have averted a portion the present controversy brought on by the actions of the President of Louisiana College.
Second, while in Executive Session on February 25, 2013 on two specific occasions where a debatable main motion was made, [this passage is redacted due to its contents originating from a Louisiana College Board Executive Session]. Clearly, as a Board member (even though I believe the LBC Bylaws do not grant you that position) you have every right to present your views. Again, that in and of itself, is not the issue. My concern is that I have witnessed numerous meetings where I do not recall you saying a word and yet since September 17 of 2012, validated by the audio recordings, I have heard your voice far more than any other member. I have gone back and listened to hours of recordings and of the numerous examples I could share, for time sake, I have only pulled out these few instances.
Third, I would argue that your most egregious action is your [this passage is redacted due to its contents originating from a Louisiana College Board Executive Session]. Further, on the EC recording from the morning of September 17, before you spoke with the members, Dr. Aguillard mentions that he had gone back and looked through emails and noted, “Since I’ve been the president I’ve had two emails asking about Calvinism on campus.” He then admitted that the complaints originated from “Freshman led Bible studies in the dorm and not a classroom issue.” You are also aware that Comprehensive Standard 3.2.4 of the Council on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) states: “The governing board is free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies and protects the institution from such influence.” Clearly, your threat was to [this passage is redacted due to its contents originating from a Louisiana College Board Executive Session]. This is absolutely inappropriate action.
Exterior Undue Influence in Convention life
First, the interplay between you, Tommy French and Joe Aguillard (since the revelation of the recording and story in the Town Talk) is inappropriate. The fact that you would call the Board Chairman and demand the President’s removal is unbelievable, especially after defending him for over a year. Further, that you believe it is within your purview to do so is deeply disturbing… further still, that you actually do have the ability to cause others to change votes or be persuaded to a different perspective simply “upon your call” is even more shocking. Although the Board Chairman has abdicated his responsibility of leading by not keeping us posted on these actions (which is certainly not your fault) that you have continually worked to bring about this change, now against the President, is another clear sign of undue influence.
Second, the fact that you recently had a meeting where you called in the current President of the Convention and 3 Past-Presidents to argue for Aguillard’s dismissal is unconscionable. I have the names of those men and have heard about the topic that was discussed. To suggest that such an action is not an exertion of undue influence is utterly laughable.
Finally, the fact that you called three of the signers of the Open Letter to, in part, demand a public apology and then issue a press release that at best misstated the letter of one member and at worse presented false information, is interesting. To issue a press release that says that a member “contacted” you and not admit that you contacted the three trustees is irresponsible. A further question I have is why, if you called three members, did you not call the rest of us. The statement that came from the LBC communications office stated that a member asked for language to be removed prior to the open letter’s release. That is not true. No one asked that anything be removed before publication of that statement. The letter, which was not even my idea, had input from a number of members and was about the problems that we have faced which has inhibited our ability to fulfill our responsibilities. Your undue influence is only one of the many problems we’ve had. Furthermore, according to you “two other signees have also extended regrets regarding the remarks.” Such a statement is despicable manipulation of the truth. I understand that the regrets they extended have absolutely nothing to do with the letter itself but that the individuals regretted not talking with you before they signed the letter. I’ve not heard from a single trustee who’ve asked to remove their name.
Dr. Hankins, although I disagree with you on a number of issues, I have never found any of our differences reason enough to abstain from fellowship and cooperation with you. However, at this point, you have clearly overstepped reasonable activity. Your actions, a few of which I have reiterated here, are out of bounds. Our cooperative tradition and Convention polity has always been a bottom up effort. You have inverted that solemn structure and have amassed too much power and authority. I am asking you to please seek what is best for the Louisiana Baptist Convention and consider resignation or retirement.
My intention was for this letter to remain confidential for a longer period of time but I have come to understand that the Executive Director has already allowed others to read my letter and/or told others about my letter. I have waited for some sort of response but such a response has not come. Thus, in my continued desire to function in transparency, all the while expecting a barrage of condemnatory murmurings (since that is what I heard happened upon publishing an extremely inappropriate dispatch from the current Board Chairman) I have chosen to make this letter public at this time.
As I note in the letter (and have noted before in public) I hold no personal animosity toward the Executive Director. It is disconcerting for me that anyone would suggest that because I disagree with someone on some particular issue that I also must hold some sort of personal anger for that person. I think most mentally healthy Pastors learn early on not to take things personally. Generally speaking, much of the grief we get has more to do with some underlying issue than it does with a particular personality. I have learned from my dad, and tried to teach the pastor’s I’ve mentored, that when faced with a disgruntled church member we are to look past the person and down into the underlying problem. If we allow ourselves to be fixated on the personality we will never be able to shepherd that individual on to maturity and away from the very thing we are trying to grow them out of. Thus, I find that it is not a difficult thing to have strong disagreements with a person and yet not let if affect you to the point where it becomes “personal.”
I will again admit that there was a time early last year that my anger did get the best of me and I regretfully had allowed my frustrations to bubble up into an inappropriate attitude toward the Executive Director. I mentioned in an earlier blog that a friend, another LBC Pastor, challenged me on that point and I repented. Since that time this has not been about personality for me. It is about exposing what I believe to be unhealthy and unChristlike traits of power wielding, manipulation and subversive behavior. I can, in peace and forgiveness, say with a clear conscience that this is about a desire to see our convention move away from this type of leadership toward one where hired ministry coordinators actively serve us and not attempt to superintend us. That, my friends is the Baptist way. Bottom up, not top down.
Just as I have always done, I have redacted any specific reference to any item or action which happened in Executive Session. Of course, one of the most frustrating things for me is that so much of what we have done was done under the “protection” of Executive Session. However, I have been deliberately cautious not to contravene that responsibility. Let me reiterate and I will write more on this soon... I have NEVER broken any Executive Session confidence. I have never spoken about confidential matters that relate to anyone’s contract or employment. I’ve never commented on specifics or even generalities of litigation issues. I’ve never published any financial matter regarding Louisiana College. I have never privately leaked information. I have never initiated contact with any secular media outlet regarding issues at Louisiana College (even to the point of neglecting phone calls from media outlets). I have never contacted or communicated with (nor do I ever even read) any other bloggers who have commented on issues surrounding Louisiana College. Finally, I have never attempted to stir up the constituencies of LC to bring about some action. In fact, you could ask about that to the hundreds of alumni, students and other LBC folk whom I’ve regrettably been unable to reply to over the last year. These are important points that I want to stress in light of those who would be inclined to call me a trouble-maker or for those who have suggested that I have “popped off” or broken some unwritten Baptist Code of not rocking the boat.
Please know that I am fully aware that it is not likely that the Executive Director will relinquish his post at my behest. I am not that naïve. However, I now feel that it has come to the point where someone must say something. Since I’ve spoken up I’ve had numerous calls from men around the LBC telling me about their own concerns and others that have shared their stories with me. Many individuals from many different backgrounds have expressed appreciation for my speaking up and for all that encouragement I am deeply thankful.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Soli Deo Gloria!