Why It Matters: The resignation comes as the denomination deals with strife within its membership.
With more than 13 million members, the S.B.C. is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and serves as a bellwether for priorities among American evangelicals. The S.B.C. has been wracked by fierce divisions in recent years over politics, gender and race. Some conservatives in the denomination fear that it is drifting toward liberalism, while others fear a takeover by a faction that values ideological purity over all.
At the S.B.C.’s annual meeting this summer, delegates hotly debated women’s roles in church leadership. The denomination voted against readmitting two churches that had appealed their expulsion for having women pastors. Delegates also took steps to amend the denomination’s constitution to strengthen the ban on women as pastors, a move that may open up other hundreds of churches to investigation and expulsions.
The executive committee, which has more than 80 members, conducts business for the denomination between its annual meetings. The chief executive of the committee is considered more powerful in many ways than the denomination’s president, a more high-profile but comparatively symbolic role.
Background: Mr. McLaurin is the latest leader to step down amid turmoil.
Mr. McLaurin was the first Black leader of one of the denomination’s “entities,” a category that includes mission organizations, seminaries, a publishing company and a public policy arm. His ascension even as an interim leader was touted as a historic milestone for the 178-year-old denomination, which was founded as a defender of slavery. (The denomination apologized for its stance on slavery in the 1990s, and the number of its ethnically diverse congregations has grown.)
Mr. McLaurin is the committee’s third leader in a row to step down in tumultuous circumstances. Ronnie Floyd, the previous president, resigned over his objections to expanding the powers of investigators in the handling of sexual abuse claims in the denomination. Before that, Frank Page stepped down in 2018 over what the committee described at the time as a “morally inappropriate relationship.”
In a video circulated to Southern Baptists last week, Mr. McLaurin praised the work of the denomination’s pastors, teachers and seminary professors. “It’s a great joy for me to be on this journey with you, as we lift high the name and the fame of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
What’s Next: The search for a permanent leader continues.
Mr. McLaurin’s resignation suggests the denomination’s political and bureaucratic turmoil is far from over. At a meeting in Dallas this spring, the executive committee rejected its own search committee’s recommendation for the next leader, assembling a new search committee whose work is ongoing.
Mr. Robertson, the committee’s chair, said in his statement that the group would issue further updates on its leadership search “in the near future.” The executive committee’s next meeting takes place in Nashville in September.