Jeff Iorg’s First Order of Business: Transparency and Accountability for the 2024 Book of Reports Fiasco

Jon Whitehead

The Book of Reports Should Contain the Truth, Not Fairy Tales

Last Friday, an otherwise routine Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) ritual took a grim turn. 

Every year, the SBC’s Recording Secretary publishes a “Book of Reports.” It usually contains around 200 pages of records and recommendations in dwarf-sized print. There is no color and no pictures. If everything goes right, it’s boring. 

The financial reports and ministry recommendations are supposed to prove that sober and steady people run the SBC’s Cooperative Program entities. They are not supposed to make a splash. The Book of Reports does not allow for any creative license. It shouldn’t contain anything that’s just been “made up.” 

After all, it’s a book of “reports,” not a book of fairy tales. 

However, the SBC’s governing cohort has been struggling lately, as the only things steady in SBC life are membership loss and legal fees. The Convention’s conservative (read: biblical) beliefs are increasingly unpopular among young women, liberals, and progressives. Some quarters are panicking that the voting messengers’ stubborn conservatism and biblical beliefs might make it difficult for the leaders to succeed. They’ve especially been concerned about drawing lines using the Convention’s statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M).

Last year, messengers gave initial approval to a proposed constitutional amendment, the Law Amendment, that, if ratified, would deny votes to churches with a woman pastor of any kind. Moderate leaders have balked, even though the BFM clearly says this is supposed to be the Baptist consensus. 

Past presidents J.D. Greear and James Merritt, and current president Bart Barber, among others, have been vocally opposed to applying the Confession. And Kevin Ezell, CEO of NAMB, has shared “concerns” raised by others. 

Against this backdrop, supporters of the Law Amendment were anxious to see how it would be treated in this year’s recommendations as messengers prepare to go to Indianapolis. 

The First Fiction

The new Book of Reports was released last Friday morning (May 10) with a Baptist Press article linking to a PDF copy. When supporters of the Law Amendment scrolled down to the Executive Committee’s recommendations, they found a hostile note:

“While the messengers to the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting voted in favor of the amendment, the Executive Committee reaffirms our opposition to the suggested amendment to SBC Constitution Article III and requests messengers oppose the amendment.”

Opponents of the Law Amendment quickly cited the line as a reason to vote against it at this year’s meeting, while supporters were surprised to hear that a majority of the Executive Committee remained opposed—even after the messengers had so overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Amendment in New Orleans in 2023.

The context of this language conveys that the “opposition” did not merely come from EC staff; the official “recommendations” in the Book of Reports are supposed to be the product of a majority vote of the 86-member committee.

Yet, this year, no official statement or updated position on the Law Amendment was adopted at any EC meetings.

More shockingly, members of the Executive Committee were apparently surprised to learn of their “reaffirmation” of their opposition and request that the messengers oppose the Amendment.  And on X (formerly Twitter), other members denied taking any new position or even having a discussion about the Amendment since last year.

If this is the case, then what happened? How did the otherwise mundane Book of Reports become another contention point in our Convention? 

It appears that someone decided to turn the Book of Reports into a work of fiction. 

This was a misrepresentation, plain and simple.  Anyone who sat through the meetings knew the group did not “reaffirm” opposition to the Law Amendment. The misrepresentation was not caused by confusion or mistake because there was no reason for confusion or mistake.  

This was no scrivener’s error—this was passion. Somebody was so opposed to the messengers’ vote that they decided to falsify a Convention record. And they felt the liberty to use the Committee’s name and authority to do it, too.

Ultimately, getting a truthful account of the Executive Committee’s positions into the Book of Reports rests on three key SBC leaders: 1) Nathan Finn, the recording secretary; 2) Phillip Robertson, the EC Chairman; and 3) the EC President and CEO.

While most of us are already treating Dr. Iorg as the official President and CEO, Baptist Press reports his first official day was not until Monday, May 13, 2024, which is today. Jonathan Howe was still acting as the interim President and CEO last week.

It is currently unknown what role, if any, Dr. Iorg played in the process. But the bottom line is that the buck stops with these three (or four) actors: Finn, Robertson, Howe, and perhaps Iorg.

The Coverup is Always Worse than the Crime

On Friday, it was said that the leaders would issue a correction and statement. Presumably, it would take all three men to agree to a change. Finn is the official editor of the Book of Reports, Robertson is the chief officer of the Committee issuing this report in the Book, and Howe (or Howe and Iorg) and the EC staff arrange the printing.  

Except no statement was made. Instead, a new PDF was substituted at Baptist Press by the end of the day (I’m linking to an archived version of the updated PDF here in case they change it yet again). 

The stealth edit avoided acknowledging the issue or drawing attention to the change for those who had reviewed the original version. The new passage now reads: 

“The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention reports to the 2024 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 11-12, 2024, that the Executive Committee previously adopted a position in opposition to the amendment as reported to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 13-14, 2022…”

Is this better? No. This stealth “update” commits the same error; it’s another falsification. We already know that the EC members did not vote to adopt this language on Friday and did not decide to “report” anything to messengers any more than they voted to “reaffirm” last year’s actions. 

Hopefully, this year’s EC does not truly oppose a motion already adopted by more than two-thirds of faithful SBC voting messengers. Remember, the EC is legally obligated to carry out the SBC messenger’s instructions faithfully. So, last year’s opposition is irrelevant. There’s no need to reference it here—unless you want to subtly influence this year’s messengers by connecting last year’s negative opinion to the upcoming vote.

And so, it appears that someone decided to falsify the Convention’s records for a second time in an effort to put their personal thumb on the scales and stop the ratification of the Law Amendment. 

It would have been fine to present a motion without comment or to say that the upcoming second vote was the result of the messengers’ action last year—a successful vote in favor of the Law Amendment.

Instead, the Book of Reports contains a piece of fiction.

Frankly, the second, more subtle falsification is worse. We might imagine an inexperienced assistant got carried away in the original incident. And maybe our SBC leaders missed it as they reviewed 200 pages of fine print. That’s a management mistake, not a violation of trust.  

But in the second case, the leaders should have been focused on the issue. They knew the EC members had taken no votes and had not decided to affirm, remind, or report last year’s action. They knew a correction was needed. And even then, the passion was too high to tell the truth.

This would take the error from a mistake to reckless or intentional misconduct.

And this was no simple spelling mistake. If material corrections were necessary to the Book of Reports, they should be announced in writing, in Baptist Press, or in the Bulletin. Messengers with an earlier version should have a fair chance to know about the incorrect statement, compare it with the correction, and hear exactly how it came about. 

But now, we are beyond correction. Messengers are due an explanation. How did this happen in the first place? How did it happen again, and with the attention of top SBC leaders? Again, the Committee did not “report” anything about the Law Amendment this year; Finn, Robertson, Iorg, or Howe might have wanted to report this, but they have no right to invent Committee actions. 

We should not have to guess the name of the person (or persons) in the EC’s back room spinning these tales.

Dr. Iorg, Do the Right Thing: Give Southern Baptists Full Transparency about what Transpired with the Book of Reports

When Dr. Iorg was elected as the new and permanent President and CEO of the EC, his selection was met with near-universal praise. After a long and painful search process, he received a unanimous vote from 60 EC members.

When accepting the call to serve the SBC in this role, Iorg said: “Organizational trust is earned by two things: sacrificial service and demonstrated competence. You don’t gain trust by asking people to trust you. You gain trust by doing the right thing.” 

President Iorg, today is day one of your official service as the new President and CEO of the EC. Today is the day for demonstrated competence. Today is the day to do the right thing. 

Consider this a humble plea from a lifelong Southern Baptist that you prioritize providing us with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what happened with the Book of Reports last week. This transparency would be a welcome change. 

Who first falsified an entry in the Book of Reports, stating that the EC took an action it never took?  

Who approved the “reaffirmation” that never happened?

Who authored the second version, which was also wrong? Who decided not to note the correction in Baptist Press or in the book?

Doesn’t the decision of messengers in New Orleans deserve respect?

And will you hold people accountable for this misrepresentation? 

Dr. Iorg, if your first day is any indication, your work will be cut out for you. We are praying for your success.   

We also pray that you will earn the Convention’s trust by being fully transparent and telling Southern Baptists the truth about what transpired with the Book of Reports last week. 

The Law Amendment has attracted many responses. But if a person’s passion against it is so intense that they turn the Book of Reports into a work of fiction, it is time for them to find a new role in Baptist life—even as you step into yours.

  • Jon Whitehead

    Jon Whitehead is a lifelong Southern Baptist and the founding attorney of the Law Offices of Jonathan R. Whitehead LLC, located in Missouri. He is a trustee at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC and serves on the Advisory Board for the The Center of Baptist Leadership.