Southern Baptists choose new president following sex abuse scandal, financial difficulties

A top Southern Baptist administrative body has selected its first permanent leader in nearly two-and-a-half years, a time when it has navigated a tumult of controversies ranging from a sexual abuse scandal to financial struggles — to its own stumbling efforts to find a new president.

Jeff Iorg, the longtime president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s only seminary outside of the denomination’s historic Bible Belt heartland, is the incoming president and CEO of the denomination’s Executive Committee. He was elected unanimously Thursday by committee members meeting near Dallas.

Iorg has been president of Gateway Seminary since 2004. He oversaw a change in name and location for the school in 2016, when the former Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary relocated its main campus from the San Francisco area to Ontario, California, near Los Angeles. It now has multiple campuses in the West and online. Total full- and part-time enrollment is 1,499, according to data from the Association of Theological Schools.


Iorg had recently announced plans to retire from the seminary but agreed to be considered for the Executive Committee post, which he will start on May 13.

Iorg said he is grateful for the denomination he is serving. In a Thursday news conference, he said he “came to faith in Jesus Christ because of the witness of a Southern Baptist church” and has degrees from a denominational college and seminaries.

He and his wife are “the product of Southern Baptists, and we’re grateful at this juncture in life to serve Southern Baptists,” Iorg said.

Jeff Iorg, right, hugs presidential search team chair Neal Hughes, left, on March 21, 2024, in Dallas, Texas, after Iorg was named the next president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. (Adam Covington/Baptist Press via AP)

“Leadership matters, and Dr. Iorg is a leader among leaders,” said Philip Robertson, chairman of the committee, which handles day-to-day business for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

Iorg succeeds Ronnie Floyd, who resigned in October 2021 as president amid internal rifts over how to handle an investigation into the SBC’s response to sexual abuse. Floyd and other committee members resigned after a majority on the committee agreed to waive attorney-client privilege for an independent review of its handling of clergy sexual abuse in the denomination.

The waiver raised fears it would heighten the denomination’s legal liability, but it also gave Guidepost Solutions, the firm conducting the investigation, a more candid look. Guidepost’s 2022 report concluded that top SBC officials responded to abuse survivors with “resistance, stonewalling and even outright hostility.”

In May 2023, the committee voted down a nomination of its own chairman, Jared Wellman, to be president, after some had urged the committee instead to consider Willie McLaurin, its interim president. McLaurin, who led the committee for more than a year after Floyd’s departure, was the first African American leader of any SBC entity.

But McLaurin resigned in August 2023 after it came to light that he had presented false information about his educational qualifications on his resume. And a candidate to succeed him as interim president also withdrew, citing family health issues.

Iorg acknowledged the committee faces an array of challenges, from responding to the abuse crisis to tight finances, while saying he would keep it focused on its mission of “getting the gospel to the nations.”

Asked at the news conference whether he had plans for implementing any of the 17 recommendations for the Executive Committee in the Guidepost report in relation to the abuse crisis, Iorg said he would need to re-read the report in detail and familiarize himself with the recommendations. “I take that report very seriously, and I think it deserves consideration and action,” he said. “I’m just not prepared to say today how I would respond on any individual one of those things.”

Asked about a section of the report in which women staff members of the Executive Committee had said they were subject to demeaning and patronizing treatment, Iorg said his own record indicates how he would lead.

“I have a long track record of promoting women in ministry leadership, supervising women in a ministry organization, and doing it effectively in ways that I think, demonstrate a pattern of how I will act at the Executive Committee,” he said.

The committee is still navigating responses to sexual abuse. Survivors and their advocates disputed its recent claim that it was no longer under a Department of Justice investigation over its handling of abuse cases, and they criticized the committee for authorizing a legal brief that urged a Kentucky court to restrict lawsuits over abuse.

It cut some staff and contracting positions in 2023 amid tight finances.

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