Baptist administrative leader, former Tennessee pastor Willie McLaurin resigns over false resume

FILE - Tennessee pastor Willie McLaurin speaks at the 2020 Kentucky Baptist Pastors' Conference at Bellevue Baptist Church, Nov. 9, 2020, in Owensboro, Ky. On Thursday, McLaurin, who leads the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, resigned from his position as interim president and chief executive after it came to light that he presented false information about his educational qualifications on his resume. (Robin Cornetet/Kentucky Today via AP, File)

Willie McLaurin, a former Tennessee pastor who was the interim president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, has resigned after it emerged that his resume included false information about his education.

McLaurin, who resigned Thursday, had been serving as the powerful administrative body's interim president and was among those in the running to take on the position permanently -- until the search team discovered his lie.

"While considering Willie as a candidate, your Presidential Search Team discovered disqualifying information during their process of vetting and due diligence," committee Chair Phillip Robertson wrote executive committee members in a statement Thursday, which the panel's media relations director sent to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "McLaurin's education credentials that he presented in his resume are false."

Jonathan Howe, the Executive Committee's vice president for communications, will temporarily take McLaurin's role until the next committee meeting in September, when the body will elect another interim president, Robertson wrote in a follow-up message to committee members Friday.

Presidential Search Committee Chair Neal Hughes told members that the search for permanent candidates will continue.

"The SBC Executive Committee's Presidential Search Team continues to be grateful for your prayers after the shocking revelation that led to the sudden resignation of Willie McLaurin on Aug. 17," Hughes wrote in a statement Friday to the committee. "We will continue on to our next phase in the search process with the goal of attracting a strong pool of potential candidates."

On his resume, McLaurin listed earned degrees from North Carolina Central University, Duke University Divinity School and Hood Theological Seminary, but those entries turned out to be false, reported Baptist Press, a media arm of the convention.

McLaurin had served as the committee's interim leader since February 2022 and was the first Black head of a Southern Baptist Convention entity. He had worked on the staff of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board for more than a decade and as a pastor in Clarksville, Tennessee, and beyond.

McLaurin did not respond to an email Friday seeking comment. But in a statement to Executive Committee officers, he apologized for the harm he has caused.

"To the Southern Baptists who have placed their confidence in me and have encouraged me to pursue the role of president & CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, including pastors, state partners, entity servants, colleagues and SBC African American friends, I offer my deepest apologies," McLaurin said in the letter, according to Baptist Press.

The largest Protestant group in the U.S, the Southern Baptist Convention describes itself as a fellowship of about 50,000 churches, and those churches are well represented in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

Southern Baptist Convention members collectively fund several institutions, such as the North American Mission Board, the Baptist Press, seminaries and the Executive Committee. The committee does not control or direct other convention entities, but it reviews financial statements and recommends budgets, among other responsibilities it takes on between periodic meetings of the broader convention. It is comprised of more than 80 representatives.

(READ MORE: Southern Baptists chart difficult path on sexual abuse in the church)

In 2021, reports on the extent of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention prompted a third-party investigation of the denomination's Executive Committee. McLaurin's predecessor, Ronnie Floyd, resigned, according to The Associated Press, amid rifts over how to handle the investigation.

Released in 2022, the report described widespread cover-ups dating back years as Executive Committee members mishandled sex abuse claims, sometimes treating victims with outright hostility.

The committee's next scheduled meeting is Sept. 18 in Nashville.

Contact Andrew Schwartz at [email protected] or 423-757-6431.