Nashville, TN – September 13, 2023 — In a unanimous but unsurprising decision that marks a significant turning point for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Kevin Smith, former vice chair of the board, has now been elected as the new chairperson of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) Board of Trustees. Smith, pastor of Family Church Village in West Palm Beach, Florida, and ERLC board member since 2018, is heralded by the Baptist Press as the first Black chairperson in the entity’s history as though his skin color has any bearing on his ability to perform his duties.
While the appointment has been hailed by Southern Baptist leftists as a momentous occasion, it comes with serious concerns over Smith’s prior remarks specifically targeting conservative members within the SBC. In 2022, Smith accused Trump-voting members of the SBC of becoming “political whores,” a comment that drew significant attention from conservatives within the denomination.
Smith’s previous remarks paint a portrait of a man willing to use divisive language in a public forum, casting doubt over his ability to represent a denomination historically rooted in conservative values. His sentiments have led many to question whether he will advance an agenda in alignment with the core beliefs and principles of the SBC, or use his newfound position to push for radical changes that could further divide the denomination.
During a speech at the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention, smith said:
And I think some Southern Baptists just bent over and became political whores with this whole Trump stuff. And if black innerrantists like Ralph West (Pastor of Houston’s The Church Without Walls who announced he left the SBC) feels alienated and black innerrantists like John Onwuchekwa (Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta who left the SBC) feels alienated and black innerrantists like Charlie Dates (Left the SBC) feels alienated, I just wonder if white brothers think this has been kind of crazy- black/white stuff going on, Asian, Hispanic. Just people who aren’t white feeling like they’re tolerated but not really embraced.
Keep in mind that the men that Smith named in his remarks as “feeling alienated” are nothing more than political activists themselves, particularly Charlie Dates, who left the SBC and took over a large megachurch in Chicago only to have Chicago’s most far-left politician in history, lesbian Mayor Lori Lightfoot, stand in his pulpit and preach a sermon comparing Dates to Joshua taking the reins of Moses. One must wonder: does Kevin Smith believe these men are “political whores” for leftist politicians?
Smith has been associated with discussions around race and political alliances, touching on topics that have been deeply polarizing within the SBC. His involvement raises questions about how he will approach these issues as chairperson of an organization designed to address ethical dilemmas and advance religious liberties.
ERLC President Brent Leatherwood praised Smith’s “deep ties in SBC life” and his understanding of the “importance of cooperation as a Baptist distinctive.” However, the organization’s apparent willingness to overlook past divisive rhetoric in favor of what they perceive as leadership qualities should be a topic of concern among Southern Baptists.
The coming months will be telling for the ERLC and its relationship with the broader Southern Baptist community. With Smith now holding the gavel, there is an underlying uncertainty about how the ERLC will address pressing issues like religious freedom, abortion, and other matters traditionally important to the denomination.
The appointment of Kevin Smith represents a moment of both historical significance and caution. While the election breaks racial barriers, it also serves as a reminder that the challenges of representing a diverse yet conservatively rooted community are increasingly complex. With Smith at the helm, the likelihood of the ERLC upholding its mission to “assist churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel” remains highly questionable, at best.