Published Sep 25, 2023
FRESNO, Ca – Two letters sent to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee from Hispanic and Asian leadership groups express concern and dissatisfaction over the EC’s decision to eliminate two associate vice president roles held by Peter Yanes and Luis Lopez from the SBC staff.
The letters were in response to a Baptist Press article dated September 13th, detailing financial struggles forcing the committee to eliminate five full-time positions and two contract workers. Yanes and Lopez were brought on to the EC staff to mobilize Asian and Hispanic Baptists, respectively, for the SBC Executive Committee.
The first letter, sent by the National Hispanic Baptist Network (NHBN), which represents more than 3,300 churches, expressed “disappointment” at the elimination of Lopez’s position, while the letter from Asian leaders, dated Sept. 20, expressed “profound concern, dismay, and disappointment” over the elimination of both associate vice president ethnic positions.
According to the letter, signed by 18 Asian Baptist leaders, this decision was made in opposition to the 2011 motion, which was “aimed at reaching out to various ethnic groups, … subsequently reaffirmed, voted on, and allocated budget resources.” Church ethnicities represented in the Asian letter include Cambodia, Lao, Filipino, Vietnamese, Myanmar, Korean, Hmong, Chinese, and Thai.
Three Hispanic leaders, including Emanuel Roque, Hispanic Multicultural Catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention; Jesse Rincones, Executive Director of Convención Bautista Hispana de Texas, and Pete Ramirez, Executive Director of the California Southern Baptist Convention, made statements in their letter, which was delivered to Interim President Jonathan Howe.
Ramirez said, “With a void in these important positions, where only diverse leadership can understand and minister to these specific differences, I’m not sure the EC will be able to fulfill this vital initiative.”
The Hispanic letter noted that with the removal of Lopez, Hispanics now have no representation at SBC, including the Executive Board.
“On behalf of our more than 3,300 churches, the NHBN would like to express its disappointment at the elimination of the position of Vice President of Hispanic Relations and Mobilization…We believe that the decision to eliminate this position is unhelpful, short-sighted, and leaves Hispanic Baptists with no representation on the Executive Committee as well as the Board of trustees (again). This represents a step backwards in our communication and collaboration when we should be moving forward together to reach and disciple the lost in the U.S. and beyond (including the more than 52,000,000 lost Hispanics in the U.S.).”
Both letters call for action from the Executive Committee. Hispanic leaders ask the EC to “meet with us in person to establish a more constructive and fruitful way forward that will result in the expansion of God’s kingdom and the edification of His Church.”
Asian leaders said, “We implore you to consider alternative solutions that take into consideration and do not hinder the meaningful work that God is doing to unite and mobilize our Asian communities towards fulfilling the Great Commission as a part of the SBC. Our fervent hope is that the future will witness greater efforts in communication and transparency towards Asian and Asian-American churches in your decision-making processes.”
Francis Chung, Missions Initiative Team Leader for the California Southern Baptist Convention, says this issue goes beyond ethnic representation. “Ethnic fellowships value the SBC because of its emphasis to fulfill the Great Commission. However, we hope that as we reach the nations and become more diverse, our leadership will reflect that diversity in our convention. It’s not that we need the leadership to look like us, rather, our leaders would understand the complexities and needs of the entire convention.”
Chung continued, “The leadership of the SBC doesn’t look like us but what is even more concerning is that it does not understand nor represent the ethnic fellowships well.”
California’s convention president, Victor Chayasirisobhon, agrees with Chung that these concerns extend beyond simple representation. “Our convention is all one family and if a part of our family is hurting because of a decision that was made then it’s extra important we hear them out. It’s not just about people who walk like me or look like me… it’s about understanding each other and loving each other in a way that honors God and makes us more effective in serving Him.”
According to Chayasirisobhon, “Yanes and Lopez worked hard and were making great progress in bringing groups of churches together -churches that often stayed in their own territories, toward serving God together, which made the family even better.”
When asked about the outlook of the EC’s decision to eliminate the two ethnic positions, Chayasirisobhon added, “It is a shame all this falls under one associate VP who is now in charge of a task that was already too big for the three we had. It is more important than ever to come alongside brother Charles Grant to help accomplish the resolution originally brought by brother Paul Kim so many years ago.”
He added, “It is my hope that our national SBC family can come together to help inspire confidence in our Hispanic and Asian churches that they still matter and continue to have more than just a temporary seat at the table.”
As of the writing of this story, SBC President Bart Barber and Charles Grant, Associate Vice President for Convention Advancement & Relations, have scheduled a meeting with Dr. Bruno Molina, Executive Director for the NHBN, Dr. Jesse Rincones, and Dr. Daniel Sanchez, Distinguished Professor Emeritus for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, later this week, as well as an additional meeting with Jonathan Howe in November.
Howe told CSBC, “Due to the current budget constraints, the SBC Executive Committee has been faced with several painful decisions in recent weeks. Thankfully, these budget constraints affect only the EC and not the already-established networks of Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hispanic, Brazilian, Laotian, Hmong, Native American, and other ethnic Southern Baptists who are taking the name and fame of Christ to their countrymen and beyond. Their vital work serves as a reminder that we are truly better together, and these ethnic fellowship groups represent the best of what we all strive for: a steadfast commitment to reaching all tongues and tribes with the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
Ramirez is encouraging all Southern Baptists to participate thoughtfully in the bigger conversations. “We are in difficult days as a family. The EC staff was forced to make tough decisions, and it’s not time for interim leadership to solve these problems. This is a season to come together to engage and collaborate on avenues to move forward so that, in four months, hopefully, our newly elected SBC Executive Committee President can develop a strategy to lead the whole family in the kingdom work we have all been called to.”