SBC Seminar Leaders Join Executive Committee Criticisms
NASHVILLE (RNS) – Pressure continues to rely on the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee to allow a third-party company full access to investigate how it has handled allegations of sexual abuse during over the past 20 years.
The six Southern Baptist seminaries expressed their dismay at the reluctance of the executive committee to act.
“From my point of view, the current situation is inexcusable and unacceptable,” tweeted Adam W. Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, on September 28, after the executive committee refused to waive legal privilege. the lawyer in the investigation. for the second time in as many weeks.
“This is more than disappointing and potentially damaging to essential trust in the SBC,” tweeted Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
Michigan Baptist State Convention trustees passed a resolution on Sept. 29 calling on the Executive Committee to “fully respect” the wishes of delegates, known as messengers, calling for an investigation. The statement said she stood with survivors of sexual abuse “with an unwavering desire to see justice done.”
The next day, a group of 25 pastors from South Carolina released a statement, saying that if the executive committee did not comply, they would consider reallocating their donations outside of the executive committee. It was followed by a group of 32 Texas Pastors who implored the committee to waive the privilege.
Executive committee members insisted they must protect some investigator communications despite the express wishes of the Southern Baptists, whose chosen representatives voted in June to allow a transparent investigation into how the executive committee handled sexual abuse.
A motion passed by messengers at the SBC’s annual meeting in June ordered the creation of a task force to oversee the hiring of an external investigator and explicitly called on the executive committee to waive solicitor-client privilege. with regard to communications between the denomination, its lawyers and victims of sexual abuse.
Fight against sexual abuse
The denomination has been rocked for more than a decade by attempts by its members to account for sexual abuse, including pushing to establish a national database of known abusers. In 2020, annual meeting delegates approved eviction procedures for churches that knowingly hire abusive clergy.
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The response of the Executive Committee has long been to argue that the ascending denomination structure – where local churches choose their own clergy and govern their affairs – means that national Baptist entities are not responsible for abusive clergy actions.
In 2019, D. August “Augie Boto”, former acting chairman of the executive committee and long-time staff member, said in an email that advocates of abuse were part of “a satanic plan to distract us completely. of evangelization “.
The issue came to a head when an in-depth investigation released that year by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News revealed that about 380 leaders and volunteers at the Southern Baptist Church had faced allegations of sexual misconduct.
Earlier this year, leaked letters and secret recordings revealed the executive committee was slow to tackle sexual abuse, abused survivors, and was generally more concerned with donations than justice for victims.
Autonomy a problem
The crisis of waiver of attorney-client privilege strikes at the heart of denominational management, the largest Protestant group in the United States. Southern Baptists do not have bishops and are governed by the will of messengers who meet once a year to manage the affairs of the denomination. When the convention is not in session, the Executive Committee manages its affairs on behalf of the messengers.
But the executive committee and its chairman and CEO, Ronnie Floyd, insist the messengers’ motion does not bind them on the issue of solicitor-client privilege.
“We are confident that the messengers’ intention of the 2021 annual meeting can be accomplished without risking unnecessary damage to the Southern Baptist Convention,” the executive committee said in a statement Thursday.
Members who oppose the waiver of privilege appear to be acting on the advice of class counsel, who have advised the class not to allow investigators access to sensitive communications.
During a controversial five-hour meeting on September 28, several of the 86 committee members argued that they risked costly lawsuits if they were to waive solicitor-client privilege. Specifically, some have said that the denomination’s insurance company may not pay damages if the lien is set aside and a court awards damages to a victim of sexual abuse.
At least four of the members of the Executive Committee are lawyers; all four are opposed to waiving solicitor-client privileges.
Other members of the committee, including its chairman, El Cajon, Calif. Pastor Rolland Slade, are willing to waive attorney-client privilege. The same goes for SBC President Ed Litton, ex officio member of the Executive Committee.
The seven-member task force, led by Bruce Frank, a pastor from North Carolina, recognized that waiving privilege can involve legal risks.
“Our attorneys and the attorneys (of the executive committee) have confirmed that any waiver of the lien at any time creates the risk that, in a lawsuit relating to a case where the lien is waived, the insurance company may argue that it is discharged from the payment of the judgment in this case, due to a waiver, ”the statement said.
But the statement added: “It is impossible to follow the will of the Messengers and avoid this risk. “
Many Southern Baptists believe that the potential risk of legal liability is worth it if the ultimate goal is to bring justice to the victims.
“If we’ve done things wrong that require restitution, then we need to do restitution,” said Akin, the seminar chairman. “If we did it wrong and we have to apologize, then apologize. We must do the right thing for the right reasons and live the faith we profess and trust that the Lord will provide for us and bless us if we do what is right.
The executive committee is scheduled to meet again on October 5.