Messengers to the 2021 SBC annual meeting overwhelmingly approved a motion calling for a task force to oversee a third-party investigation into allegations of mishandling abuse claims at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee (EC).
The motion, offered by Grant Gaines, pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was among 32 motions made by messengers to the 2021 SBC annual meeting June 15 in Nashville, the most in a decade.
Gaines’ motion said the task force, which will be appointed within 30 days by new SBC President Ed Litton, should be composed of members of Southern Baptist churches and “experts in sexual abuse and the handling of sexual abuse-related dynamics.”
The task force can opt to oversee the independent review already initiated by the EC or begin a separate third-party review, and it must ensure that an investigation includes “any allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, a pattern of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives.”
While the motion was under consideration, SBC EC President and CEO Ronnie Floyd told messengers he supported its approval.
Floyd had earlier announced on June 11 that the EC had secured Guidepost Solutions for an independent review of its handling of sexual abuse issues. The review had been called for amid controversy over allegations made by former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore that various Southern Baptist leaders “stonewall[ed]” calls to address sexual abuse in the SBC.
The move was seen as insufficient by some, including Gaines, who said the EC should not oversee an investigation of itself.
The allegations came in two letters by Moore that were leaked to news media. In the second letter, dated May 31 – the final day of Moore’s tenure – he wrote of two meetings in 2019 among SBC leaders and described opposition to efforts to address sexual abuse in the SBC. Floyd and then-EC Chairman Mike Stone, who was a candidate for SBC president, participated in the meetings. Later, clips of audio recordings from the meetings were released by Phillip Bethancourt, a Texas pastor who was at the time the ERLC’s executive vice president.
Under the terms of the approved motion, all EC members and staff serving from January 2000 to June 2021 are subject to the investigation.
The motion also calls for an audit of the “procedures and actions” taken by the SBC Credentials Committee, which was formed two years ago to address allegations of sexual abuse in churches.
According to the motion, the third-party review will be funded by the Cooperative Program.
Messengers, by approving the motion, asked EC members and staff to waive attorney-client privilege “in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.”
A written report on the findings of the review will be presented to the task force 30 days before the 2022 SBC annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., and made public in full form within one week along with suggestions from the task force for actions to be taken by the convention, according to the motion.
When he made the motion, Gaines said, “In order for this investigation to be truly external, independent and unbiased, we can’t have the Executive Committee setting the terms of the investigation themselves. They can’t be the ones to hold themselves accountable.”
“This might seem like too much trouble to some, but I assure you it is the least we can do for abuse survivors,” Gaines said to applause.
The motion first was referred to the EC, but messengers voted to overrule the Committee on Order of Business and consider it on the convention floor.
In a statement released shortly afterward, the SBC EC “thank[ed] the messengers for their passionate concern” and promised to “work to expeditiously implement today’s motion.”
“It has always been our intention to be forthright and transparent in this process,” the statement said. “Today’s decision, in whose outcome we are confident, will have the ultimate blessing of removing all doubt in the minds of our community of Southern Baptists allowing us to chart a more confident future, together. We thank those messengers who have invested so much righteous energy in this important cause.”
In other motions at the 2021 annual meeting, Joseph Horan of Starkville Community Church in Starkville, Miss., moved that the SBC amend the schedule to extend by at least 10 minutes each the allotted time for new motions, miscellaneous business and resolutions at the current annual meeting. The motion failed on a ballot vote.
Adam Greenway, chairman of the Committee on Order of Business, moved on behalf of the committee that the following motions be referred to the EC for consideration and report to the 2022 annual meeting:
- a motion by Jay Adkins of First Baptist Church in Westwego, La., asking the EC to study conflicts of interest regarding the roles of legal counsel.
- a motion by James Allen Murray of Centerville Baptist Church in Kelly, N.C., to add a fellowship meal Sunday to the denominational calendar.
- a motion by Ted Traylor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., to consider discontinuing the Committee on Resolutions.
- a motion by Robert White of Shaw Heights Baptist Church in Sumter, S.C., asking the EC to study the possibility of asking the Committee on Resolutions to release resolutions 30 days prior to each annual meeting.
- a motion by Charles Johnson of First Baptist Church in Sandy Hook, Ky., to amend the bylaws governing the Committee on Resolutions.
- a motion by Steven Bailey of Calvary Baptist Church in Osceola, Ark., to include the Cooperative Program giving of candidates nominated for office.
- a motion by Nate Magloughlin of Trinity Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas, to allow for proxy voting by SBC missionaries.
- a motion by Jason Wing of University Baptist Church in Beavercreek, Ohio, to allow more advance notice of resolutions proposed by the Committee on Resolutions.
- a motion by Roy Youngblood of First Baptist Church in Greenville, Texas, calling for a day of corporate repentance on the SBC Calendar.
- a motion by Gary LaRoy of Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Tenn., asking the EC to consider making Nashville the permanent site of the annual meeting and providing satellite locations.
- a motion by Philip Nelson of Lakeland Baptist Church in Carbondale, Ill., calling for changing the name of the SBC to the Great Commission Baptist Convention.
- a motion by Christopher Benavides of Oak Ridge Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, to amend Article 1 of the constitution to change the name of the SBC to Great Commission Baptists.
Two motions were referred to the EC and all entities:
- a motion by Brad Patterson of First Baptist Church in Lavon, Texas, that each entity assess the use of nondisclosure agreements.
- a motion by Rick Hillard of First Baptist Church in Princeton, Ky., that each entity undergo an audit and disclose all details at least 30 days prior to the annual meeting.
A motion by John Blackmon of Meansville Baptist Church in Meansville, Ga., requesting that Lifeway produce resources for Deaf people was referred to the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board (NAMB).
A motion by James Walker of Fielder Church in Arlington, Texas, asking NAMB to study the Enneagram was referred to NAMB.
Four motions were referred to the ERLC:
- a motion by Jared Longshore of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., asking for an investigation of the ERLC.
- a motion by Todd Benkert of Oak Creek Community Church in Mishawaka, Ind., requesting the ERLC perform an assessment of sexual abuse in the SBC.
- a motion by Tristan Clark of First Baptist Church in Gwinn, Mich., to create a task force to assist in the abolishing of abortion.
- a motion by Walter Boutwell of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., that the SBC provide guidance on puberty blockers to pastors, parents and churches.
A motion by Shad Tibbs of Fellowship Baptist Church in Trout, La., that the SBC break fellowship with Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., because of its recent ordination of women pastors was referred to the Credentials Committee.
The following motions were ruled out of order:
- a motion by Allen Nelson of Perryville Second Baptist Church in Perryville, Ark., to place restrictions on Cooperative Program allocations to SBC entities.
- a motion by Tom Ascol of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., to rescind Resolution 9, which was adopted at the 2019 annual meeting.
- a motion by Peter Lumpkins of North Hall Church in Gainesville, Ga., to strike a portion of a report published in the 2021 Book of Reports.
- a motion by Bob Dutton of Salem Baptist Church in Henrico, Va., to address Critical Race Theory.
- a motion by Brian King of Harvest Community Church in Eugene, Ore., to have the SBC investigate legal claims presented by NAMB and the ERLC to the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts.
- a motion by Alan Cross of Petaluma Valley Baptist Church in Petaluma, Calif., asking messengers to rescind a resolution from 1861.
- a motion by Jonathan Six of Faith Baptist Church in Youngsville, N.C., to rescind a list of resolutions from previous conventions.
- a motion by Todd Stinnett of Black Oak Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., that the SBC vote to reject racism, Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.
- a motion by Michael Hoffman of Summit Woods Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit, N.C., that no less than 20% of time in the proposed annual meeting schedule be allotted for business.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Mobile, Ala.)