Members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) voted for the waiving of attorney-client privilege within the scope of an independent third-party investigation of the EC concerning the handling of sexual abuse claims. The Sexual Abuse Task Force, assembled by SBC President Ed Litton, was mandated by messengers to the 2021 SBC annual meeting in June and will oversee the investigation.
Trustees met for more than three and a half hours via Zoom before the group voted in favor of a motion to waive privilege by a margin of 44-31. Three members abstained from the vote. Six members of the committee resigned between yesterday’s meeting and the meeting on Sept. 28.
The motion, made by EC member Jared Wellman, calls for a selective waiving of attorney-client privilege “that includes an investigation into 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 of the actions and decisions of staff and members of the Executive Committee from January 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021.”
“I’m encouraged by today’s vote that honors the will of the messengers who spoke clearly in Nashville and in recent days about their desire for a transparent investigation,” Wellman said.
Litton said, “I am grateful, especially after many difficult weeks of discussion, that the full, transparent and unimpeded investigation will now commence. Even so, it is critical to remember that today’s vote marks not the end, but the beginning of this process.”
The selective waiving of privilege means that documents and interviews must fit in a limited window:
- Allegations of abuse by EC members.
- Mishandling of abuse allegations by EC members between Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021.
- Allegations of mistreatment of sexual abuse victims by EC members from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021.
- Patterns of intimidation of sexual abuse victims or advocates from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021.
- Resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021.
The motion also gave EC Chairman Rolland Slade authority to execute the contract between the EC, the Sexual Abuse Task Force and Guidepost Solutions that was sent to trustees on Oct. 1. Guidepost is the third-party firm selected by the task force to carry out the investigation.
The contract calls for the creation of a Committee of Cooperation of the Executive Committee, which will be composed of four members from the EC. Two of the members will be chosen by the Sexual Abuse Task Force, and two members will be chosen by the EC. The committee will be led by SBC President Ed Litton.
At the end of the meeting, the EC voted to give Slade the authority to appoint the two members to be selected by the EC.
The members of the committee must be among those appointed to their first term on the EC in June 2021. This move allows participating EC members to be outside the scope of the Guidepost investigation.
According to the contract, the committee “is charged with:”
- Financial oversight of the independent investigation in addition to the financial oversight exercised by the Task Force.
- Electing, in cooperation with the Task Force, a liaison between the EC and Guidepost Solutions to ensure smooth flow of information and response to information requests.
- Receipt of periodic monthly updates noting document, witness and information requests made to the EC, to ensure information sought is consistent with and responded to in cooperation with the Motion passed by the Messengers at the SBC Convention in June 2021.
- Ensuring that the EC and SBC are fully cooperative in this matter.
SBC EC President Ronnie Floyd said, “We thank all of the trustees for their diligence in addressing complex questions brought to bear by this process.”
He pledged the EC will work with the task force as they move forward.
“Now that the Executive Committee’s Board of Trustees have made their decision, the leadership and staff of the Executive Committee will provide support to Guidepost on implementing next steps to facilitate their investigation,” he said.
Bruce Frank, task force chair, responded to the EC on behalf of the task force, saying, “The task force is pleased with the strong vote today by the Executive Committee to abide by the moral imperative directed by the messengers, seminary presidents, state leaders and many, many more.”
Frank said Guidepost will begin its investigative work immediately. It is required to present a public report 30 days before the 2022 SBC annual meeting in Anaheim.
Near the end of the meeting, Slade spoke pastorally to the group reflecting on the process since messengers voted June 15 in Nashville.
“I’d like to really express my relief that this present challenge seems to be behind us,” he said. “Also, I want to express sorrow over the conduct that we have displayed as Southern Baptists over the course was absolutely a necessary deliberative process.”
Slade called on Southern Baptists to stop attacking one another and to “move down this road together.”
“Most importantly, it’s time to know for sure where we have fallen short on the question of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist convention, so that we can correct any errors and move into the future as a convention, that’s the most safe for our most vulnerable members,” he said.
Floyd said, “I appreciate the statement of our Chairman Slade at the end of the meeting, including his call to come together now to serve Southern Baptists.”
Litton said, “Sexual abuse is antithetical to the gospel of Christ. It has no place in the Southern Baptist Convention. And it is my prayer that all Southern Baptists will remain resolute in our commitment to preventing abuse, caring for survivors and taking whatever steps are necessary to implement reforms.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Porter serves as Associate Vice President for Convention News at the SBC Executive Committee.)