NASHVILLE (BP) – A marathon afternoon session that stretched past three hours Tuesday (Sept. 21) ended with Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee members approving a motion to fund a contractual agreement with Guidepost Solutions for investigating claims of mishandling sexual abuse accusations.
EC member Melissa Golden’s motion that replaced the original one submitted by officers authorizes a budget up to $1.6 million – funded through the Cooperative Program – for the investigation and requests the Sex Abuse Task Force and EC officers agree on a contract with Guidepost within seven days “without waiving attorney-client privilege at this time.”
The motion continued in urging the Executive Committee toward “negotiating legal means of accomplishing the goal of a public internal investigation” and submitting that agreement to the EC, Task Force and Guidepost by Sept. 28. A final stipulation of the motion determined that “at this point, attorney-client privilege is not yet being waived but is being fleshed out through negotiation.”
Attorney-client privilege – namely, the subject’s absence from the officers’ motion – led to immediate questioning by EC members and a vote to allow Bruce Frank, chair of the Sexual Abuse Task Force, to give his input.
“To be clear, I think [the officers’] motion is an attempt to punt down the pathway what we’ve had 100 days to deal with,” Frank said. “We have not what I would call substantive progress toward following of the messengers. I would not encourage you to vote for this motion.”
Frank’s comments led to hours of debate among EC members as well as input from himself and Julie Wood, chief executive officer of Guidepost Solutions.
About two hours into the meeting, EC President and CEO Ronnie Floyd addressed the members pledging a desire to root out past sin toward sexual abuse survivors while meeting the full slate of responsibilities of his role.
“We have been working since the Monday after [the Annual Meeting] on a continual basis on how we can accomplish the will of the messengers within the confines of legality and polity,” he said.
“… I also want to make it clear to the survivors and the rest of you—we will do what’s right and just! No one is fighting that. No one wants to fight that. We want all evil exposed. But we also want to do it in a way that is right, proper, decent and in order. We made that clear since Day 1.”
Jared Wellman, pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, offered a replacement motion that explicitly waived attorney-client privilege, only limited by the scope of the investigation as approved by the messengers. EC members voted it down by a count of 20 for, 55 against.
After the meeting, Wellman posted his thoughts on Twitter that included a reference to an EC-led investigation into the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission last year.
“It’s unbelievable that the EC can investigate other entities (although the messengers voted against it), but when the messengers want to investigate the EC, the EC votes it down & amends the motion to have oversight,” he wrote.
“Who holds the EC accountable? Apparently themselves.”
In making her motion, Golden identified three “sticking points” she had observed during discussions and offered an amendment to “meet in the middle.” The first was pausing the debate on attorney-privilege. The second identified concerns over the taking on of liability for others. The third point involved concerns over budget oversight.
Debate revolved around fiduciary responsibilities of the Executive Committee and following the will of messengers who called for a third-party investigation at June’s Annual Meeting. That investigation would include allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, a pattern of intimidation of victims or advocates and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives.
Actions and decisions of Executive Committee staff and members from Jan. 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021, will also be taken into account as will an audit of the procedures and actions of the Credentials Committee, repurposed at the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting and commissioned with looking into claims of abuse.
In an impromptu address that propelled members to a final discussion and vote, EC Chairman Rolland Slade urged those in the room “to allow us as officers to continue to work with the task force. Give us a reasonable amount of time so we can bring a reasonable agreement so we can move this forward.”
“We won’t have a chance to do this again,” said Slade. “As the leading entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, we’re sending a message to the other entities. And even beyond that, we’re sending a message to the churches that make up the Southern Baptist Convention that they ought to do the same thing—examine where they’ve been, what they’re doing, and expose anything they’ve been covering up for the good of the children, women and men who have been hurt and abused through the years.”
Following the meeting, both SBC President Ed Litton and the Sex Abuse Task Force he appointed released statements.
“The outcome of today’s meeting fell far short of the mandate expressed by the messengers at the SBC Annual Meeting in June,” Litton said. “Still, the Executive Committee resolved to continue working in good faith to address the issue of attorney-client privilege and committed up to $1.6 million toward this investigation.
“I’m disappointed that several known issues are only now being addressed with appropriate seriousness, but I’m grateful the investigation will begin. Further, I’m hopeful that the next seven days will yield an agreement to allow the investigation to go forward unimpeded. My prayers are with the sexual abuse task force and EC officers as they work with diligence to address these concerns over the next week.”
The task force said it was optimistic that the EC fully funded the Guidepost investigation but expressed concern that the EC did not yet waive attorney-client privilege.
“While we are glad that the investigation can begin, we are disappointed that so far, the Executive Committee has not followed the overwhelming clear mandate of messengers to waive attorney client privilege so that all relevant materials can be examined,” the task force statement said in part.
“We recognize as well that this has created yet another painful burden upon the many survivors of sexual abuse who had hoped that this would pass without controversy, and we are grieved at this reality.
“Nevertheless, the Task Force is resolved to the best of our ability to carry out the clear directive of the Messengers. Guidepost will be beginning their independent assessment and investigation of the actions of the Executive Committee related to sexual abuse and harassment as previously announced and will issue their findings in a fully public report.”
The full text of the motion approved by EC members follows:
Resolved that the SBC Executive Committee authorizes funding the Guidepost Solutions budget of $1.6 million from the source identified in the motion—through funds provided by the Cooperative Program—and requests the Task Force and EC officers to agree on a contract in 7 days without waiving complete attorney-client privilege at this time; and be it further
Resolved that the SBC Executive Committee continue negotiating legal means of accomplishing the goal of a public internal investigation and submit this agreement to the Executive Committee, Task Force, and Guidepost, by September 28, 2021; and be it finally
Resolved that, at this point, attorney-client privilege is not yet being waived but is being fleshed out through negotiation.