Southern Baptist seminary heads be part of refrain of critics as leaders balk on abuse probe

(RNS) — Pressure is constructing on members of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to permit a third-party agency full entry to analyze the way it has dealt with allegations of sexual abuse over the previous 20 years.

This week, all six Southern Baptist seminaries expressed their dismay on the Executive Committee’s unwillingness to behave.

“From my vantage level, the current state of affairs is inexcusable and unacceptable,” Adam W. Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, tweeted on Tuesday (Sept. 28), after the Executive Committee declined to waive attorney-client privilege within the probe for the second time in as many weeks.

“This is past disappointing and probably damaging to the belief important to the SBC,” tweeted Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

On Wednesday, trustees of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan handed a decision calling on the Executive Committee to “absolutely abide” by the needs of delegates, referred to as messengers, calling for an investigation. The assertion mentioned it stood with survivors of sexual abuse “in an unyielding need to see justice completed.”

And on Thursday, a gaggle of 25 South Carolina pastors issued an announcement, saying that if the Executive Committee doesn’t comply, they’ll take into account reallocating their donations away from the Executive Committee. It was adopted by a gaggle of 32 Texas pastors who implored the committee to waive privilege.

Members of the Executive Committee have insisted they have to protect sure communications from investigators regardless of the categorical needs of Southern Baptists, whose chosen representatives voted in June to permit a clear investigation of how the Executive Committee has dealt with sexual abuse.

A movement handed by delegates to the Southern Baptists’ annual assembly in June ordered the creation of a activity drive to supervise the hiring of an out of doors investigator and explicitly referred to as on the Executive Committee to waive attorney-client privilege because it pertains to communications between the denomination, its legal professionals and intercourse abuse victims.

The denomination has been roiled for greater than a decade by its members’ makes an attempt to reckon with sexual abuse, together with a push to determine a nationwide database of recognized abusers. In 2020, the delegates to the annual assembly permitted procedures for expelling church buildings that knowingly rent abusive clergy. 

The Executive Committee’s response has lengthy been to argue that the denomination’s bottom-up construction — the place native church buildings select their very own clergy and govern their affairs — signifies that nationwide Baptist entities aren’t chargeable for the actions of abusive clergy.

In 2019, D. August “Augie Boto,” a former interim president of the Executive Committee and longtime staffer, mentioned in an e mail that abuse advocates had been a part of “a satanic scheme to fully distract us from evangelism.”

The concern was dropped at a head when an in depth investigation revealed that yr by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News revealed that about 380 Southern Baptist Church leaders and volunteers had confronted allegations of sexual misconduct.

Earlier this yr, leaked letters and secret recordings revealed the Executive Committee was sluggish to deal with sexual abuse, mistreated survivors and was usually extra involved with donations than with discovering justice for the victims.

RELATED: SBC Executive Committee agrees to pay for abuse evaluation, stalls on waiving privilege

The disaster over waiving attorney-client privilege strikes on the coronary heart of how the denomination, the most important Protestant group within the United States, is run. Southern Baptists don’t have any bishops and are ruled by the need of delegates referred to as “messengers,” who meet annually to conduct the denomination’s enterprise. When the conference just isn’t in session, the Executive Committee handles its affairs on behalf of the messengers.

But the Executive Committee, and its president and CEO, Ronnie Floyd, insist that the messengers’ movement doesn’t bind them on the difficulty of attorney-client privilege.

The Rev. Ronnie Floyd speaks during a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in Nashville. RNS photo by Bob Smietana

The Rev. Ronnie Floyd speaks throughout a gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in Nashville. RNS picture by Bob Smietana

“We are assured that the intent of the messengers to the 2021 annual assembly will be completed with out risking pointless harm to the Southern Baptist Convention,” the Executive Committee mentioned in an announcement Thursday.

The members who oppose waiving privilege appear to be performing on the recommendation of the group’s legal professionals, who’ve endorsed the group to not enable investigators entry to delicate communications.

During a contentious five-hour assembly on Tuesday a number of of the 86 members of the committee argued that they danger pricey lawsuits in the event that they had been to waive attorney-client privilege. Specifically, some mentioned, the denomination’s insurance coverage provider may not pay damages if the privilege had been waived and a courtroom awarded damages to a intercourse abuse survivor.

At least 4 of the Executive Committee’s members are legal professionals; all 4 are against waiving attorney-client privileges. 

Others on the committee, together with its chairman, El Cajon, California, pastor Rolland Slade, are prepared to surrender attorney-client privilege. So, too, is SBC President Ed Litton, an ex-officio member of the Executive Committee.

The seven-member activity drive, led by Bruce Frank, a North Carolina pastor, acknowledged that waiving privilege could maintain authorized dangers.

“Both our attorneys and the (Executive Committee) attorneys confirmed that any waiver of privilege at any time does create the chance that in a lawsuit associated to a case the place privilege is waived, the insurance coverage firm might argue that they’re discharged from paying the judgment in that case on account of waiver,” the assertion mentioned.

But the assertion added: “It is unimaginable to comply with the need of the Messengers and keep away from this danger.”

Many Southern Baptists imagine the potential danger of authorized legal responsibility is value it if the final word purpose is to do justice to the victims.

“If we’ve performed some issues mistaken that require restitution, then we have to make restitution,” mentioned Akin, the seminary president. “If we’ve performed issues mistaken and must apologize, then apologize. We must do the proper factor for the proper causes and reside out the religion we profess and belief that the Lord will present for us and bless us if we do what is true.”

The Executive Committee is predicted to satisfy as soon as extra on Tuesday, Oct. 5.

RELATED: Head of SBC Executive Committee questions messengers’ decision in abuse investigation

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