Southern Baptist Convention
The Rev. Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee, addresses the annual meeting on June 15, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (RNS photo by Kit Doyle)

The SBC’s Ronnie Floyd Fails His Ezra Moment on Sexual Abuse

By Russell Meek

During deliberations last week on how the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee would handle an investigation into its (mis)handling of sexual abuse, the committee’s president and CEO, Ronnie Floyd, invoked prayer and fasting in his arsenal of weapons to argue against a completely transparent inquiry. 

There are plenty of examples of prayerful fasting for a cause, but Floyd, the author of a 2010 book on the power of prayer and fasting, would probably recognize the parallel to a moment some 2,500 years ago, when the Jewish scribe Ezra prayed and fasted to convince the Jewish people to save themselves at a time when their sinful behavior was threatening their very existence.

In 538 B.C., the Persian king Artaxerxes sent Ezra to ensure that the conquered Judeans followed the law of God, empowering him with a very large stick: Ezra could order the execution, banishment, imprisonment or confiscation of possessions of anyone who refused to “obey the law of your God and the law of the king.” 

Instead of strong-arming the Judeans into repentance, Ezra fasted, prayed and waited for the people to respond. His tack produced nearly unanimous repentance.

Floyd’s prayer and fasting, on the other hand, has convinced him to do the opposite of Ezra and prevent the Southern Baptists from repenting, despite their devout wish to do so.

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In June, the delegates at the SBC annual meeting voted overwhelmingly to appoint a task force to oversee an independent third-party investigation into the SBC Executive Committee’s record on dealing with sexual abuse in the denomination’s churches. The motion, against the wishes of the Executive Committee members on stage, was clearly a rebuke to the committee’s repeated attempts to subvert the churches’ efforts to address the sexual abuse crisis publicized by the Houston Chronicle in early 2019.

The messengers’ mandate specifically included the condition that the committee members waive attorney-client privilege.

SBC ezra
Southern Baptist Convention messengers attend the annual meeting on June 15, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn. (RNS photo: Kit Doyle)

SBC politics and polity get confusing quickly, but the key point in the current debate is that the SBC is a bottom-up organization. All the power rests with the churches of the convention, whose will is expressed through the messengers chosen to represent the churches at the annual meeting. The group of 86 people on the Executive Committee, elected by the messengers to act for them between annual meetings, “is subject to the review of the Convention.”

This fact goes against the false claims by Executive Committee member Joe Knott that the messengers “do not have the power to tell us to do anything.” The Executive Committee is subject to the messengers — it must do what the messengers direct it to do. It’s that simple.

Nonetheless, the Executive Committee has now voted twice on a motion to waive attorney-client privilege, and twice the committee voted against doing so. Rather than facilitate the people’s desire to do what is right, Floyd and other Executive Committee members have defied the will of the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention and are fighting tooth and nail to ensure that, in the words of the Gospel of John, “(evil) deeds may not be exposed.”

growing minority of Executive Committee members are arguing for Floyd and others on the committee to do what is right, including Executive Committee chair and California pastor Rolland Slade and the prominent Tallahassee, Florida, pastor Dean Inserra.

That minority voice represents the express will of the churches, and I hope and pray that their voice will win out. I hope and pray that, like the scribe Ezra 2.5 millennia ago, they will facilitate the action that must accompany our repentance for the decades of sexual abuse and coverup of that abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention. 

Russell L. Meek (PhD, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a writer, editor and lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew at Ohio Theological Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at @russ_meek

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9 thoughts on “The SBC’s Ronnie Floyd Fails His Ezra Moment on Sexual Abuse”

  1. Time for those of us who have contributed faithfully to the SBC for years to start voting with our wallets. But please do so wisely, so as to avoid “shooting yourself in the foot” or “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. It is the Executive Committee, not the rank and file of the SBC and not the good work that the SBC does all over the world, that needs to feel our wrath.

  2. It was reported a while back that Floyd takes home over $500K each year from his position. This is why he is not being cooperative. Jesus said that you cannot serve both God and Money (Mammon.) You will love one and despise the other. There is simply too much money at the top and it attracts the wrong kinds of leaders: the greedy ones. This is evidence that most of the people there are for Mammon and are afraid of losing it. They are the opposite of Zacchaeus. They claim to love and serve both God and Money but in reality they are only serving themselves. The salaries in these positions need to be cut down to a quarter or less of what they currently are. Men like Floyd would leave and enter the business world in pursuit of more money. The love of money is a root for all kinds of evil.

  3. Does this really surprise anyone?
    Sexual Abuse has become a Privilege of Pastoral Rank, with long prayers in justification.

  4. Betty Sue Phillips

    “decades of sexual abuse and coverup of that abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention”, is yet to be proved.

    I agree with the directives of the SBC messengers to the Executive Committee. But, the legal rights of individuals requires the Committee to proceed cautiously so the results will be binding.

  5. I’m beginning to consider that the messengers and their convention are at fault in this impasse, certainly strategically (if the intention is to see sexual abuse transparently dealt with), and perhaps arguably on a logical-ethical plane.
    It may well be the case, that what the remit of the EC actually is constitutionally and across historical precedent, is such as to see it having to act as it currently is. With the concomitant of that being that the messengers are going about things in a wrong-headed way, in seeking to make the EC the mechanism of the changes they nominally want and are demanding.
    Perhaps it is up to the messengers to see some entity and program to emerge from amongst their own ranks. Where again with the concomitant that it is not the EC that has failed to properly address sexual abuse, but arguably themselves and the Churches they represent.
    So what is needed, rather than the EC getting its act together, is the messengers and their Churches getting their act together. Which begs the question as to whether this issue of failings in response to sexual abuse, is being operationalised and weoponised by those intent on bringing down or altering the EC and its place in the SBC.
    Why is the investigation into the EC, rather than into the field of Churches in which abuse has taken place?

    1. Colin:

      How dare you blame the messengers for the sexual mess in the SBC. It is mind boggling that you are this tone deaf You sound like an apologist for the men leaders of the SBC who I predict will do nothing about the sexual abuse..

  6. It is uncanny that cover up is the leadership’s usual response no matter what denomination you deal with. They just won’t repent when they sin which shows that men and not Jesus run their church.

    1. “It is uncanny that cover up is the leadership’s usual response no matter what denomination you deal with.”

      In my opinion, when a church incorporates itself as a 501c3, it no longer is a house of God, but an organization that operates under man’s law and acts accordingly. It has to satisfy man’s rules 1st before they even consider God and we are seeing the fruits of this agreement. Leadership under man’s standards will always protect itself, not the people they are supposed to be serving.

      We need to get away from calling men and women in church hierarchy “Leaders” and call them what they are supposed to be: God’s servants in positions of higher responsibility. If they do not/cannot live up to that standard under God’s Law, they have forfeited that honor and should be removed. They do not have to be perfect, but they must be honest. Any indication that they will hide the truth shows us their true character and who they serve.

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