Southern Baptists, At Impasse, Postpone Vote On Sex Abuse Probe for Week

By Bob Smietana
Grant Gaines SBC Executive Committee
Tennessee pastor and messenger Grant Gaines talks about his proposed task force during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, on June 16, 2021, in Nashville. (RNS photo by Kit Doyle)

After a contentious five-hour meeting on Tuesday, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee called for a further week of deliberations with a special task force on sexual abuse after failing to agree on the ground rules for a third party review commissioned to study the denomination’s handling of abuse claims. 

The call came as the two sides, meeting via Zoom, hit at impasse, unable to agree on the terms of a contract with the investigative firm Guidepost Solutions.

At issue is whether the Executive Committee can shield certain communications with its lawyers from Guidepost Solution’s investigators. Many of the Executive Committee’s 86 members believe they should be able to claim attorney-client privilege, while the majority of the task force want the committee to waive the right to confidentiality to insure an honest accounting of the Executive Committee’s actions over the past 20 years.

Earlier in the meeting, much of which was held behind closed doors in executive session, a motion to waive attorney-client privilege was defeated, 39 to 35.

It was not immediately clear if the task force would agree to the seven-day extension of deliberations. The task force chairman Bruce Frank, a North Carolina pastor, said he would issue a statement on Wednesday.

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At the denomination’s annual meeting in June, Southern Baptist delegates, called messengers, rejected a plan by the Executive Committee to investigate its own handling of sexual abuse and instead put it in the hands of the abuse task force, which was appointed shortly after the meeting. The task force was charged with hiring an independent third party to investigate the Executive Committee and deliver the results to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting.

“We further move that the task force agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review,” the motion, which passed unanimously, said.

In doing so, the delegates sent a clear message: Tell us the truth about how you’ve handled allegations of sexual abuse and how you have treated survivors of sexual abuse. 

Baptist governance requires the Executive Committee to follow the will of its messengers.

Tennessee pastor Grant Gaines, who called for the independent investigation and defied the annual meeting’s chairman to get the motion approved, said that waiving privilege was a crucial part of his motion.

The intent was to give the third-party investigator “access to anything they need to do a thorough investigation,” Gaines said in an email.

The Executive Committee agreed in principle to spend $1.6 million to fund the outside review.

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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8 thoughts on “Southern Baptists, At Impasse, Postpone Vote On Sex Abuse Probe for Week”

  1. Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight)

    The more they prevaricate and delay, the more I think they’re hiding something big. Not so much accusations against well known leaders, but more like the Catholic church abuse scandals – the covering up of the sins of many, many pastors and allowing them to shift from one place to another and continue their crimes.

    1. The SBC has no control over pastors or staff moving between churches; each church hires and fires its own. The only way SBC could be complicit is if they knew of a problem and them brought the perp into a job with one of its entities.

      1. Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight)

        I agree that the SBC’s polity is very different from that of the Catholic church. The catholics used their top-down hierarchy to protect perpetrators.

        But what an investigation into the SBC might show is that sexual assault and abuse may be just as rife as the Catholics, but exists because of thousands of individual churches and pastors covering it up at the bottom level.

  2. Is the highest authority for the executive committee to obey the passing vote of delegates or something else? This forum would say that the highest authority to obey is God and His word. Considering the admonition in the Scriptures to seek godly counsel, to answer honestly, and to hold confidences securely, I do not see the need to give up rights.

    1. Not the best analogy but think of Ronnie Floyd as a CEO, the Executive Committee as the board, and messengers as representatives of the owners. The owners tell the company what to do. Right now the “board” is telling the “owners” to stuff it (one Committee member said something like that!)

  3. I think there’s a much better handling of this here….

    I could be misunderstanding, but it appears that the issue is actually shielding information from the public, not the SATF. They are negotiating the Michigan model, with the SATF having access to all information, but with the law firm maintaining privilege regarding what information is made public. They are currently fighting over who gets to choose the law firm.

    1. SATF said no to the Michigan model. They then proposed a Special Master to independently review documents for privilege; XC then demanded to hire the Special Master and SATF said no.

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