This month two SBC committees, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Board of Trustees of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), held meetings in which they addressed concerns related to sexual abuse.
During the recent 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, a motion was made calling for an “audit and assessment of sexual abuse within the SBC.” That motion was referred to the ERLC. Acting ERLC president, Brent Leatherwood, said the ERLC was the appropriate entity to initiate the assessment, and that the staff were eager to begin work on the project.
The trustees voted unanimously to move forward on the motion by saying, “We wholeheartedly support the intent of this motion and are committed to taking the necessary steps to secure the best oversight team and funding required to complete a comprehensive and thorough assessment, including the allocation of ERLC reserve funds to help offset the costs as needed.”
The ERLC board allocated $250,000 as a “first commitment” toward the project and assigned the ERLC staff with three tasks:
- Present for approval by the full board an advisory committee with broad representation to help oversee and execute the study process;
- Begin working with other SBC entities and organizations to develop partnerships and funding for the study; and
- Develop a scope of work, for approval by the full board, and gather proposals from qualified independent firms to complete the study.
At the Annual Meeting, the messengers of the SBC also called for an investigation into sexual abuse responses by and coverup within the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (EC). Although the EC had commissioned its own independent inquiry through Guidepost Solutions, the messengers made a motion to transfer oversight of that investigation or launch an additional one to a new task force. On Sept. 9, 2021, the task force announced that Guidepost Solutions was retained to conduct the independent assessment and investigation regarding the EC.
The mandate, as directed by the SBC motion, is that Guidepost will investigate:
- Allegations of abuse by Executive Committee members
- Mishandling of abuse allegations by Executive Committee members between Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021
- Allegations of mistreatment of sexual abuse victims by Executive Committee 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 messengers at the 2021 Annual Meeting instructed the EC to abide by the recommendations of Guidepost, up to and including the waiver of attorney-client privilege.
This week, the EC held its first meeting since the Annual Meeting in June. The EC is tasked with carrying out the work of the Convention and promoting the general work of Southern Baptists in the interim between the annual meetings.
Although the EC does not control or direct the activities of Convention agencies, such as the ERLC or IMB, it reviews their financial statements and recommends the Convention’s annual operating budget. In addition, the EC receives and distributes the monies given in support of denominational ministries, acts as the recipient and trust agency for all Convention properties, and provides public relations and news services.
The EC is composed of 86 representatives chosen from qualified states and regions. Officers of the EC are elected from these representatives. To carry out these duties, the EC also employs an executive and professional staff in its Nashville offices.
In this week’s meeting, following hours of deliberations, several significant actions occurred. A vote to waive attorney-client privilege failed 55-20, raising concerns the board had undermined the “will of the messengers.” The EC eventually authorized funding the Guidepost budget of $1.6 million. A request by the EC was also made for the Task Force and EC officers to agree on a contract in seven days, which will be September 28th. The motion said this was to be done “without waiving complete attorney-client privilege at this time” but is “being fleshed out through negotiation.”
A motion was approved to get an outside legal option to look into the conflict of interest regarding the Convention and EC lawyers. The law firm Friday, Eldredge & Clark was retained to study these potential conflicts of interest in relation to the SBC’s legal counsel. Another law firm, Locke Lord, was also hired to aid with the forthcoming independent review. Additionally, the EC approved a motion to fund the SBC Executive Committee legal fees related to the independent investigation from the committee’s operating reserves. The approval was for up to $500,000 with the requirement that the Committee on Convention Finances and Stewardship Development must be notified when half the funds have been expended.