After weeks of intense scrutiny, the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention voted Tuesday to waive attorney-client privilege as part of an investigation into the deliberative body’s handling of sexual abuse reports filed over the last 20 years.
The vote came one week after the committee sparked outrage for taking the “unprecedented” step of denying a request made by the overwhelming majority of denominational members, or “messengers,” who, this summer, called on the SBC to set aside attorney-client privilege during the probe.
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Conducting the called meeting virtually, the executive committee voted 44-31 to allow Guidepost Solutions, the outside firm investigating the matter, to review privileged communications between members, staff, and attorneys, the Religion News Service reported.
SBC President Ed Litton concluded the meeting by praying the vote, which came after several prior meetings on the subject, would not divide the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Ronnie Floyd, president of the executive committee, argued waiving privilege could open the denomination to lawsuits by exposing assets it has a duty to protect.
Nevertheless, Floyd pledged the committee will work with Guidepost.
“Now that the executive committee’s board of trustees have made their decision, the leadership and staff of the executive committee will provide support to Guidepost on implementing next steps to facilitate their investigation,” he said.
In an open letter to Southern Baptists, Floyd, who resigned as senior pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Arkansas, in 2019 to assume the role of president of the executive committee, asserted no one within SBC leadership was attempting to “defy the will of the messengers” but rather to “prayerfully and carefully fulfill the will of the messengers.”
“As I have watched all of this unfold, it has been difficult and challenging to say the least,” wrote Floyd. “My appeal to all Southern Baptists is to see the real dilemma before our committee. They are trying to wrestle with accomplishing this process in the right way as they weigh their duty as trustees to conduct the business in a manner which does not bring harm to either the entity they serve or the SBC they serve.”
“Yet, they do not do this in a vacuum,” he continued. “They each have a real passion to be sensitive to the survivors of sexual abuse and provide each of them the assurance, confidence, and care they deserve from us. Additionally, each of our members want to do all they can to guard against any further incidents of sexual abuse.”
Calls for an inquiry into the committee were catalyzed by a devastating 2019 report by the Houston Chronicle detailing the stories of 700 survivors as well as alleged efforts to silence accusers.
California Pastor Rolland Slade, chair of the executive committee, announced Tuesday that six members resigned before the meeting amid the division within the SBC over the investigation into the mishandling of sexual abuse allegations.
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