NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After a battle that dragged on longer than many anticipated, the Southern Baptist Convention govt committee waived attorney-client privilege for an investigation into the panel’s handling of sexual abuse experiences and remedy of victims over the previous 21 years.
During a particular, digital session on Tuesday, the manager committee voted 44-31 to approve a contract with a third-party investigator, Guidepost Solutions. The contract permits Guidepost to overview privileged communications and authorized memos between govt committee members or workers and their legal professionals.
“I am grateful that the vote went yes today after much deliberation and private sessions,” mentioned Jules Woodson, a sexual abuse survivor and activist. “That being said, it should not have taken three weeks to get here. The fact that it did is part of the problem.”
Ronnie Floyd, govt committee president and CEO, who has not expressed help for waiving privilege earlier than, mentioned he’ll help the committee’s choice.
“The leadership and staff of the executive committee will provide support to Guidepost on implementing next steps to facilitate their investigation,” Floyd mentioned in a press release.
At the conference’s annual assembly in June, the messengers, or the Southern Baptist Convention’s voting delegates, known as for the investigation into the manager committee and for the committee to waive privilege.
The govt committee — which acts on behalf of the conference exterior of its annual conferences — voted for the primary time on whether or not to waive privilege throughout an in-person assembly Sept. 21. At the time, the committee voted 55-20 in opposition to waiving privilege. The committee met once more Sept. 28 for a particular, digital session and voted 39-35 in opposition to waiving privilege.
After each votes, govt committee officers met with an SBC sexual abuse process power that’s overseeing the investigation to clean out any disagreements between the 2 sides. The process power has all the time supported waiving privilege, whereas the manager committee’s attorneys, Guenther, Jordan, & Price, suggested in opposition to the transfer, based on a process power information launch in regards to the negotiations.
Executive committee members who continued to oppose waiving privilege expressed issues about dangers to the conference’s insurance coverage. The govt committee’s insurance coverage firm might select to not pay any settlements in lawsuits that come up from the investigation’s ultimate report, the duty power defined in a information launch final week.
“We all know that to vote for this motion is to jeopardize the financial stability of our executive committee and perhaps the entire convention,” mentioned Joe Knott, govt committee member and a lawyer from North Carolina.
Meanwhile, in the previous two weeks, greater than 1,100 Southern Baptist pastors and different outstanding leaders penned letters asking the manager committee to waive privilege. Some of these letters included threats to withdraw local church funding from the executive committee.
At the identical time, six govt committee members resigned, govt committee chairman Rolland Slade introduced in Tuesday’s assembly. Some govt committee members who voted in opposition to waiving privilege final month modified their positions on Tuesday.
“It comes down to that not advocating, not falling in line with the direction of our convention, I believe could be even more disastrous for the executive committee than where we are right now,” govt committee member and Oklahoma pastor Dave Bryan mentioned in Tuesday’s assembly.
Executive committee member Mike Keahbone expressed the same sentiment, saying that every one of his issues in regards to the dangers of waiving privilege weren’t assuaged. But he mentioned he’s extra involved in regards to the division in the SBC worsening if privilege will not be waived.
“I ask us to walk by faith and not by sight,” mentioned Keahbone, additionally a pastor from Oklahoma.
Ultimately, the waiver handed as strain on the committee mounted. The govt committee officers, who have been tasked with reaching a compromise with the duty power and making a advice to the entire committee, by no means supported the ultimate contract that acquired approval.
Because the 2 teams couldn’t attain an answer late final week, the duty power publicly launched particulars of a brand new contract on Oct. 1.
Elements of Guidepost’s ultimate contract are equivalent to earlier variations. Guidepost will examine allegations that govt committee members and workers mishandled abuse allegations, mistreated and intimidated victims or resisted sexual abuse reform initiatives since January 1, 2000.
But the contract features a new clause establishing a “committee on cooperation,” which will probably be an middleman between Guidepost, the duty power, and the manager committee.
“The committee on cooperation will ensure that the executive committee fulfills its fiduciary obligations to the SBC and the messengers,” the clause reads in a nod to the argument that proponents of waiving privilege have made in latest weeks.
After the manager committee authorised Guidepost’s contract, Slade, a pastor from California, known as out private assaults on govt committee members on each side of the controversy in latest weeks.
“I want to express sorrow over the conduct that we have displayed as Southern Baptists over the course of this absolutely necessary deliberative process,” Slade mentioned. “Now that our path has been set out before us, it’s more than time to stop attacking the motives of one another and to move down this road together.”
Follow Liam Adams on Twitter @liamsadams.