With all the Convention focused on the Executive Committee and the Gaines/Parrott motion that formed an independent task force, I think it might be helpful to highlight a similar motion and its disposition by the messengers and the body to which it was referred. The motion I am referring to is the one made by former Baptist, and then Founders leader, Jared Longshore.
The motion, it seems, was meant to be a parallel opposing motion to the one made by Grant Gaines and adopted similar language as that motion. The motion was as follows:
Jared Longshore (FL)
Motion: That the messengers ask the newly-elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention to appoint a task force to select a Christian third party made up of SBC pastors to investigate the ERLC staff and board regarding their involvement in the past president’s alleged concealment of grievous sin and his handling of the same; and further move that such an investigation include all current and former staff, board activities, and confidential ERLC records back to 2018 and that the task force report back to our Convention at our next annual meeting with the findings of the investigation, as well as any recommendations for actions to be taken by our convention.
Note the parallel with the Gaines motion
- Asked the newly elected president to appoint a Task Force
- For the purpose of a third-party investigation
- Asked for full cooperation and the release of confidential records
Note also the disposition of the motion by the Committee on Order of Business (CoOB): BOTH the Gaines motion and the Longshore motion were, under Convention rules, referred to the entity to which they sought to investigate.
That is where the parallels end. What happened after that has been different in every way.
The action of the Messengers at the SBC Annual Meeting
During the CoOB report, no attempt was made to bring the Longshore motion to the floor. It was referred to the ERLC. For the Gaines motion, I personally made a motion to “overrule the chair” and bring the motion to the floor for a vote. That vote to overrule the chair required a 2/3 vote of the messengers and received far more than that minimum threshold. The Convention wanted an opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not there would be a third party investigation of the Executive Committee and whether messengers would ask them to comply with “best practices” including the waiver of attorney-client privilege. At the end of the CoOB, the messengers allowed the Longshore motion to be referred and the Gaines motion to be brought to the floor for a vote.
When the motion came to the floor on Tuesday afternoon, it passed overwhelmingly (I estimate 95+%). The new president would appoint a task force and the EC would comply with a full and open investigation
The action of the CEOs after the Annual Meeting
After the annual meeting, the acting interim CEO(s) of the ERLC, worked with board leadership to comply with the spirit of the motion (they have no authority to appoint a task force) to draft language that would demonstrate their willingness to open the books and be fully transparent to investigators and to present that language to the trustees.
After the annual meeting, CEO Ronnie Floyd worked with EC leadership to hire attorneys to advise them on how to respond to the mandate of the messengers. There was no agreement made before the EC trustee meeting and all appearance of seeking to limit the ability of the investigation to see all relevant documents behind a claim of privilege. One can read both the testimony put out by the Executive Committee leadership and the Task Force leadership to hear their accounts of negotiations leading up to and following the trustee meeting.
The action of the two boards of Trustees at their fall Trustee meetings
I attended all sessions of the full board of the ERLC trustees in their fall meeting as well as the Administration Team subcommittee meeting. All sessions were open and the board never went into executive session. I observed trustees who were prepared, willing to move forward, and nothing but a full desire to comply with investigators to bring all relevant documents to light. The executive team of the ERLC presented the following response to the Longshore motion which then passed without opposition:
The Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Nashville in June 2021 overwhelmingly adopted a motion appointing a task force to oversee a third-party investigation that would include “any allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, a pattern of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives” and instructions that the “task force agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party.” The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) trustees and staff will fully comply with this investigation, including providing access to any and all written and electronic communications, records, information, and data related to the scope of this investigation, along with adhering to any recommendations from the task force adopted by the Convention meeting in Anaheim in June 2022. (emphasis mine)
I also watched the full sessions of the Executive Committee meetings on Monday and Tuesday of last week as well as the special called meeting this past Tuesday. These are my observations, but about 1000 others saw the same thing. Over 2 meetings and 3 days, the trustees met for over 10 hours. More than 5 of those hours were held in executive session, out of sight of messengers so that the trustees could be advised by their attorneys. In the sessions that were open, there appeared to be little assemblance of order and messengers were not prepared with the information needed. Because there was no agreement to vote on, individual messengers tried to put together some kind of resolution from the floor. All attempts at following the will of the messengers failed (though support for waiving privilege nearly doubled between the two meetings).
In the first meeting, they did ultimately vote for a 7-day extension to continue negotiating with the task force. In those seven days, we now know that they not only rejected waiving privilege, but rejected 2 other options that fell short of waiving privilege. In every vote and negotiation so far, the trustees have refused BOTH the pillars of the Gaines motion, both that of waiving privilege and giving investigators access to all relevant information, and that of giving up control of the investigation. In the second meeting, we saw the same chaos. A few trustees came prepared, but the only thing that passed was another 7-day extension. One trustee had a proposal for accepting one of the non-waiver proposals offered by the task force, but the meeting was quickly adjourned before any motion could be made to do so.
Why bring all this up? Because you see by the three points I made above both the clear will of the messengers concerning investigating the ERLC and the EC, and two completely different kinds of responses. Because there is indeed a trustee board that is doing the right thing, but it is not the Executive Committee.