I learned an early lesson about the realities of Southern Baptist life: Anyone who asks honest, respectful questions about individuals, entities, budgets, policies and the like gets looked at askance, with disapproval, with suspicion and wariness. I asked some questions about the new Sex Abuse Task Force. Others have done the same. One hopes that the current reaction of the SATF is a pattern for the future.
The TF brethren and sistren are issuing regular updates and have answered some questions. They declare that they will be open and transparent. This signals a new day in the SBC where the norm is backroom deals, restricted access, spin and silence.
Good work SATF.
Previous questions and observations posted on SBCVoices may be read here. Make a note. Only one person is asking questions here at SBCV, moi, your humble hacker and plodder blogger. Blame me for being the renegade who reads stuff and asks questions.
Money, funding, and the SATF
It was noted that the SBC Messengers called for the SATF to be funded with “by allocations from the cooperative program.” At present, no dollars are allocated to the SATF – the group has no bank account, can pay no consultants, etc.
In the new update, the SATF essentially says, ‘Not our problem. It’s the Executive Committee’s problem to come up with funding.’ The
SATF has asked the EC to use some of their reserve funds for this purpose. The SATF Update says there are “significant funds” in reserve. Best I can tell, the EC has about a year’s budget in unrestricted, unallocated reserves – maybe $7-8 million. Anticipating questions, the SATF says that if these funds are used then no missionaries or seminaries will have their funding cut.
The TF has made a request for funding to be considered by the EC at their meeting later this month. It has not been stated how much they are asking for.
Compensation for SATF members and advisors. The update states:
Neither the members of the Task Force nor its advisors are being paid. Travel expenses are being reimbursed when in-person meetings are required. All of the members are pleased to donate their time to serve the SBC and to serve the Kingdom of God in this endeavor.
It is normal for members of blue ribbon SBC committees and task forces to serve without compensation but have expenses paid. Standard procedure here. The two TF advisors will also serve without compensation, according to the update. The wording is present tense, “are being paid.” Is it reasonable to assume that this means that they will not be paid once funding is allocated to the TF?
The scope of the investigation.
While the update calls the scope “both broad and narrow,” I see more “broad” in their earlier statements than “narrow.” The wording is careful, I think, in writing that the “parameters of the external investigation do not include any allegations of sexual abuse or mishandling of abuse at the local church level, except to the extent that those allegations against local church.” There are a handful abuse cases that originated in local churches. There will not be investigation of these cases, save for how the EC handled reports of them. This could be tricky.
There is no denying that the scope of the investigation is quite broad, so stated in the original motion that was hastily cobbled together. It covers Executive Committee members and staff for a period of over 21 years. Hundreds of individuals are covered in this motion. The SATF says they have a “mandate” to investigate these thoroughly. Quite broad, and expensive.
There is more explanation by the SATF here than anywhere. I suspect lawyers are involved in the statements. It’s somewhat complicated to my lay mind. The TF states that “members” of the EC should agree to make this waiver. Members of the EC are volunteers, pastors, laymen and laywomen. No one can compel them to waive attorney-client privilege. The convention may replace them next June if they wish, for this or any reason.
The SATF has formally requested “the Executive Committee (in a letter to the Executive Committee Chairman) to vote to waive attorney-client privilege at the scheduled September Meeting of the Committee in Nashville.” A lot is not said here and I cannot provide answers. If an individual member of the EC is involved, can the EC as a body waive his or her privilege? Or, does the waiver only involve the EC or SBC lawyer(s)?
Interested observers, they’re mainly on Twitter, all seems to be experts in this area. I’m not.
What will the result of the SATF’s work?
The update lists only one concrete result that would likely be a package of results:
We will be able to obtain expert recommendations for the Messengers to consider acting on, to help provide care for survivors of sexual abuse and respond appropriately to, allegations of abuse or mishandling abuse in the SBC. This, in turn, has a direct impact on abuse prevention, a goal which we ought all share.
Maybe this will be the result, maybe not. There’s no way to know if any action at the SBC level will have an impact on abuse prevention at the autonomous local church level.
I’m getting a serious hint about this whole process being scripted towards certain specific goals, one of which would make the Executive Committee responsible for handling abuse allegations that occur in local churches or other SBC entities. This is speculative on my part. But a lot of people are watching this closely, both inside and outside the Convention.
My prayers for the SATF in their work.
The atmosphere at our annual meeting in Nashville included a heavy dose of animus towards the SBC Executive Committee. They deserved some of this. The motion to create this Task Force was hastily done, and included questionable wording, partly I think, because of ire at the EC and some EC members, staff, and former staff. Regardless, the SATF should act in the best interests of all Southern Baptist churches and messengers, as well as abuse victims. The TF rightly states that their task involves a “long and, at times a difficult road.” It will be hard. It is not long, they are compelled to report in 247 days.