This according to longtime convention attorney, Jim Guenther, and is the estimate for ascending liability lawsuits where someone has a problem in a local SBC-affiliated church and sues the Executive Committee or SBC.
There has never been a successful lawsuit of this type.
Yes, I understand that the current matter is gravely serious and involves deplorable and heinous sins. My hope and prayer is for the SATF to do their work efficiently and sensibly and come to the end by helping the SBC and its churches in the matters involved.
You can read what Guenther says about ascending liability lawsuits in Lonnie Wilkey’s Baptist and Reflector story, Protecting the Interests of Southern Baptists.
It is the holy grail of litigators to find a means to successfully impose liability on the SBC above the level of Podunk Crossroads First Baptist Church or any other of the 47,592 independent, autonomous churches counted as being in friendly cooperation with the SBC.
As previously explained, neither the SBC nor the SBC Executive Committee hires, fires, supervises, ordains, defrocks, approves, disapproves, blacklists, or anything else involving a church and their pastor, staff, or volunteers.
Guenther “noted that when he first joined the Baptist Sunday School Board, religious organizations mostly were immune from lawsuits.” He is in his seventh decade of service to the SBC and various SBC entities. The times have changed. Just in the past few days the SBC, SBC EC, and a number of individuals were named in a defamation lawsuit. NAMB is being sued, litigation having been ongoing for several years. At least one other lawsuit involves a pursuit of ascending liability.
[Your humble hacker and plodder blogger is a legal lay guy. Read the article linked for the proper terminology and more on the concepts.]
A salient quote:
Because Southern Baptists are not hierarchical, and the convention does not control churches, Guenther and his firm have never lost an ascending liability suit. He estimates that he has had approximately 50 of those cases over the years.
Guenther issued a word of caution, however, for Southern Baptist entities. “We have got to always be diligent that we practice what we preach and conventions need to take care to respect what the Baptist Faith and Message says about local church autonomy,” he stressed.
I don’t know exactly how the recently constituted, semi-independent Sex Abuse Task Force will go about their work. I don’t know if they will have legal advisors. If they do, and I expect that they should and will, who will fill that job? Will the SBC EC fund legal counsel? The SATF has no budget nor any funds.
here is nothing new about Southern Baptist entities being sued, observed Guenther, who is a member of First Baptist Church, Nashville.
“Our responsibility as lawyers is to help Baptist institutions and conventions to understand the law so that they can conform to it and assisting our clients with risk management.
“With ministry comes legal risks and Southern Baptists give their money to Southern Baptist ministries for those causes, not to pay judgements for wrongs committed by those institutions,” he said.
“So, a lot of our work is designed to maintain the stewardship integrity and help our clients not act in ways which will violate the rights of others and result in judgements against the institution.”
The SATF is made up of some very smart, outstanding Southern Baptists. They’ve been on the task for only 46 days. Their first big date for decisions will come, presumably, when the Executive Committee meets in September. It is not a part of the charge to the SATF to protect our system of autonomy, but this should be ingrained in all of the tasks they have.
The SBC in annual session overwhelmingly called for this task force and gave them what the SATF calls “mandates.” There are six of them and the action words used are “review,” “investigate,” and “assess.” All these toward the EC and not towards individual, local SBC churches.
We will see if the SATF can thread this needle.
I appreciate that the Task Force has declared their intent to be open and transparent.
A couple of guys said they read the whole of my much longer piece on the SATF. Will happily buy the two people a CFA milkshake if we bump into each other in a CFA that has an open dining room with ice cream machines still working.