The Sex Abuse Task Force authorized by convention motion in June is living and active and has a website with updates.
On June 16, 2021 the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, TN overwhelming passed the following motion:
“I move that the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2021, in Nashville, TN, ask the newly elected president of the SBC to appoint a task force within 30 days of the date of this Convention that shall be comprised of members of Baptist churches cooperating with this Convention and experts in sexual abuse and the handling of sexual abuse-related dynamics.
I am encouraged that the SATF has taken steps to make their work open and public.
The motion passed by the SBC in session gave the SATF the option of “assum[ing] oversight of the third-party review announced previously by the Executive Committee or initiat[ing] a separate third party review.
The SATF statement is that their work “requires”
Retaining a firm that is hired as assessors and investigators, without any creation of attorney-client privilege.
Evidently, the SATF has decided to hire their own outfit, since they have requested proposals from firms interested in doing the work.
We are receiving proposals from agencies and will review these proposals to assess each organization’s ability to meet the goals and objectives of this investigation. From that group we will select firms to interview to further assess skills and qualifications. Once a firm is retained, this will be announced publicly with a brief statement regarding the reasons for selection. At that time, we will also release the letter of engagement and contract for full public transparency.
The work of the company announced previously by the EC has been put on hold and is not active. Seems doubtful to me that the SATF would choose the same company for the investigative and other work. But, they are independent and may do so if they wish.
The SATF claims a clear mandate from the messengers “to oversee this investigation and ensure it thoroughly investigates the following”:
– Allegations of abuse by Executive Committee members.
– Mishandling of abuse allegations by Executive Committee members between January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021.
– Allegations of mistreatment of sexual abuse victims by Executive Committee members from January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021.
– Patterns of intimidation of sexual abuse victims or advocates from January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021.
– Resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives from January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021.
– An audit of the procedures and actions of the Credentials Committee as related to sexual abuse.
I have some questions:
The scope of the investigation. The motion called for a thorough investigation of Executive Committee members and EC staff, the investigation to cover a period of twenty-one years, five months, and fourteen days. Was the start date chosen because it was convenient or is there a real reason to go back this far? Are there certain targets? Was this pulled out of the air. I can see no reason for the lengthof time the SATF was required to “thoroughly investigate.” How “thorough” is “thoroughly?”
The EC staff, employees, and EC members is a sizable group. The numbers would be in the hundreds of individuals. We’re going to pay investigators to interview all of these people or is their another plan? Would a contact number for those in this group who have information be thorough enough?
EC staff is small but the motion calls for going back over 21+ years. Does the SATF have the discretion to limit the investigation to executive staff or are all employees of the EC included? Count dozens of people, perhaps as many as 60-80 total to be “thoroughly investigated.”
The SBC-elected Executive Committee numbers 86 individuals with some of these these rotating on and off every year. The number to be thoroughly investigated would be in the hundreds. Is the SATF going to hire a firm and charge them with tracking down and interviewing each and every one of these? Answers to come, since the SATF declares that they will make public their letter of engagement and contract with whatever company is hired.
The budget and financial process for the investigation. The SBC motion simply states that
“The review shall be funded by allocations from the Cooperative Program.”
This is significant but has no specific amount or even a specific process for determining how much CP money will be allocated to the SATF. The SATF wasn’t given a budget neither were they given a claim on any money already budgeted through the CP and allocated to other SBC entities.
The SATF may be independently appointed but they cannot be independently funded. At some point the Executive Committee will have to agree to an amount and source for funding. It is unthinkable that the EC would refuse, given the will of the messengers. It is not unthinkable that the amount would be negotiated. The messengers themselves did not allocate a penny to the SATF.
And, if the SATF has no money, exactly how are they to enter into a binding contract with an outside investigatory firm? Who on the committee will sign the contract if no source for payments are made. Will they ask the Executive Committee to execute the contract? There would be irony in that. I expect that the EC and SATF will work this out in a back room. There would be irony in that also. Maybe there’s a simpler solution to this that my limited brainpower can access.
Not that any messengers framed it this way but about how much did they intend to divert from ordinary allocation destinations (the mission boards, seminaries, ERLC, EC, etc.) for this work? The language is clear. The CP pays. The dates are fixed (January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021). The subjects are specified.
Would a budget of one million, five million, ten million or more dollars be approved? Would it be unlimited, like a federal independent prosecutor? Seems to me that the EC itself has to make some determinations here. The SATF cannot be given an open ended budget. To do that would be unnecessary, unwise, and a Cooperative Program killer.
The SATF has seven members and two advisors. Will members be paid beyond their travel expenses? I assume not.
I also assume that the two advisors will be paid but don’t know that for certain. Will this be made public like the contract with the investigators? In the SBC we are ridiculously secretive about compensation, to my chagrin. Is there reason not to be transparent about compensation of this committee and advisors?
If a firm is retained with the mandate to interview and investigate hundreds of people for a period extending over 21 years, it’s hard to see anything less than millions upon millions upon millions being spent. If I’m making something simple into something difficult, please help me.
And make a note here. CP giving is the only source for payment authorized by the SBC motion. If CP giving is over the allocation budget, that is, there’s an excess over the fiscal 2021-2022 allocation budget, will that excess be diverted in full or part to the SATF? Correct me if necessary but SBC messengers have already voted to allocate such overages to the IMB and other mission causes. The EC, presumably, can override this if exigent circumstances arise. Let’s see them take a public vote on this – millions that would have gone to IMB or NAMB or the seminaries now being transferred for this investigation. One hopes that doesn’t happen. I’m not seeing where else the money would come from.
My view is that more thought should have been given to this. It was a heat-of-the-moment, ad hoc action. Perhaps the EC and the independent SATF will cooperate to work it out. But is it not impossible to be independent yet cooperative at the same time? Cooperate on some things. Independent on others. Irony here, brethren. But, again, maybe the SATF has worked this out. So, tell us.
What about the charge to the SATF to investigation “Allegations of abuse by Executive Committee members”?
What allegations? Are there allegations of SBCEC members abusing children or adults? Aren’t these crimes that should have been reported already? Or, are we talking about being brusque or dismissive to those who bring allegations? Are we stretching the vocabulary here? I have read of no allegations of sex abuse by EC members.
The “mishandling of abuse” shall be investigated.
I am aware of one prominent case of abuse that did not originate within the EC but that the EC mishandled. By all means, investigate the heck out of that one.
Isn’t the charge to investigate “resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives” over the 21+ year span authorized, too broad?
The EC has rightly resisted some reform initiatives, namely the SBC abuse database. I have resisted some reform initiatives (but since I’m not on the EC, I am free from being investigated by the SATF). The SBC is a collection of autonomous churches and entities. There are limits on what reform measure are possible. We have, can, and should resist some measures. Others, we should adopt. Pray that the SATF focuses on the latter.
The call for an “audit of the procedures and actions taken by the Credentials Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was formed at the Convention meeting in Birmingham, AL, June 11-12, 2019.”
This is needed and should be done. The system seems not to have worked. By all means, try and assess if the problem was structural or if other reasons were the cause.
Waiving of attorney client privilege or urging that individuals waive this privilege
This is complicated. Why any individual would waive this is a mystery to me. If the investigators interview former employees or former EC members and they feel the necessity of counsel, what lawyer would take that client if every word is made public? Legal lay guy here. Maybe there’s a simple answer. Seems certain that abuse plaintiff’s lawyers will be listening and watching. The EC’s insurer will be doing the same. SBCers will be also.
Make a note: the SATF has only has 274 days to do all this, a written report being required by the messengers no later than May 11, 2022. No slow walking this one.
I do not quarrel with the idea that our EC needs to be investigated. So, we’re doing this. Perhaps the devil will not be in the details. On a pessimistic day I would say that it is a certainly this investigation will be a mess. Today, I’m lightly optimistic.
I commend the SATF for creating a website and putting their docs on it. Openness and transparency. We don’t usually do this. Presumably, the meetings of the SATF will be open to all and a record of SATF discussions not locked up for a generation like the Great Commission Task Force. Presumably, discussions between the SATF and advisors will be public as well.
Here are the members and advisors of the SATF. Their work requires some wisdom. Prayers needed. I’m doing that, plus asking some questions. No law against either.
Members of the Task Force
Bruce Frank, D.Min.
Lead Pastor, Biltmore Baptist Church, Asheville, NC, Task Force Chair
R. Marshall Blalock, D.Min.
Pastor, First Baptist Church of Charleston, Task Force Vice Chair
John Damon, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Canopy Children’s Solutions
Liz Evan, J.D.
Heather Evans, DSW, LCSW
Director, Evans Counseling Services
Andrew Hébert, Ed.D.
Lead Pastor, Paramount Baptist Church, Amarillo, Texas
Bucas Sterling, III
Senior Pastor, Kettering Baptist Church
Advisors to the Task Force
Rachael Denhollander, JD
Rev. Chris Moles, M.A.B.C
I’ll make a prediction that no one in the SBC will read this entire article. Free CFA frosted lemonade if you do.