I promise the article on my motion and its response is coming soon. I just wanted to take a moment to offer up a word from myself and a few of my friends regarding our take on last week’s Executive Committee meeting. When I say a few of my friends, I am not speaking about my co-writers here at SBC Voices. I am speaking about a couple of friends who took some time with me to express some of our thoughts regarding our current problem and from whence the real failure has come over the last 9 or-so days of life in the Southern Baptist Convention. I have chosen not to name the other co-writers because of their roles and positions in Baptist life. So, shoot at me if you will. I just think we need to identify what I believe to be the real, ultimate issue here.
There has been no small amount of anger and frustration being vented online since last Tuesday afternoon in SBC circles. And in the main, the frustration is sincere and the anger is righteous. After all, the core issue being discussed is sexual abuse that has taken place within SBC churches and institutions. Sexual abuse. Most often directed against women and small children. Sometimes at the hands of pastors and denominational leaders. How could God’s people not be angry?
But there is more to the story. Not more in the sense that no one should be angry. But more in the sense that some of the anger has been misdirected.
Until this past week, many of those who witnessed the Executive Committee’s proceedings were previously (and blissfully) unaware of the rhythms and process by which the entity conducts its business. For those who are new to all of this, it’s important to note that the Executive Committee’s full board of trustees traditionally meets 3 times a year: September, February, and June–with the final meeting immediately preceding the annual meeting. All of this to say, last week’s EC meeting marked the first opportunity for the full board to act upon the motions passed by the messengers in June.
That brings us up to date
As Bruce Frank reiterated repeatedly when he addressed the EC’s trustees last Tuesday afternoon, more than 100 days had passed since the convention overwhelmingly adopted a motion directing President Litton to appoint a Task Force to oversee an investigation into the Executive Committee. Yes, it has been 100 days. And for the EC’s part, responsibilities related to the motion were both simple and crystal clear: (1) prepare to cooperate fully with the independent third-party firm selected by the Task Force to conduct the investigation, and (2) as steward of the Cooperative Program be prepared to allocate the necessary funding for the investigation. That’s the crux of the call.
The sticking point in all of this is the waiver of attorney-client privilege. In the original motion, the language read, “We further move that the task force agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.” It appears to us that a tremendous amount of misinformation has been circulated regarding the issue of the waiving of privilege since our June meeting. But as any reasonable person would conclude, the messengers voted for a motion, including the drastic step of waiving privilege, because they wanted the Task Force to have full and unhindered access to all materials from the EC related to sexual abuse.
Make no mistake. Waiving privilege is a very serious thing. Taking such a step may very well create legal exposure for the EC and complications for the SBC. There is no doubt in our minds that the messengers understood the importance of this phrase when they voted for it. The motion was articulate, thorough and well delivered. And THAT is the point. They voted for it. Overwhelmingly voted that this action be taken and privilege be waved. Despite the paternalistic protestations put forward by some EC trustees this week (many of whom belong to a factional organization within the SBC who are noted for attempting to drain funds from the Cooperative Program and from students from SBC seminaries) the messengers are not without the capacity to see through this. In fact, we more than see through this… the messengers, contrary to the musings of a couple of EC members, actually are in charge of this whole thing.
So why was this past week’s EC meeting such a colossal failure? Why was the board unable to fulfill these basic requirements set forth by approximately 15,000 Southern Baptists? The answer is very clearly a failure of leadership.
To put a finer point on it, they were failed by Dr. Floyd. Friends, Trustees are not employees. They are charged with giving oversight to SBC institutions, but they do not carry out the work of the entity. In a very real sense, the members of the EC’s board of trustees were put in an impossible position this week and last by their own entity’s leadership. Granted there are a few of these members who are all in to protect the status quo but not all. It is inexcusable that the roughly 80 trustees who attended this week’s meeting walked in the door on Monday without an agreement in place between the EC and the Task Force. In a two-day meeting, the board was in no position to work out the terms of an agreement. And under the circumstances, perhaps passing a motion offering a 7-day extension was the best the board could do. Of course, here we are again with another 7-day extension.
Even so, as the members departed Nashville last Tuesday, they bore witness to the outrage of Southern Baptists across the country. How were 100 days not enough? From the moment the motion passed on the floor at the Music City Center, EC leadership knew attorney-client privilege was its single biggest obstacle in complying with the messengers’ mandate. How was there no plan in place? After 100 days, how were there only more questions and requests for more time? We were even told that Dr. Floyd and another EC employee approached the makers of the motion and asked them to remove the “waiver of privilege language” before the motion was made on the floor (POST-PUBLISH EDIT: since publishing this piece I have been informed that this interaction took place after the motion was made and before debate, which in my mind is even worse). They clearly knew this was going to be an issue.
Let it not be forgotten that the motion directs a review to be conducted of the EC’s actions across a 20 year period. Every EC trustee should have arrived in Nashville last week expecting to review and fully authorize a contract for such a substantial investigation to get underway. But because of a dramatic failure of leadership, they were forced to fumble their way toward approving a motion that authorized the investigation but held back the issue of privilege, at least for now, in full view of the press and with the proceedings being live-streamed.
On an issue so important Southern Baptists were failed by their leaders. Not just EC trustees, but all of us were failed. And the failure in this case only leads to further concern about the substance of the allegations that spurred the investigation in the first place. Sexual abuse is perhaps, in our mind, the deepest sort of depravity. Those subjected to it, especially in ecclesial contexts, experience lifelong scars. Deeper wounds are often inflicted to those who’ve suffered such abuse through both malice and incompetence. After these last few days, what confidence can Southern Baptists have that actual abuse cases have NOT been mishandled? And without the waiver of attorney-client privilege, what critical information about the EC’s actions will remain unknown to the countless Southern Baptists who support this investigation.
By all means, let us pray that in the time remaining the EC is able to reach an agreement with the Task Force to fulfill the messengers’ mandate. But let us not move from this moment without considering the reason such an agreement is yet to be in place. The failure and embarrassment of the EC trustees this week was both foreseeable and preventable. How they respond is up to those members who want to see truth and transparency prevail.
Now is the time to lead… Indeed!