The SBC has never done anything like this.
That is, to have an unelected group (the Sex Abuse Task Force, appointed by SBC president Ed Litton) and give them an undefined and essentially unlimited budget to spend on an independent group which is to “review includes an investigation into 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.” (The full motion and other questions about the SATF and its work may be found here.)
So, here we are less than a month before judgment day, the release of the Guidepost Solutions, LLC (that’s the Madison Avenue, NY firm, they have offices all over the country and in some foreign countries) written report of their investigative findings and review of the SBC Executive Committee in regard to sex abuse in the SBC as it has touched the EC.
The range of expectations for the SATF goes from salvific to utterly disastrous. I would expect some of both.
I have no inside information. The SATF has given monthly updates, a commendable practice. The updates include a lot of background and explanations of what they believe they are charged to accomplish on behalf of Southern Baptists. All this is permanently available for review on their website sataskforce.net.
A few observations:
The review and investigation is expensive. Guidepost Solutions estimated the cost of their work to be between “$1.3 million and $1.6 million.” As of the end of February, billings totaled $1,743,121. Invoices are expected to come in for the next six months. We might expect to, what, double the amount already spent? The SATF says the EC has plenty of reserves to pay bills. For those who declare that we need to spend big bucks in order to get the matter right, I’d offer that the amount spent doesn’t automatically translate into solving any problems.
Some people will be embarrassed. Messengers, in a feeding frenzy fueled mainly by justifiable animus at the Executive Committee, passed a carefully crafted and approved motion that included some controversial measures, the most controversial of which was waiver of attorney client privilege. The EC itself affirmed and took that action, narrowly in a series of contentious meetings. While I think that provision was unwise, the books are open. People will be humiliated at their private words being made public.
Our annual meeting is just an oversized business meeting. It is impossible for 10,000 voting messengers to know what they are doing or to handle a complex matter from the convention floor. No one would argue that messengers knew what to discuss even if they had ample time to do it, which they did not. Regardless, the assembled messengers did just that. Time will tell if they, in a feeding frenzy, were persuaded into doing exactly the wrong thing or if blithely passing a motion with several technically difficult provisions was proper. The assembled body of messengers may do what they will. That’s our system. Maybe collective wisdom will prevail in this or maybe mayhem will result. I don’t have a suggestion for a different system. The Committee on Order of Business worked to help the messengers form a passable and parliamentary acceptable motion. I get that. I didn’t think it a wise decision, but here we are.
Guidepost Solutions provides the report but the Task Force makes “suggestions” to the messengers at the SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim. Here is the wording in the motion:
A written report on the factual findings of this review shall be presented to the task force 30 days prior to the SBC Annual meeting in 2022, and made public in full form within one week of the Task Force’s receipt of the report along with suggestions from the task force for actions to be taken by our convention.
The SATF has a week to digest the report and to come up with “suggestions” for the convention. This is a rather compressed time line but one supposes that The members of the SATF have been thinking about this for months now. I have been assured that any of the “suggestions” would not violate our polity if enacted. That is somewhat reassuring but the convention could take actions that would be unwise and damaging while not violating polity.
I wouldn’t expect criminal referrals to come out of the Guidepost report. If Guidepost investigators and lawyers discover criminal actions by EC staff or members, they should have already been referred.
Also, note the SATF’s statement below:
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 pastors impacted or were impacted by the words and actions of the Executive Committee.
Neither Guidepost nor the SATF has been or will be investigating local churches or pastors.
I would expect the SATF “suggestions” to include (a) some kind of database, and (b) some mechanism for continuing action. I’m not an expert but I’ve watched closely and read carefully about clergy sex abuse in the SBC for around two decades. The idea of a database is universally supported by survivors and advocates. If the SATF fails to acknowledge this and fails to include some form of this in their suggestions, the will be a nuclear reaction against them and the SBC. Personally, I don’t know if a database is workable. Let’s see what the SATF comes up with. We all agree (a rash assumption about Southern Baptists) that the miscreant SBC pastor who is guilty of sex abuse should not be able to move to another SBC church. The devil is in both the sins and the difficulty of accomplishing this prohibition.
And, no one expects that we go through all this, spend several million dollars, and conclude that there’s not much that can be done or that all the bad actors are gone, so we expect things to be better going forward. But, better to move deliberately and incrementally than do the wrong thing unwisely and hastily.
I hope we never do another blue ribbon task force in this manner. If not for the fact that the Executive Committee, through multiple previous actions, had exhausted their credibility and goodwill with the convention then the proper route would have been referral, not floor action on a loose motion and creation of an unelected task force with an unlimited budget. I expect that the SBC will be rewarded with unintended consequences for years to come.
The SATF has set a good example for future grand committees and task forces. Be open, transparent. Publish your work immediately. Answer questions when asked. Tell SBCers how much it costs and where the money is going. Will the SATF release their internal meeting minutes, records, and recordings in a timely manner? One hopes so.
My prayers as the SATF and independent investigation wraps up.
At least one current Executive Committee member asked for a preview of the Guidepost report, that prior to the report being released to the entire SBC. Unh uh, brother. You see it when we see it. That’s what messengers wanted.
The Guidepost report and subsequent SATF suggestions will undoubtedly have an impact on the contentious SBC presidential election. All three candidates should be thoroughly questioned on the suggestions.
The one shining statement by SATF members was by Marshall Blalock. He said that he didn’t agree with those on the EC who fought against the waiver of attorney-client privilege but that he understood their concerns. It helps when we listen to each other even if the result is that we still don’t agree. I appreciate him for that.
While this is, as always, my own article – every single word of it – SBC Voices has a range of opinions on some of these matters. Among us, Todd Benkert is the most informed on abuse. I value his opinion, same for the others.
Easter is past but every Lord’s Day is an Easter and Day of Resurrection. May the SBC find reasons to love and appreciate one another and less cause to fight with one another.