Southern Baptist Church leaders bow to pressure to open files on sexual abuse cases
Southern Baptist Convention leaders agreed on Tuesday to legally open files for investigators to examine how the church has handled or mismanaged cases of sexual abuse over the past two decades, the Associated Press reported.
The SBC, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, came under fire in 2019 after a report released by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News found that hundreds of cases of sexual abuse had emerged in its churches and that some of the defendants had been allowed to remain in its ranks. The SBC executive committee voted 44-31 on Tuesday to legally open the cases after several efforts to reach a compromise failed and some board members resigned, the AP reported.
It was the third such vote by the committee in three weeks, overturning two previous decisions to retain solicitor-client privilege for files. The lifting of attorney-client privilege was seen as a necessary step for a fully open review of the church’s response, or lack thereof, to the alleged abuse, the AP reported.
For more Associated Press reporting, see below:
Supporters said the executive committee really had no choice because it was ordered to relinquish the privilege by the ultimate authority of the Southern Baptist government: church officials, or messengers, who voted at the convention’s annual meeting in Nashville in June to authorize a committee inquiry. .
Opponents said waiving the lien would be financially unwise, citing advice from lawyers that it could cause insurers to drop their coverage of treaty entities.
“What we’re doing is creating chaos,” said committee member Joe Knott of North Carolina, opposed to the waiver.
The messengers “voted to investigate the sexual abuse” but not to “cancel our insurance,” he said.
Another member, Mike Keahbone of Oklahoma, countered that the committee also has a “spiritual fiduciary duty.”
“We have victims who have waited a long time for a tangible step towards recovery,” he said.
The review will be overseen by a task force and conducted by an investigative firm, Guidepost Solutions.
Advocates for abuse survivors applauded the vote.
“It’s a small step forward, for which I’m grateful, but it’s only the start of a long way to go,” tweeted Jules Woodson, an advocate for those like her who have reported. sexual abuse by SBC clergy. “May the truth prevail.”
Pressure on the executive committee had grown within the denomination, with pastor groups saying a refusal to heed messengers on solicitor-client privilege issue could undermine trust among grassroots Baptists . They also said it could jeopardize donations to the unified convention budget, which funds seminars, missionaries and joint projects at the global, national and state levels.
Seminary presidents and Baptist state leaders also asked the committee to follow the direction of the messengers.
During Tuesday’s meeting, those seeking to maintain attorney-client confidentiality said the committee sought a compromise that would have given investigators some access, but could not come to an agreement without a full waiver. .
Committee chairman Rolland Slade of California sought to iron out differences after the vote, saying the trustees had tried to do their best “while navigating uncharted territory” and that people from all walks of life had been confronted. to “unnecessary personal attacks” in heated debates online and elsewhere.
“Most importantly, it is time to know for sure where we have failed on the issue of sexual abuse… so that we can correct any mistakes and move forward as the safest convention for our most vulnerable members. “, Slade mentioned.