October 5, 2021
By Sharayah Colter
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In a 44-31 vote Tuesday, Oct. 5, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee (SBC EC) opted to waive attorney-client privilege in connection with a third-party investigation of itself. Ahead of the special called meeting, six committee members resigned, and Chairman Rolland Slade noted during the meeting an expectation that other resignations may soon follow with the passage of the widely-debated waiver of attorney-client privilege. Several committee members spoke both for and against the motion, offered by Texas pastor Jared Wellman.
“It’s really simple to me,” Wellman said in speaking to his motion before the vote. “I think that in Nashville the messengers spoke clearly. I believe they knew what they were asking for, and I think that’s been evident in the last few days when we’ve had all six seminary presidents support this, six SBC presidents, three former EC chairmen including the current one, one former EC president, 12 state executives, over 1,000 pastors and churches in collective statements.”
Louisiana pastor and Conservative Baptist Network Steering Council member Lewis Richerson said a skewed narrative that opposition to waiver of attorney-client privilege amounts to opposition to sexual abuse victims themselves may have dissuaded some from voicing differing perspectives.
“Those supporting the waiving of attorney-client privilege were superb in their rhetoric so as to create a perception that those who had genuine concerns and believed other options were readily available to fulfill the desire of the messengers were guilty of seeking to cover up sex abuse, harm sex abuse survivors, and/or desired to reject the will of the messengers,” Richerson said. “Many conservatives were hesitant to speak up for fear of being labeled and due to the confusion surrounding the situation. We desire truth and integrity and believe both of those could be accomplished without waving attorney-client privilege.”
Committee member Phyllis Ingram spoke against proceeding to waive attorney-client privilege. She said her late husband, who died August 29, was a victim of sexual and physical abuse from the time he was 9 years old and that she personally watched him struggle with the lingering effects of that abuse until shortly before his death.
“Praise God, on July 15 he was able to break those chains through the power of the Holy Spirit and forgive those people who sexually abused him, which was a female, and physically abused him, which was a male,” Ingram said. “So, any insinuation that this committee does not look out for the survivors is false, because I as an individual have got a very broken heart for the victims and the survivors. So, I want to make that perfectly clear.”
Ingram said that as members of the Executive Committee, however, she and her colleagues must also fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities to the Southern Baptist Convention.
“We’ve heard from Jim Murray today, a specialist on insurance coverage attorney. He said in the 35 years he has practiced, he has never heard of any entity wanting to waive attorney-client privilege. We’ve heard from our own counsel that has advised us against waiving attorney-client privilege,” Ingram said. “As a CPA, I understand what fiduciary responsibly is, and so I stand against any motion that would jeopardize our insurance coverage, would jeopardize the financial solvency of the Southern Baptist Convention, the EC, would jeopardize our funding for our missionaries, and I stand firm on the Scripture the Lord placed on my heart on Monday, and it’s Matthew 10:16, when Jesus sent out the disciples to spread the gospel in a hostile environment, and Lord knows we’ve seen a hostile environment in this issue right here. But He said, ‘Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’”
Executive Committee member and Conservative Baptist Network Steering Council member Rod Martin said the Oct. 5 vote carries negative repercussions that could have been avoided.
“It was perfectly possible to comply with the will of the messengers and still fulfill our fiduciary duties,” Martin said. “The fact that the majority did not wish to do so will haunt the SBC, and not just the Executive Committee or its members: every entity, every state convention.
“But even were that not manifestly true, it remains true as I warned for weeks: by voiding the insurance, the Executive Committee has very limited ability to compensate any victims the investigation might find. This is grossly foolish and unjust: it is the ‘be warm and be filled’ motion. It is certainly not ‘caring well.’”
The Executive Committee voted Sept. 21 to authorize funding of a third-party investigation into the Executive Committee spanning from January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021. That motion came as part of an answer by the Executive Committee to a motion passed by messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville, which requested formation of a sexual abuse task force to oversee a third-party investigation of the Executive Committee. According to the June 2021 motion, the investigation will examine “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 Sept. 21 motion stipulated that the Sexual Abuse Task Force and Executive Committee officers work together to in seven days agree on a contract to proceed further with Guidepost Solutions, the firm retained to conduct the third-party investigation of staff and members of the Executive Committee. The committee held a meeting seven days later, Sept. 28, and passed another seven-day extension to allow the task force and EC officers to develop a plan to which everyone could agree. Reporting back to the full committee Oct. 5, the officers said no agreement had been reached. After that report, the motion to authorize the committee chairman to execute the contract with Guidepost and in so doing waive attorney-client privilege, was presented to the committee and passed in a roll call vote with 44 voting for, 31 against, and three not responding.
In keeping with the June 2021 motion’s statement that finances associated with the investigation should be funded by the Cooperative Program, the Executive Committee on Sept. 21 authorized $1.6 million from the Cooperative Program to be paid to Guidepost Solutions.
According to the June 2021 motion, the third-party investigative firm is to submit its report to the Sexual Abuse Task Force 30 days prior to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting scheduled to take place in Anaheim, Calif., June 14-15, 2022. One week after the task force receives the report, the report is to be made public along with the suggestions from the task force as to actions to be taken by the Convention.