It has been a while since I’ve written. I’m hoping to start writing much more in the future. Here are a few thoughts on the happenings in the Southern Baptist Convention and the Executive Committee.
I turned 56 last week. Therefore, I’ve been a Southern Baptist for 56 years, 9 months, and a handful of days. Out of those years, I’ve been an SBC pastor for nearly 25 years. I have always been proud of my affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention. That is until the last few weeks. I’ve watched with sadness the work of the Executive Committee of the SBC over the waiving of the attorney-client privilege. The Executive Committee of the SBC is one of 12 entities of the convention. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me go back and set the stage.
First, let me stress, I’ve never been in the “Room Where it Happens.” Heidi and I love the Hamilton Broadway musical. In the second act, the Aaron Burr character talks about wanting to be in the “Room Where it Happens.” He wanted to be in the “know” and be a part of the decision-makers. As I write this blog, please know I have never been in that room. Thus, I know there is much information I am not privy to, and I offer much grace to each person who has been in that room. Furthermore, as an SBC pastor, who is very grieved in what I’ve seen, I offer this criticism with much grace and love to the victims of sexual abuse from the hands of the clergy and men of power within the SBC.
Now a little of history. In 2019, a scathing Houston Chronicle report outlined the sexual abuse of over 700 victims of clergy and men of power within the SBC. Since the report, we have seen men fall due to sexual abuse or morally inappropriate relationships. Men like Paige Patterson, Judge Paul Pressler, and Frank Page, then President of the Executive Committee, have had to resign, or they are involved with legal battles. Sexual abuse has been a real problem in the SBC, and there are hundreds of victims in the wake of this abuse.
Fast forward to the 2021 SBC Convention. In 2021, the messengers of the SBC voted overwhelmingly, asking for the following:
- President-elect Litton to appoint a sex abuse task force;
- To secure and submit to an independent investigation;
- For the Executive Committee to waive attorney-client privilege.
- To provide a public and thorough report to be given at the convention in 2022.
I watched this motion online and was very encouraged and proud of the action. This motion was a good, bold, and courageous move; in light of all the information, it was the right move for us to take. This would not give up representation, but it would assure a very open investigation and not allow people to withhold necessary documentation and evidence. The motion was presented and was passed overwhelmingly by the over 15,000 messengers of the SBC.
A little about SBC polity. The Southern Baptist Convention is technically only in existence for two days every year. Every June, the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention convene in a different city to discuss the business, ministry, and mission of the SBC. This convention acts as the “Sole Membership” of the SBC. The authority of the messengers is beyond question. By all accounts, the SBC is a bottom-up organization that is run by many autonomous churches in the United States and represented by the messengers at the convention. The Executive Committee of the SBC is made up of representatives of state conventions and is tasked with the work of the SBC in between conventions. It is tasked with carrying out the desires of the messengers at the yearly conventions.
I understand there are legal complications I am not privy to. However, the question in front of the Executive Committee is not, “Should we waive our attorney-client privilege,” but “Since we must waive our attorney-client privilege, how can we do it legally, thoroughly, and safely?” Do you see the difference? The E.C. has secured legal counsel that has made this process difficult. The E.C. has taken two votes on rather or not to waive attorney-client privilege. Both votes have failed. They are currently in another 7-day extension and will reconvene to discuss the matter again and to vote rather or not to waive attorney-client privilege.
While I understand there are long-term and long-ranging issues we might face if the E.C. waives their attorney-client privilege, messengers of the SBC has spoken, and the E.C. must figure out a way to adhere to the overwhelming voice of the one member of the SBC. My prayer is the will of the messengers will be overwhelmingly approved this week as the Executive Committee once again meets.
What do I hope happens?
- E.C. committee: Follow the overwhelming will of the messengers. Vote this week to waive attorney-client privilege. There must be a thorough and transparent investigation. We owe it to victims of sexual abuse, and we owe it to all Southern Baptists.
- E.C. Committee: Submit to the authority of the Task Force, Guidepost Solutions, and the authority of the messengers of the SBC.
- My heart is grieved as I listen to women speak of their ongoing pain and victimization of sexual abuse at the hands of the SBC. To you, the victim, I am genuinely sorry. You do not deserve the abuse you have received, and I am sincerely sorry. We must do better.
- Finally, and to be clear, because of the wake of victims within the SBC and to ensure a thorough investigation, we must do the right thing, waive attorney-client privilege and investigate how widespread and deep the sexual abuse goes.
Since none of us are in the room, what can we do? First, as always, pray. Secondly, every church must create a safe place for men and women to attend. While we can’t guarantee complete safety, we must take viable steps to do everything we can to make sure all people are safe and well taken care of at church. All we do is for the glory of God and the good of others. Let us make a concerted effort to bring glory to God in the treatment of our people, especially our women and children. Executive Committee, for the sake of sexual abuse survivors and the justice they are seeking, do the right thing; wave attorney-client privilege, trust God to keep the SBC, and let us seek justice for those who have been abused.