LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Action by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee last Tuesday will enable an independent third-party review of that committee to begin. Its members agreed to waive attorney-client privilege for “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 investigation will look into “the actions and decisions of staff and members of the Executive Committee from Jan. 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021.”
Four Kentuckians on the EC voted with the majority (44 votes) to waive privilege. There were 31 no votes. The decision prompted EC chair Rolland Slade to say, “I'd like to express my relief that this present challenge seems to be behind us.”
Persons serving on the Executive Committee are voted on by messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. There are 86 persons on the committee, who can each serve two four-year terms.
Each of Kentucky’s four committee members responded to a request from Kentucky Today to provide background and thoughts related to their decision to vote to waive privilege.
Marcella Crenshaw, a member of Parkway Baptist Church and executive director of The New Life Center in Bardstown, is serving on a four-month mission trip to Scotland. But that distance did not keep her from being involved in the EC work and decision.
“The issue which was addressed at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention involving sexual abuse within the SBC is a difficult, complicated and heart-wrenching one," Crenshaw said.
“It is heart-wrenching because there are very real victims involved who have been let down in the past.
“It is complicated because there has been a great deal of conflicting advice about how best to move forward with a transparent and robust investigation into how the SBC has responded to accusations of abuse and what lessons we must learn moving forward. The 2021 SBC messengers overwhelmingly voted for the attorney-client privilege to be waived in order that the investigation could stand up against public scrutiny.
“Those of us serving on the SBC Executive Committee have agonized, prayed, sought wisdom, listened to attorneys and read letters from numerous Southern Baptists throughout the convention. We are to represent the messengers and be wise and prudent in matters of fiduciary accountability. However, this time those responsibilities are in conflict and no matter how hard we tried there was no easy answer, no easy way out. Many hours were spent exploring different avenues to support those who have survived sexual abuse while seeking to ensure the essential work of the SBC is able to continue through the support of the Cooperative Program.
“Faced with this dilemma, our decision was to prioritize the need to support the survivors over and above any other implications. In doing so we acted in step with the wishes of the task force, the six seminary presidents, several state conventions and the 2021 messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention. The leadership of the EC worked diligently over these months to provide accurate information and to design an alternative reasonable solution. However, to no avail.
“We are fully aware that this decision could terminate our insurance policy. If this occurs, we may find ourselves in a troubling financial situation. As you can surmise, the stakes are high. However, the vote of 44-31 to waive attorney-client privilege reflected the resolve that there were no other avenues to explore and that this vote would allow a thorough, extensive and robust investigation — regardless of the consequences on our convention. Abuse survivors deserve no less from us.
“Please pray for this process,” Crenshaw continued. “Pray for the Task Force, for Guideposts, for all involved in the issue, for the EC, and the leadership of the SBC as we collectively seek His guidance. The road ahead could be rocky in many ways; however, we need for the truth to prevail and for each and everyone of us to have confidence and trust in the Lord as He guides the SBC and her leadership.
John Lucas, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Pikeville, pointed out that the Executive Committee “functions at its best for Southern Baptists when it operates in the background. In the background, operates transparently visible, yet unexcitingly consistent. It is happy to operate unnoticed as a champion of every other entity of the SBC to advance our kingdom mission. Unfortunately, to many Southern Baptists, it appears the Executive Committee has gravitated either too much into the foreground or into complete hiding in the shadows. My prayer is that this independent investigation will allow the Executive Committee to reset back into its best position.”
Questions posed to the four members and their responses are:
Do you think you were given adequate time to investigate/explore all possible options?
Nick Sandefur, senior pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington: I think so. There was a clear divide between the two positions that was not going to be bridged. Therefore, it was time to vote.
Charles Frazier, senior pastor of Zion’s Cause Baptist Church in Benton: I really felt that the general body of the Executive Committee needed more time.
John Lucas: As a trustee, I don't believe I had adequate time to familiarize myself with all the necessary information and options. I would have preferred to have received regular briefings since the convention adjourned in June.
The first vote two weeks prior resulted in an overwhelming majority against waiving privilege. What changed over that two-week period that led to your final vote on Oct. 5?
Sandefur: Not much for me. I simply wanted to give time to see if a possible solution could be reached. Both sides (Sexual Abuse Task Force and EC staff) said that there had been a lack of communication in the time between the convention and the EC meeting. My hope was they could resolve it with time, unfortunately they could not.
Frazier: I think that the general body began to process the information that had been given to them. As they processed the information, the results changed.
Lucas: During our Sept. 21 extended session, we were presented a motion from our officers that they had worked frantically to bring to the floor. The heart of this motion was a request for more time to work towards a compromise on the more challenging contractual issues. During our discussion, a substitute motion was brought to the floor that conflicted with what the officers were asking in the original motion. The desire to comply with the will of the messengers was the heart of both motions, but how to best comply was the challenge. I believed that the best decision for the SBC was to provide our officers more time to communicate with the Task Force. However, once we discovered that after two weeks a compromise could not be reached, the will of the messengers had to be the priority in voting.
This was a more complex issue than many people realize. Will you briefly talk about the complications involved in the vote?
Sandefur: Justice, polity and stewardship were all issues. Some suggested that the waiving of privilege would lead to a loss of insurance and potential draining of our funds, and thereby trustees were neglecting their fiduciary duty. However, if we did not abide by the will of the messengers, the revenue for our missions would be jeopardized. For me, my allegiance was to Christ, then convention, then EC. I believe nothing less should be expected from an SBC entity trustee.
Frazier: To me it was about three things — honoring the abuse survivors, the will of the convention and the responsibility as a trustee.
Lucas: I don't think it's possible to talk briefly about it, to be honest. At the heart is the issue involved the legality and risks involved with a vote from our trustees to waive privilege. We didn't receive any consensus from legal experts as to the best practices for an entity like ours in this situation. In short, we were flying blind the whole time and praying we were not crashing the plane.
What positives do you see as a result of the final vote to waive privilege?
Sandefur: I believe that the convention as a whole will have continued faith in our polity, our local congregations will have a renewed trust in the managers of the Cooperative Program and the public we engage will have a perception that Baptists will do the right thing, even if it is difficult.
Frazier: I think we need to be as transparent as we can in this and every situation we face.
Lucas: The central advantage of the vote is that the Executive Committee complied with the motion and the will of the messengers in this matter. The hope is that this will begin the process of restoring trust in one of the SBC's valued entities.
How would you suggest Kentucky Baptists pray moving forward?
Sandefur: Pray for people who have been hurt by our mistakes as a convention, especially those who have been abused inside of our churches. Pray for our convention to continue to see the value of being in cooperative mission partnership, and pray that even through this dark moment, Christ will be glorified and exalted and people will find hope in Him.
Frazier: Pray for wisdom and discernment — to be led by the Holy Spirit.
Lucas: Pray that Guidepost accomplishes the job Southern Baptists want most — a transparent and fair assessment of how sexual abuse survivors and their claims have been handled in recent years. Pray that the Task Force will receive wisdom from God as it prepares to report to the convention next year, and that it finishes its task with great success for Christ's name. Pray that the Executive Committee will begin the process of healing and rebuilding trust with the convention it exists to serve.
What would you like to say to Kentucky Baptists about this issue?
Sandefur: Work to make your churches a safe place, seek to live above reproach and focus on the mission the Lord Jesus has given us. This is necessary work, but we must not neglect our primary task — making disciples of all the nations.
Frazier: We want to find the absolute truth of what really happened. We need to correct the mistakes that were made. We need to implement safeguards that this does not happen again in our Executive Committee and cooperating churches.
Lucas: It has been my great honor to serve you during these challenging days. I serve at your pleasure, so please feel free to reach out to me anytime. And most of all, know we are in this together to reach our world for Christ.