Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Finally Waives Attorney-Client Privilege Amid Sex Abuse Investigation

It took three weeks of scheduled meetings, at least three law firms, dozens of statements, hours of closed-door briefings, and extensive back-and-forth debates across boardooms, social media, and Zoom calls for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee (EC) to agree to the terms of a third-party investigation into its response to abuse. But on Tuesday, it did.

The EC voted 44–31 on in favor of waiving attorney-client privilege in the investigation, after a half dozen members resigned and several switched their position in favor of the waiver. For a moment, it felt like the conclusion of a long and heated process, though the decision is only the start of a long investigative process.

EC chairman Rolland Slade, who oversaw the proceedings, expressed his relief after the tally was announced. Then he remarked, “I want to express sorrow over the conduct we have displayed as Southern Baptists.”

For the EC—the denominational body tasked with Southern Baptist business outside the annual meeting—the debate pitted the desire to open fully to the investigation against concerns that such transparency would threaten its financial solvency, insurance coverage, and other fiduciary duties to protect the entity.

As the clash played out, Southern Baptist voices including seminary presidents, state convention leaders, and thousands of pastors spoke out to put pressure on the EC to comply with the requirement to waive attorney-client privilege, which had been approved when the denomination called for the investigation at its annual meeting in June.

“Taking steps towards honesty, transparency, repentance, those are great things. Those are worthy of celebration,” said Georgia pastor Griffin Gulledge, who hosted hundreds of SBC leaders and onlookers in Twitter discussions around the EC proceedings.

“It is huge to see this vote go from losing by a large margin … to ultimately passing by a large margin. But let’s recognize that the result of this is that the Southern Baptist Convention will never be the same.”

The recent vote authorizes a contract with Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm tasked with reviewing how EC staff and members responded to abuse allegations and victims over a 20-year span. Guidepost is slated to make its report public prior to the annual meeting in June 2022.

“It’s a baby step. There’s a long road ahead,” said Jules Woodson, who shared her story of clergy sexual abuse in the start of the #MeToo era and has rallied groups of SBC survivors. “I’m so glad people are finally paying attention. Nobody has listened for years.”

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Source: Christianity Today