NASHVILLE – After the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) decided in a 44-31 vote, Oct. 5, to waive attorney-client privilege and move forward on a third-party investigation of the EC, The Pathway asked EC trustees from Missouri for comment.
In his role as SBC recording secretary, Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Director John Yeats serves as a voting member of the EC. His comments can be found here, and other background regarding the EC’s decision can be found here and here.
• EC trustee Daniel Carr, senior pastor of Canaan Baptist Church, St. Louis, voted in favor of the motion to waive attorney-client privilege and sign the contract for an investigation with Guidepost Solutions. He wrote the following in a statement to The Pathway:
“We are in such a critical season in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. I am very confident that all of the EC members I know want nothing more than to ensure the sexual abuse victims receive justice and feel like they have been heard, taken seriously, and cared for. As a result of the messengers’ overwhelming message to the EC to waive privilege, there were numerous factors for us to consider in determining whether or not to waive privilege. Either decision carries with it significant risks for the convention. However, in my thought process, the greatest risks lie in 1) the desire to honor the sexual abuse victims the most, 2) to avoid the probable catastrophic precedent of an entity defying the expressed will of the messengers which could forever change SBC polity in a negative way, and 3) begin to rebuild trust from the convention for the Executive Committee.”
• EC trustee James Freeman, an attorney and member of Country Meadows Baptist Church, Independence, voted against the EC motion. He wrote the following in a statement to The Pathway:
“On October 5th, in direct contravention of the advice given to them by some of the most respected professionals in the nation, in my opinion a majority of members of the Executive Committee expressly voted to violate their duties as the fiduciaries to the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Instead of accepting advice from multiple former U.S. Attorneys and a former U.S. Supreme Court nominee as to how to legally comply with the 2021 messengers’ motion to investigate allegations of sexual abuse in a way that waived attorney-client privilege for a complete and thorough investigation by an independent third party, but did so in a way that preserved insurance coverage (past, present, and future), a majority of the members literally voted to accept a version of a $1.6+ million dollar contract which was presented to them for the first time in the middle of the meeting, with little advice as to the wisdom of significant terms contained in the contract. The contract approved contractually transfers significant financial responsibility to the Convention for any malfeasance of the appointed Task Force and third-party medical malpractice and creates a situation in which the Convention has unreversible, unquantifiable but predictably catastrophic exposures. Using best practices, those liabilities would normally have been transferred to third party insurers.
“Because of the way the members ignored this advice, it is my belief that significant risks exist that the Convention will become uninsurable, which means a significant risk exists that the Convention will be unable to even procure insurance necessary to host the annual meetings. Almost all, if not all, of the professionals on the Executive Committee voted not to violate their fiduciary duties and have now resigned or are likely in the process of resigning. Further, the messengers’ annual meeting motion required that the investigation be completed utilizing best practices. Some of the best law firms in the nation advised as to the best practices of how to conduct such an investigation. The majority of the Executive Committee simply ignored the advice.
“It was for these and other reasons that I voted against the motion to approve the Task Force’s catastrophically unwise contract.”
• EC secretary Monte Shinkle, senior pastor of Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City, also voted against the motion. He wrote the following in a statement to The Pathway:
“As difficult as these last few weeks have been I am certainly thankful that the final vote has been taken. Scarcely a day passed without a zoom call. Zoom calls are draining. In addition I was involved in trying to reach some kind of middle ground with the SBC task force. I was one of the four EC officers who met with the Sexual Abuse Task Force in Dallas on a very long, fruitless Monday.
“On Tuesday, Oct. 5, a decision was made. I felt and still feel it was a poorly thought-out decision. Even though we can cast a vote, we cannot control the consequences of the actions taken. I may be completely off base but Southern Baptists have made a decision at great risk. The motion in Nashville was passed hastily with limited discussion. We have never in history taken such a careless step to put our whole Cooperative Program at risk. That is exactly what we did by waiving attorney/ client privilege.
“The motion to investigate whether the Executive Committee or individuals connected with EC have been guilty of sexual abuse, resisting sexual abuse reform, or mistreatment of victims of sexual abuse is very much in order. It is a proper and right thing to do. Right things can be done in a right manner. There will be an investigation but it will now go forward in a wrong manner.
“Waiving attorney client privilege and indemnifying the investigative firm is not best practice. Attorney client privilege could have been waived on a request-by-request basis. The EC could have done this as needed. A blanket waiver has put our insurance at risk. In all likelihood we will lose insurance coverage and many trustees recognized that the insurance policy allows the company to step away when the covered organization does not cooperate in its own defense. This is the decision we have made.
“Several trustees have resigned. Some were pressured by the company they were employed by to get off the EC. We are losing some of our best laypeople. Attorneys, CPAs and other professionals are resigning. This is alarming. Bylaws call for a balance of one-third to two-third for the trustee board. One third lay people and two thirds ministers or vice versa is the standard. We will soon be out of balance as our laypeople resign. This greatly concerns me. The EC will be run by preachers. What could possibly go wrong?
“Leading up to the vote I had over 600 messages supporting the waiver of attorney client privilege. Laypeople were largely silent. Those messages by and large came from pastors and pastors’ wives. I am greatly concerned about the alienation of laypeople who understand best practice.
“In the end I voted no in order to fulfill my fiduciary duty. $1.6 million has been allocated in CP funds to conduct the investigation. That pulls $800,000 from our IMB. A lawsuit has already been filed by a victim of sexual abuse. If we lose coverage the CP will be an open checkbook and we can expect many more suits to follow.
“I believe that sexual abuse on any level is intolerable and must be punished. The abused must be listened to and cared for. The EC has voted on three occasions to not seat messengers from individual churches whose pastor is a registered sex offender.
“Every MBC church must deal with it, when abuse occurs in the congregation. The same can be said for associations and our MBC. We must understand that we are a convention of local churches and each church is autonomous. I am greatly concerned when crimes in a local church, association, or state convention rise to threaten one of the greatest missionary enterprises in church history.
“I had to vote no.”