NASHVILLE – An independent third-party review of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) is underway, according to Bruce Frank, chair of the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force. Frank said the contract among the task force, Guidepost Solutions and Rolland Slade, on behalf of the EC, has been signed.
The full report from Guidepost’s investigation is due to be released 30 days prior to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif., next June.
Members of the EC agreed to waive attorney client privilege at a special called meeting Oct. 5. The motion called for the waiving of 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 January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021.”
The contract calls for the creation of a Cooperation Committee to act as a liaison between Guidepost and the EC. The committee will consist of two members of the EC chosen by Slade, two members of the EC chosen by the task force and will be led by SBC President Ed Litton. Members of the Cooperation Committee will be selected from among those who were first appointed to the EC in June 2021.
Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC EC, called on Southern Baptists to pray.
“Our SBC family should be praying for Guidepost and for the task force to have God’s clear direction and discernment about all of these matters,” he said.
Litton agreed, saying, “I would ask the members of our churches to pray especially for these men and women that God would give them wisdom to make decisions that respect the messengers and honor Christ, grace as they deal with difficult and sensitive matters, and strength to complete the assignment they’ve been given.”
Frank said Guidepost is “about a month behind where we’d hoped they would be,” but added: “They’ve got a great team, and I think they’ll catch up.”
According to the contract, Guidepost will provide “periodic monthly updates” to the Committee of Cooperation.
Frank asked for prayer that “what needs to be seen will be seen” during the process. “Pray that what needs to be repented of, will be, and that we will be able to take care of the people who have been hurt,” he said.
Litton asked Southern Baptists to “pray also that God would guide our family of churches through this season, that our actions going forward would demonstrate a sincere commitment to care for survivors of abuse and resolve to protect others from abuse.”
The full report from Guidepost is due to be released 30 days prior to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif., next June.
“Once the report is done, we expect the task force to provide some helpful suggestions to our Convention about how we should consider addressing these matters in a more effective way,” Floyd said.
What prompted the investigation?
No accusations of sexual abuse have been made against EC staff or trustees. So what prompted the independent investigation of the EC?
At their 2021 SBC annual meeting, messengers adopted a motion made by Grant Gaines, pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and son of Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., and a former SBC president (serving from June 15, 2016 to June 13, 2018). The elder Gaines was accused of a sexual abuse coverup in 2006, according to Baptist Press, and the Religion News Service reported that his church was sued in 2020 for allegedly ignoring warnings about a part-time employee now charged with the sexual abuse of a teen. Both incidents fall within the timeframe, 2000-2021, set by the younger Gaines’s motion for investigating whether the Executive Committee properly addressed such matters.
Additionally, the motion calling for a review of the EC came amid controversy over allegations made by former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore that various Southern Baptist leaders “stonewall[ed]” calls to address sexual abuse in the SBC. The allegations came in two letters by Moore that were leaked to news media.
In the second letter, dated May 31, 2021 – the final day of Moore’s tenure – he wrote of two meetings in 2019 among SBC leaders and described opposition to efforts to address sexual abuse in the SBC. Floyd and then-Executive Committee Chairman Mike Stone, who was a candidate for SBC president, participated in the meetings. Later, clips of audio recordings from the meetings were released by Phillip Bethancourt, a Texas pastor who was at the time the ERLC’s executive vice president. Recently, Jonathan Whitehead, an ERLC trustee from Missouri, questioned Moore’s claims in a letter to the Southern Baptist EC (See story here).