EDITOR’S NOTE: This article includes additional reporting from Scott Barkley of Baptist Press, especially in the final section of the article. See further updates from June 8 here and here: According to International Mission Board (IMB) President Paul Chitwood, these updates have resolved his concerns about the IMB’s loss of $4.5 million during the next 15 months.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee’s (EC) proposals for funding abuse reform efforts in the denomination will cost the International Mission Board (IMB) roughly $4.5 million during the next 15 months, IMB President Paul Chitwood told The Pathway, June 2.
During a Zoom meeting earlier in the day, the EC voted to reallocate both the 2021-22 and 2022-23 National Cooperative Program allocation budgets to provide up to $9 million combined for funding recommendations made by the Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF). The EC also voted to authorize the use of up to $5 million from the EC operating reserves to pay for legal fees. These EC proposals will be brought before Southern Baptist messengers for approval during their annual meeting in Anaheim, June 12-15.
“Addressing sexual abuse is incredibly important for Southern Baptists, and the IMB is fully supportive of the work of the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force,” Chitwood told The Pathway. “We wholeheartedly believe this is a crucial undertaking. Because the SBC Executive Committee’s new plan for funding this effort comes from the Cooperative Program, all SBC entities will be impacted. For the IMB, this means Southern Baptist missionaries will receive approximately $4.5 million less over the next 15 months.
“While recognizing that the Executive Committee had very limited options, due to the financial implication to missionary funding,” Chitwood added, “we would have welcomed the opportunity to be part of the funding discussion and, together, to seek creative solutions that would not have impacted gospel advance among the nations as deeply. Nonetheless, we commit to support the decision of the messengers in Anaheim and will make whatever organizational adjustments necessary, with our shared goal of preventing abuse and providing compassionate support to victims.”
According to the IMB website, a global average of $60,000 dollars is required to keep one missionary on the field for one year — implying that $4.5 million is enough money to fund 75 missionaries during a one-year period.
Despite the anticipated decrease in CP funds, Chitwood said he is hopeful that Southern Baptists will rise to the occasion.
“We’re grateful that during times in the past when Southern Baptists have heard the need, they have increased their giving — sometimes substantially,” Chitwood said. “We are praying that, through the growing generosity of Southern Baptists’ giving through the Lottie Offering, 100% of which goes to fund our missionaries and their work overseas, we can continue to fund not only our existing missionary force but the goal of growing that force by 500 new missionaries. As 157,690 people die lost in our world every single day, a growing missionary presence means more will hear the gospel before they enter eternity separated from God.”
Also on June 2, Chitwood published an editorial, affirming the significance of addressing abuse in the convention and describing the IMB’s previous efforts to prevent abuse. (Read his editorial online here.)
Questions about entity support raised by EC members
A large majority — consistently more than 80 percent — of the EC supported the proposals for funding abuse reform efforts in the SBC. However, some EC trustees raised questions and concerns during the EC’s June 2nd deliberations.
Jim Gregory of Utah/Idaho asked whether the EC should seek the input of SBC entity heads before moving forward with plans to fund the abuse reform efforts, since the entities’ ministry funding would be affected by the EC’s proposals.
In response, Harry “Archie” Mason of Arkansas noted that an unnamed entity head said on Twitter that he would be supportive of what SBC messengers ultimately decide to do at their annual meeting this month.
Interim EC President/CEO Willie McLaurin also addressed Gregory’s concern: “All of our entity leaders … are Great Commission leaders, and they take seriously the responsibility that has been given to them by Southern Baptists to steward well their ministries. So all of the conversations have been transparent conversations. They have been very cordial conversations, and our entity leaders are committed to serving the bride of Christ. And they understand this is just a part of that service-hood, if you would. So, our entity leaders are going to continue serving faithfully, even during the difficult part of the journey.”
Philip Robertson of Louisiana also asked “whether we have had a chance to reach out to the entity heads to see if they would in fact support this recommendation, as we are going to present it.” He said his concern was that entity heads could be called upon by messengers during the 2022 annual meeting to state whether they support the EC’s recommendations. If, at that time, they said they couldn’t support the EC’s proposals, then the EC’s recommendations likely “will not move forward.”
“I wish we could talk to (the entity heads),” Robertson said, “and have them somewhat on record (answering the question), ‘Do you support this, or should we look at changing it?’”
Responding to Robertson, McLaurin said, “The only resources that we have, at least that I’m aware of, are the faithful gifts that come to our churches through the CP. And, at the end of the day, our (Sexual Abuse) Task Force will be bringing a recommendation. Our responsibility, our fiscal responsibility, is to come together and make a recommendation that we believe is within the best interest of our convention and supportive of the recommendation that comes from the task force. The goal the entire time is to make sure that none of our entities is impacted negatively.” McLaurin also noted that the recommendation being discussed at the moment regarded only the possible overage in CP receipts.
EC trustee: Legal ramifications could mean
‘the end of the Southern Baptist Convention’
Joe Knott of North Carolina raised a separate issue, expressing concern about what he described as the dire legal ramifications of the EC’s actions.
“With all due respect, and I say this very humbly, this entire endeavor is terrifying me. And here’s why—I speak as a lawyer now,” Knott said. “The funds we’ve been spending thus far for legal fees have been paying our lawyers, and it’s been significant. Lawyers are expensive. But that pales in comparison to paying judgments. You pay lawyers so you don’t pay judgments. When you lose cases and have judgments to pay, you can be talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“And everything that we’re talking about today with the Taskforce and implementing policies to ensure this and that—I am terrified that we are breaching our longstanding position of being a voluntary association of independent churches,” Knott added. “When we start telling churches that they should do this or do that to protect children or women, and it turns out—which it will—that women and children are still going to be victimized, then someone is going to say, ‘You did not do enough.’
“And when they say that, that is a question of fact, which could support a lawsuit. And not just one lawsuit by one victim but by thousands of victims, if we have not done enough. We spend a million dollars, two million dollars, five million dollars, 10 million dollars to try to protect women and children, and I guarantee you women and children are going to be victimized no matter how much we spend. And that is going to make us, potentially, targets of great class action lawsuits, which could be the end of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
EC Chairman Roland Slade thanked Knott for his input, yet he reaffirmed the importance of the EC’s support of abuse reform efforts in the SBC.
“I believe, firmly, that we must do everything we possibly can for the vulnerable and those who have been hurt [and] victimized,” Slade said. “I don’t know the price of one person’s [suffering]. One is too many. I believe we have to do our very best.
Ultimately, he said, it’s up to the messengers to receive the EC’s recommendations.
“If they receive them, adjust them, change them, throw them out … that’s the will of the messengers and the polity of our network of churches. We want to see the kingdom of God advance. But I don’t want us to say that we didn’t have enough money, and so we didn’t protect a little one who was vulnerable and in the line of being hurt.
“We’ve got to do what we can. It can’t be about the dollars. It’s got to be about the people.”
SBC EC’s recommendations to 2022 messengers
The EC’s June 2nd meeting followed and responded to the release one day earlier of “challenges and formal recommendations” from the SBC’s SATF. (The full list of SATF recommendations can be accessed here: https://www.sataskforce.net/updates/task-force-challenges-and-formal-recommendations.)
Last year, SBC messengers adopted a budget that included funding for the promotion of Vision 2025, a set of strategic actions designed to increase missions outreach across the convention. At that meeting, however, a sixth point was added to Vision 2025 calling on the Southern Baptist Convention to “Prayerfully endeavor to eliminate all incidents of sexual abuse and racial discrimination among our churches.”
The first recommendation considered at the EC meeting called for the first $5 million of any overage of the 2021-22 budget to go toward the initial funding of that sixth point in Vision 2025. The breakdown of that amount would be:
- 60 percent, or up to $3 million, for initial implementation of sexual abuse reforms as recommended by the SATF
- 20 percent, or up to $1 million, to further assess, establish, develop and implement a comprehensive framework by which the SBC will improve its response to sexual abuse allegations and legal matters as well as “sustainable reforms” in accordance with SBC polity
- 10 percent, or up to $500,000, toward implementing initiatives that work toward eliminating incidents of racial discrimination among SBC churches
- 10 percent, or up to $500,000, to assist with subsequent funding in excess of the initial estimated cost of the Guidepost investigation released May 22.
Any additional overages beyond those in the recommendation regarding the 2021-22 budget will be distributed to SBC entities in the percentages already approved. The vote passed with 88 percent approval, 8 percent against and 4 percent abstaining.
Interim EC CFO Bill Townes noted that the reallocation of a previously approved budget gained precedent in September 2005 and September 2017, when the EC took those steps to respond to disaster relief needs related to hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Irma.
A second recommendation called for amending the 2022-23 budget approved by the EC at its February meeting this year. A Special Priority Allocation of $4 million – prorated on a monthly basis – will be added to the National Cooperative Program Allocation Budget, bringing its total to $196,070,000. That priority allocation, if approved, would fund the work of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force “to assess, establish, develop and implement a comprehensive framework” for the SBC’s response to sexual abuse and “respond appropriately to legal matters on behalf of the SBC.”
In addition, the first 50 percent of overages in gifts to the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget will go toward the SBC’s ongoing response to abuse care and misconduct allegations as well as legal matters. The funding will not begin until the upcoming financial year in October.
The recommendation passed with 82 percent of trustees in favor.
The third recommendation addressed additional funding for ongoing EC legal fees for the 2021-22 budget year. Trustees initially allocated $500,000 toward legal fees last September. At their February gathering, however, they increased the allocation to $2 million with the stipulation that another approval could be necessary.
Townes described the recommendation as a “just in case” scenario and commended McLaurin’s efforts to limit those expenses.
“He’s meeting with our current attorneys to look at ways to limit those legal expenses over the next several months as much as possible, to cap those costs to where they’re manageable,” he said.
The recommendation passed with 89 percent approval, 9 percent negative and 2 percent abstentions.
Before those recommendations were considered, EC members voted to ratify a statement of public repentance issued May 24 in light of the Guidepost Solutions report. The EC’s ratification was required since their vote regarding the statement during a previous meeting had been out of order. The ratification passed with 92 percent approving, 6 percent voting negative and 2 percent abstentions. Trustee Joe Knott asked for the record to show that he voted against the ratification of the statement.
Southern Baptists will also have their opportunity to consider the recommendations soon.
“The recommendations presented by the Sex Abuse Task Force will be brought forward to messengers in Anaheim. In addition, the Executive Committee has begun laying the groundwork to ensure that messengers have a pathway to fund the recommendations,” he said.