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Head of SBC Executive Committee Questions Messengers’ Resolution in Abuse Investigation

Floyd did not respond to specific questions from Religion News Service, but according to a letter to the Executive Committee obtained by Religion News Service, Floyd said that statements by the task force should not be considered legal advice, adding that the committee had to decide whether or not to follow the best practices outlined by Guidepost.

“We should seek to understand these best practices before we decide which practices to apply,” he said. “For example, if we do this incorrectly, will we be as a nonprofit organization, denying our rights to effective counsel in the middle of litigation?”

Floyd also downplayed the role of the abuse task force, saying its only role was to hire an outside firm, wait for that firm to issue a report and then report back to the messengers.

The task force argues, however, that attorney-client privilege has been used in the past by other groups to hide important information from investigators and that claiming privilege would run counter to the will of SBC messengers.

“The Messengers sent a clear message to Members of the SBC Executive Committee by passing the Motion and emphasizing that they expect an open and transparent investigation with waiver of privilege,” the task force stated in an update on its website. “Members of the SBC Executive Committee, who hold a position of trust within the SBC, have a duty to be open and forthright, and operate at the direction of the Messengers.”

Grant Gaines, pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, agrees.

Gaines drafted the motion at the SBC’s June meeting calling for the independent investigation, and when action on the motion was delayed, he appealed to messengers to overrule that decision. That appeal was successful, and the motion passed by a wide margin.

He said that waiving privilege is essential to making sure that investigators have access to all the information they need. Gaines said he hopes the Executive Committee will abide by the will of the messengers.

“I expect the Executive Committee to vote to waive privilege when they meet in September,” Gaines said.

Failing to do that, Gaines said, would put the Executive Committee in conflict with the clear statement by church messengers.

Floyd’s lack of commitment to waiving privilege or a refusal by the Executive Committee to follow the will of the messengers could lead to a crisis in the denomination, said the Rev. Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, an expert on Southern Baptist governance.

Technically, said Barber, the Executive Committee is not obligated to heed the messengers on the question of waiving privilege. That decision is in the hands of Executive Committee members. But defying the will of the messengers was a “nuclear option,” Barber said, and could have significant consequences. The SBC’s entire governance model is built on “a rope of sand.”

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Bob Smietana is an award-winning religion reporter and editor who has spent two decades producing breaking news, data journalism, investigative reporting, profiles and features for magazines, newspapers, trade publications and websites. Most notably, he has served as a senior writer for Facts & Trends, senior editor of Christianity Today, religion writer at The Tennessean, correspondent for RNS and contributor to OnFaith, USA Today and The Washington Post.