Home Christian News SBC’s Lawyers to Cut Ties After Vote to Waive Privilege

SBC’s Lawyers to Cut Ties After Vote to Waive Privilege

SBC
The Rev. Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee, addresses the annual meeting, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Nashville. RNS photo by Kit Doyle

(SBC) — The longtime general counsel for the Southern Baptist Convention has decided to cut ties with the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

The decision came after members of the SBC’s Nashville-based Executive Committee decided to waive attorney-client privilege as part of a sexual-abuse investigation. That decision means that records of conversations on legal matters among Executive Committee members and staff would no longer be confidential.

That decision made it impossible for the denomination’s legal counsel to continue its role, wrote attorneys James Guenther and James Jordan of Guenther, Jordan & Price.

“We simply do not know how to advise a client, and otherwise represent a client, with the quality of advice and representation the client must have, and in keeping with the standard of practice our firm tries to uphold, when the client has indicated a willingness to forego this universally accepted principle of confidentiality,” Guenther and Jordan wrote in a letter to Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd.

News of the break between the firm and the Executive Committee was first reported by the Baptist and Reflector, a Tennessee Baptist state newspaper.

Guenther, 87, has been general counsel for the SBC since 1966. Before then, he spent a decade working for what was then known as the Baptist Sunday School Board, now LifeWay Christian Resources.

Guenther told the Baptist and Reflector that his firm has represented the SBC in about 50 cases where the denomination was being sued over the actions of a local congregation.

“Because Southern Baptists are not hierarchical, and the convention does not control churches, Guenther and his firm have never lost an ascending liability,” the newspaper reported.

The attorney warned Southern Baptists to stay true to their theology in order to protect themselves legally.

“We have got to always be diligent that we practice what we preach and conventions need to take care to respect what the Baptist Faith and Message says about local church autonomy,” he told the Baptist and Reflector.

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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.