Tennessee pastor Grant Gaines advocates for the motion calling for the newly elected SBC president to appoint a task force to oversee the recently announced third-party investigation of the Executive Committee’s handling of sexual abuse allegations within the denomination.
Photo by Sam Evans

ICYMI: Messengers speak up, vote to shift investigation oversight

While board members of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee chose not to discuss its coming investigation during a June 14 meeting, more than 15,000 messengers meeting the next two days at the SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville forced the issue.

EC president and CEO Ronnie Floyd announced June 11 his team had hired Guidepost Solutions to do an independent, third-party investigation into recent allegations made against the EC’s handling of sexual abuse cases within the denomination and other alleged concerns.

During the June 14 EC meeting and during the June 15–16 SBC meeting, Floyd was commended for the action but criticized for maintaining oversight.

Some EC members wanted to discuss the issue but did not have the votes to bring it up.

Messengers did have the votes, however, and approved a motion for Ed Litton, the newly elected SBC president, to appoint a task force to assume oversight.

“I hear you,” Floyd responded from the platform.

“The Executive Committee respects the messengers. We need this deliberative process. We know this will make our convention stronger. That is what I want.”

Task force motion

Tennessee pastor Grant Gaines and North Carolina pastor Ronnie Parrott submitted the motion, noting concern of the EC overseeing its own investigation.

The motion to create the task force read:

I move that the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2021, in Nashville, TN, ask the newly elected president of the SBC to appoint a task force within 30 days of the date of this Convention that shall be comprised of members of Baptist churches cooperating with this Convention and experts in sexual abuse and the handling of sexual abuse-related dynamics. This task force shall either assume oversight of the third-party review announced previously by the Executive Committee or initiate a separate third party review. Said task force shall ensure that the third party review includes 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 shall include actions and decisions of staff and members of the Executive Committee from January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021. This investigation should include an audit of the procedures and actions taken by the Credentials Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was formed at the Convention meeting in Birmingham, AL, June 11-12, 2019. The review shall be funded by allocations from the Cooperative Program.

We further move that the task force agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review. A written report on the factual findings of this review shall be presented to the task force 30 days prior to the SBC Annual meeting in 2022, and made public in full form within one week of the Task Force’s receipt of the report along with suggestions from the task force for actions to be taken by our convention.

“Serious allegations have been made,” Grant said from the convention floor. “An investigation does need to be done but it needs to be done in the right way.”

Business/financial plan

Concerns over the ability to assume any new assignments as it enters an investigation also resulted in a rejection of its request related to the SBC business and financial plan.

The recommendation coming from the EC would have allowed its leaders more oversight in order to “strengthen the financial accountability” of SBC entities.

Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church, Las Vegas, was one of six messengers who stood to speak against the recommendation.

“This proposal would be an unprecedented expansion of the EC’s powers and would put itself between the local churches and the entities we are trying to support with the CP.

“There are so many questions … and it doesn’t have to be done this year,” he said. “Let’s wait and allow everything to come out before accepting a recommendation like this.”

EC member Robyn Hari of Tennessee reminded messengers the recommendation was in response to previous messengers’ request “to have some method to make sure all things outlined in the business and financial plan have been met and addressed.”

The plan, if it had passed, also would have empowered the EC to escrow Cooperative Program funds from any entity not complying with the 10-point checklist.

Southeastern Seminary president Danny Akin said, “I am chair of the council of seminary presidents and speak on behalf of all six of us opposing this recommendation.

“This would jeopardize our standing with our accrediting agencies … because they already wonder about oversight (related to Cooperative Program funds gifted to the seminary),” he said. “They ask, how does this [prevent] outside interference? And we always say the money comes from our churches who hold us accountable through our trustee system.”

Lifeway assignments

Also voted down was a request for Lifeway Christian Resources to amend its ministry assignments to reflect the role it now plays, 25 years after the current list was drafted.

The reasoning behind the rejection was not clear, but messengers at varying points expressed concern over Lifeway’s decisions to sell property and adapt some of its assignments prior to the SBC meeting.

Messenger James Watson of Arkansas asked about “getting the cart before the horse” in relation to decisions being made prior to receiving approval from messengers.

In response, Lifeway president Ben Mandrell asked for grace.

“I do want to respect the process,” he said. “I was in a position where it was Ridgecrest (Baptist Conference Center in North Carolina) or it was Lifeway. I went to the board of trustees and showed them where we were with the greatest challenge Lifeway would ever face with the closing of churches for a prolonged period of time (during the pandemic).”

The past year the pandemic “forced this organization into a self-protection season,” he explained.

Curriculum sales declined; summer camps were canceled and all conferences moved to an online format.

By the end of the fiscal year, Lifeway had missed its revenue by $45 million but Lifeway is now moving forward, he added.

In other business, a request to review whether Saddleback Church, a prominent California congregation led by bestselling author Rick Warren, can continue in fellowship with the SBC was sent to the Credentials Committee. The church recently ordained three women to serve in staff positions with pastor in the titles — such as children’s pastor.

Southern Baptists limit the office of pastor to men, but confusion surfaces because some see it as the senior pastor role while others see it as any position with pastor in the title.

A total of 32 motions were proposed during the meeting and 22 were referred to specific entities:

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission — five motions, including ones relating to investigating its board and staff as well as hiring an outside organization to investigate sexual abuse within the convention.

International Mission Board and North American Mission Board — one motion referred to both entities, and NAMB received one on its own.

SBC Executive Committee — 12 motions.

All SBC entities and EC — two.

A few motions requested rescinding previous years’ resolutions, specifically in regards to race, but it was later ruled out of order with an explanation from parliamentarian Barry McCarty. Resolutions are the opinion on a matter expressed by a particular set of messengers in a specific year and are nonbinding, so they cannot be rescinded by future messengers, he said.

$190 million CP budget

Messengers also approved a $190 million Cooperative Program Allocation budget and $8.6 million EC and SBC operating budget.

The CP budget is an increase of $3.125 million over the 2020–2021 budget but $6.5 million less than the 2019–2020 budget.

Also adopted:

  • Floyd’s Vision 2025 plan for boosting Southern Baptists’ evangelistic and discipleship efforts
  • A change to the SBC constitution to expand the definition of a cooperating church regarding sexual abuse and racial discrimination
  • A change to the SBC constitution related to the timing of officer elections during the meeting. It also adds that “no person may simultaneously be a candidate for two offices”
  • An amended missions and ministry statement for the EC.