The task force created to oversee an independent investigation into the handling of sexual abuse allegations by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee issued its first statement today (Aug. 6).
The task force, created in July by SBC President Ed Litton, said it has asked the SBC Executive Committee, which is scheduled to meet Sept. 20-21, to approve a motion to waive attorney-client privilege on behalf of the Executive Committee and to waive any individual attorney-client privileges claimed by “witnesses or relevant individuals pertinent to this investigation,” including “current or past Executive Committee members in accordance with the overwhelming mandate given by SBC messengers.”
The task force also has “formally requested that the Executive Committee and its staff preserve all written and electronic communications, records, information and data, including data that may be residing on servers and personal communication devices, for the duration of this investigation and until August of 2022, to allow time for receiving any recommendations that may come from this process.”
Call for independent review
SBC messengers called for the independent task force during the 2021 Annual Meeting, following allegations that Executive Committee members mishandled sex abuse allegations, intimated abuse survivors and advocates and resisted reform efforts. SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd announced in June that Guidepost Solutions had been hired to conduct an internal investigation of those concerns. But the Executive Committee declined to discuss an independent review.
The task force also said that there were “numerous questions about the practices, policies and methods” of the Credentials Committee, repurposed in 2019 to determine whether a church is in “friendly cooperation” with the SBC, specifically in regards to a church’s alleged departure from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine or practice in its handling of sexual abuse, racism and various other pertinent issues.
Messengers in 2019 additionally approved language to provide explicitly that churches will not be considered in fellowship with the SBC if they “act in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse.”
As part of its mandate, the task force will conduct “an audit of the procedures and actions of the Credentials Committee as related to sexual abuse.”
The task force statement said it is receiving proposals from agencies and will announce the agency selected for the review once proposals have been reviewed.
“At that time, we will also release the letter of engagement and contract for full public transparency,” the statement said.
The task force also promises a “full, written, public report that details the methodology and process of the investigation, its factual findings, and recommendations based on those findings” and “notations of where information was not available, not provided or where privilege was claimed or attempted to be claimed.”
The task force said it is committed to “protection of all survivor identities” and that “a channel for confidential and anonymous communication will also be opened by the investigative agency, and information obtained anonymously will be pursued to the extent possible.”
Task force goals
In stating its goals, the task force statement reads in part:
“As a Convention which strives to adhere faithfully to the gospel, we believe this process is one which should be welcomed by all in the SBC. Indeed, it is the gospel which compels that these steps be taken, for it is the gospel that demonstrates to us all both the holiness of God and weightiness of sin. If we are to preach God as holy, and in Christ’s grace follow the command to be “holy as your Father in heaven is holy,” then we must never be a people who minimizes wrongdoing, but rather stands clearly opposed to it.”
“If we are to love as Christ loved, laying down our lives, caring for His sheep, and considering others above ourselves, we must therefore care deeply about the impact of our actions upon others and grieve at any suffering that our choices or actions cause.
“It is of utmost importance, therefore, that a fair, honest assessment of our actions and policies be conducted, and that it is undertaken with a heart ready to hear, receive and repent where errors are found, never minimizing the wrong or the suffering it has created, but grieving over it.”
More updates coming
The task force statement said there would be “a number of updates” regarding the independent investigation into the Executive Committee.
To read today’s statement, which includes contact links and list of task force members, click here.