A top committee at the Southern Baptist Convention agreed Tuesday to open legally protected records to investigators that will look at how sexual abuse cases within the country’s largest Protestant denomination have been handled, or mishandled, over the past two decades. .
The third vote on the case in less than three weeks by the evangelical denomination’s executive committee, it overturned two previous ones that would have retained attorney-client privileges. Leaving that privilege is considered important in order to enable a transparent calculation of how denomination leaders respond to abusers and abusers in their churches and institutions.
The 44–31 vote followed unsuccessful attempts at compromise and the resignation of several board members who had previously opposed the waiver.
related: Secret recordings, leaked letters show Southern Baptist officials disregarded sexual abuse claims
Supporters said the executive committee really had no choice because it had been instructed to relinquish privileges by the last authority in the Southern Baptist government: church representatives, or messengers, who called on Nashville in June to authorize the committee’s investigation. Voted at the annual meeting of the convention. .
Opponents said waiving the privilege would be financially reckless, citing attorneys’ advice that it could prompt insurers to drop their coverage of the convention’s entities.
“What we are doing is about creating chaos,” said committee member Joe Knott of North Carolina opposing the exemption.
The envoys “voted to investigate the sexual abuse” but not to “cancel our insurance”, he said.
Another member, Mike Kehbon of Oklahoma, countered that the committee also had a “spiritual fiduciary duty”.
“We have victims who have been waiting a long time for a concrete step towards treatment,” he said.
The executive committee has come under scrutiny especially since a 2019 report by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News documented hundreds of cases of abuse in Southern Baptist churches, with many alleged offenders remaining in the ministry. are.
The review will be overseen by a task force and conducted by an investigative firm, Guidepost Solutions.
Advocates for abuse survivors applauded the vote.
“It’s a small step forward that I’m grateful for, but it’s only the start of a long road,” tweeted Jules Woodson, an advocate for people like myself who came forward with accounts of sexual abuse by SBC clergy Huh. “Let the truth prevail.”
Pressure on the executive committee was built from within the denomination, with clergy’s groups saying the refusal to heed the envoys on the attorney-client privilege issue could jeopardize trust among rank-and-file Baptists. He also said it could risk donations to the conference’s unified budget, which funds seminaries, missionaries and joint projects at global, national and state levels.
Seminary presidents and state Baptist leaders also called on the committee to follow the emissaries’ instructions.
During Tuesday’s meeting, those seeking to maintain attorney-client confidentiality said the committee had sought a settlement that would give investigators some access but were unable to reach an agreement less than a complete waiver.
California committee chairman Roland Slade sought to bridge differences after the vote, saying the trustees had tried to do their best while “navigating uncharted territory” and found bitter people from all sides online and elsewhere. “Unnecessary personal attacks” were encountered during the debate.
“Most importantly, it is time to make sure where we have missed out on the question of sexual abuse… said.
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