By Scott Barkley
NASHVILLE — A collective of SBC Executive Committee members have released a statement in response to Tuesday’s (Sept. 21) approval of a motion that, while funding a task force-approved investigation into allegations of the mishandling of sexual abuse claims, stopped short of waiving attorney-client privilege.
SBC EC member Jared Wellman, who helped draft the statement, presented his own motion Tuesday that called for fully waiving privilege, but his motion was defeated 55-20.
“We grieve yesterday’s vote by the Executive Committee, who in unprecedented fashion prohibited the will of the messengers for an open and transparent investigation into the Executive Committee,” the statement reads. “It is our opinion that the failed vote only justifies the need for an open investigation. We join with the messengers who desire justice for survivors of sexual abuse, and we feel that this cannot happen so long as the Executive Committee forbids an open and transparent investigation, which must include the waiving of privilege.
“We will continue to work within the EC to ensure that the will of the messengers is fully honored by the Committee we serve as trustees,” it continued. “That is what we committed to do when we accepted this trust, and it is what we will pursue as a stewardship before God. We invite all Executive Committee Members who share these convictions to join us in this statement.”
In addition to Wellman, signatories are:
- Dean Inserra, lead pastor, City Church, Tallahassee, Fla.
- Adam Wyatt, pastor, Corinth Baptist Church, Magee, Miss.
- David Sons, lead pastor, Lake Murray Baptist Church, Lexington, S.C.
- Pam Reed, retired nurse, member of Calvary Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, N.C.
- Adron Robinson, senior pastor, Hillcrest Baptist Church, Country Club Hills, Ill.
- Lawrence Yoo, lead pastor, Waypoint Church, Durham, N.C.
- Caleb Groteluschen, lead pastor, Capstone Church, Helena, Mont.
- Jeremy Morton, pastor, First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.
- Todd Stiles, lead pastor, First Family Church, Ankeny, Iowa
- Rolland Slade, senior pastor, Meridian Baptist Church, El Cajon, Calif.
- Micah Nix, physician, member of First Baptist, Skiatook, Okla.
Wellman said he hopes it can encourage abuse survivors who may be discouraged after yesterday’s vote.
Despite the circumstances, Wellman said he wants to be optimistic. “But, based on what I’ve heard, there have been several meetings over the last several days where they could never come to an agreement. I’m hoping they can [reach an agreement] over the next seven days to honor the wishes of the messengers. I’m optimistic about that because I think we have to be.”
The statement is also meant to encourage messengers who voted in favor of the investigation last spring, South Carolina pastor David Sons noted.
“It’s not a simple issue but the messengers have spoken and we feel compelled, to the best of our ability, to follow the wishes of the messengers of the annual meeting,” he said.
Like Wellman, Sons is cautiously hopeful for progress over the next seven days. His hope was bolstered, he said, by the words of EC Chairman Rolland Slade yesterday urging the EC to work together with the task force.
“I have a great deal of trust in him and the EC officers to work with [SATF chairman] Bruce Frank and the task force. I believe we all want the same thing,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Executive Committee told Baptist Press in a statement that the EC recognizes “there are diverse perspectives on the recent meeting of the SBC Executive Committee meeting this week, and we appreciate these diverse points of view. From our point of view, the Executive Committee has demonstrated yet again its support for an effective and independent review and the Executive Committee still does not—and has not—oppose in principle the fundamental questions at issue, including requests to waive privilege when appropriate and in coordination with the third party commissioned to conduct the inquiry.
“This week, the Executive Committee fully funded the review—in effect beginning the formal review process—and moved the critical discussions further in a spirit of unity and cooperation even if some substantive issues remain unresolved. We ask Southern Baptists to pray, especially over the next seven days, that the ultimate outcome of this process strengthens and unifies our Convention as it relates to this independent review but especially as it relates to our collective concern for survivors of sexual abuse.”
Due to the unexpected length of yesterday’s afternoon session, EC member Jeremy Morton missed the final vote in order to catch his flight to meet his family on a fall break trip. Adding his name to the statement was an easy decision.
“I’m personally disappointed and heartsick over the course of action from the last two days,” said Morton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga. “I pray that what happens over the next seven days is what should have happened in these last two days. I’m praying that we will put forward a plan and vision that all reasonable Southern Baptists can support that both ensures that we have heard the concerns from victims but also gives us a bright future as a convention.”
Other Southern Baptists have responded similarly to this week’s Executive Committee meeting.
Wednesday morning (Sept. 22), Ronnie Parrott, pastor of Christ Community Church in Huntersville, N.C., tweeted that he and Grant Gaines, pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., would be entering a time of prayer and fasting for seven days for the SBC as task force members and EC officers meet.
By this morning – 16 hours after the meeting had adjourned – Wellman had flown back to Arlington and was in his office at Tate Springs. The week has been emotional and draining, he told BP, in trying to communicate with abuse survivors that they aren’t left behind or overlooked. He also reiterated his optimism for an agreement and cautioned Southern Baptists against prematurely judging his fellow EC members, even those who voted down the motion he offered.
“There are a lot of good people on the Executive Committee,” he said. “And just because they voted ‘no’ doesn’t mean they’re evil. I think there were a lot of people who are serving for the first time (27 EC members attended their first meeting this week) and as I said yesterday, they were being baptized into all of this not by fire, but by nuclear bomb.
“… A lot of them, I would imagine, probably needed more time and, in the moment, made the best vote that they could make with their conscience and I can respect that. I can disagree with it, but I can respect it.”
Morton rejected one pervasive narrative at the EC meeting.
“I don’t believe we have to choose the Convention over people,” he said. “The Convention is made up of people. And yesterday, it felt like to me we ignored vulnerable people. If we do that, we don’t have much of a future as a Convention, anyway. …
“I hear the concern over waiving attorney-client privilege, I understand that concern. But I’ve chosen to embrace caring for vulnerable victims and I’ll just trust my own future and the future of the Convention to God.
“But I won’t ignore those people.” B&R