NASHVILLE (BP) – Messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting overwhelmingly approved a motion calling for a task force to oversee a third-party investigation into allegations of mishandling abuse claims at the SBC Executive Committee.
The motion, offered by Grant Gaines, pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was among 32 motions made by messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting June 15 in Nashville, the most in a decade.
Gaines’ motion said the task force, which will be appointed within 30 days by new SBC President Ed Litton, should be composed of members of Southern Baptist churches and “experts in sexual abuse and the handling of sexual abuse-related dynamics.”
The task force can opt to oversee the independent review already initiated by the Executive Committee or begin a separate third-party review, and it must ensure that an investigation includes “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.”
While the motion was under consideration, SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Ronnie Floyd told messengers he supported its approval.
Floyd had earlier announced on June 11 that the EC had secured Guidepost Solutions for an independent review of its handling of sexual abuse issues. The review had been called for amid controversy over allegations made by former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore that various Southern Baptist leaders “stonewall[ed]” calls to address sexual abuse in the SBC.
The move was seen as insufficient by some, including Gaines, who said the Executive Committee should not oversee an investigation of itself.
The allegations came in two letters by Moore that were leaked to news media. In the second letter, dated May 31, 2021 – the final day of Moore’s tenure – he wrote of two meetings in 2019 among SBC leaders and described opposition to efforts to address sexual abuse in the SBC. Floyd and then-Executive Committee Chairman Mike Stone, who was a candidate for SBC president, participated in the meetings. Later, clips of audio recordings from the meetings were released by Phillip Bethancourt, a Texas pastor who was at the time the ERLC’s executive vice president.
Under the terms of the approved motion, all EC members and staff serving from January 2000 to June 2021 are subject to the investigation.
The motion also calls for an audit of the “procedures and actions” taken by the SBC Credentials Committee, which was formed two years ago to address allegations of sexual abuse in churches.
According to the motion, the third-party review will be funded by the Cooperative Program.
Messengers, by approving the motion, asked Executive Committee members and staff to waive attorney-client privilege “in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.”
A written report on the findings of the review will be presented to the task force 30 days before the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif., and made public in full form within one week along with suggestions from the task force for actions to be taken by the convention, according to the motion.
When he made the motion, Gaines said: “In order for this investigation to be truly external, independent and unbiased, we can’t have the Executive Committee setting the terms of the investigation themselves. They can’t be the ones to hold themselves accountable.”
“This might seem like too much trouble to some, but I assure you it is the least we can do for abuse survivors,” Gaines said to applause.
The motion first was referred to the Executive Committee, but messengers voted to overrule the Committee on Order of Business and consider it on the convention floor.
In a statement released shortly afterward, the SBC Executive Committee “thank[ed] the messengers for their passionate concern” and promised to “work to expeditiously implement today’s motion.”
“It has always been our intention to be forthright and transparent in this process,” the statement said. “Today’s decision, in whose outcome we are confident, will have the ultimate blessing of removing all doubt in the minds of our community of Southern Baptists allowing us to chart a more confident future, together. We thank those messengers who have invested so much righteous energy in this important cause.”
In other motions at the 2021 Annual Meeting, Joseph Horan of Starkville Community Church in Starkville, Miss., moved that the SBC amend the schedule to extend by at least 10 minutes each the allotted time for new motions, miscellaneous business and resolutions at the current annual meeting. The motion failed on a ballot vote.
Adam Greenway, chairman of the Committee on Order of Business, moved on behalf of the committee that the following motions be referred to the Executive Committee for consideration and report to the 2022 annual meeting:
Two motions were referred to the Executive Committee and all entities:
A motion by John Blackmon of Meansville Baptist Church in Meansville, Ga., requesting that Lifeway produce resources for Deaf people was referred to the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board.
A motion by James Walker of Fielder Church in Arlington, Texas, asking the North American Mission Board to study the Enneagram was referred to NAMB.
Four motions were referred to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission:
A motion by Shad Tibbs of Fellowship Baptist Church in Trout, La., that the SBC break fellowship with Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., because of its recent ordination of women pastors was referred to the Credentials Committee.
The following motions were ruled out of order: