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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Southern Baptist leader resigns over sexual abuse probe

by Holly Meyer | The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A top Southern Baptist Convention administrator is resigning amid internal differences over how to handle the investigation into the SBC’s response to sexual abuse, a decision that underscores widespread ongoing turmoil in the country’s largest Protestant denomination .

Ronnie Floyd, chairman and chief executive officer of SBC’s executive committee, announced his departure on Thursday in a statement criticizing recent decisions related to the third-party review, which is ongoing. An investigative firm is investigating allegations that the executive committee misrepresented abuse reports and abused victims.

“Due to my personal integrity and the leadership responsibility entrusted to me, I will not and cannot fulfill the duties placed on me as the leader of the executive, financial and fiduciary unit of SBC,” Floyd said. at the end of the month.

Members of the divided executive committee voted on October 5 to waive the attorney-client privilege, agreeing to hand over legally protected records to investigators. The vote was the result of increasing pressure in favor of exemption from several sittings and conventions.

Proponents of the waiver of attorney-client privilege said it was a key demand from thousands of Southern Baptist representatives that set in motion a third-party review. Opponents said it was financially risky and could put insurance policies at risk.

Floyd’s statement said the executive committee was committed to the review, but it could have been done “without creating these potential risks related to the obligation of the convention.”

Floyd, a longtime Arkansas pastor who became chairman of the executive committee in 2019, is not a recent departure. Several members of the executive committee have resigned from their positions, and the committee’s longtime law firm severed ties with the body, citing the decision to drop the privilege.

It is the latest tension point in the conference’s ongoing reckoning with a sexual abuse scandal that was headlined by a 2019 Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News report documenting hundreds of cases of abuse in Southern Baptist churches , which includes many. The alleged perpetrators remained in the ministry.

“The past several weeks have been tough and difficult for our convention,” SBC President Ed Lytton said in a statement. “While I was grateful for the outcome of last week’s executive committee meeting, I regret that Dr. Floyd and the other trustees feel it has put them in a position where they cannot continue to serve in their current capacities. “

The response to sexual abuse is one of several issues causing controversy in the conservative evangelical denomination, which has experienced years of declining membership in addition to a few high-profile departures. Tensions have risen in recent years over critical race theory, the leadership role of women in the church, and partisan politics.

“What we’re seeing at the Southern Baptist Convention is both a reflection and a magnification of the culture,” said Ed Stetzer, Southern Baptist and executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center.

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“As long as I know it, SBC is always at war with itself,” Stetzer said. In June, Lytton was elected the new SBC president in a narrow vote, temporarily undermining the effort to push the convention even further, but to embarrass critics hostile to him.

Stetzer thinks that the SBC needs to fix its problems and then focus on the evangelical mission that unites the convention.

“SBC is at an important fork in the road and who will be SBC will really be decided over the next few months and years,” Stetzer said.

The executive committee has become a lightning rod for controversy as its members disputed how to handle the investigation. The third-party review is being funded by an executive committee, run by Guidepost Solutions and overseen by a new Southern Baptist sexual abuse task force.

Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said the ordeal had damaged the reputation of the executive committee. He was among a wave of Southern Baptists who called on the committee to pursue a third-party review without delay.

The committee should “act like the sound technician in your church, which means you should never hear about it or talk about it if it’s doing its job well,” Greenaway said.

The committee acts on behalf of the SBC when it is not holding its two-day national meeting. Greenway said it is not the face or voice of the decentralized denomination and that its leadership should see its role as supporting and facilitating the conference and the work of its more than 40,000 churches.

Executive committee member Dean Incera, the Florida pastor who supported waiving the attorney-client privilege, said he wants Floyd to fulfill the assignment given by representatives.

Insera, a new member of the committee, said, “It is really very sad to see just the state of affairs.” “The good news is I think culture change is trending and coming. So I’m really optimistic.”

Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, an SBC megachurch, expressed the hope that the upheaval would not harm the individual churches that owe their strength to the denomination. Still he expressed concern.

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