As some of you know I am the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptist’s representative on the SBC Executive Committee. And if you have been reading blogs and various Baptist press sites lately, you are aware that the Executive Committee (EC) is in the spotlight. Our current situation is not a surprise, but I am personally disappointed. Following the EC’s February meeting, I began a weekly series on my personal perspective of current issues facing Southern Baptists. They provide the background for what I will be writing today. They began on March 2 and went through June 29 and can be found at the following link, Mark's Insights.
Although the issues are complex, the foundational point facing EC members today relates to a portion of a motion that was approved at this June’s SBC Convention. It related to an internal review of the Executive Committee regarding allegations of mishandling sexual abuse issues. It asks “the Executive Committee staff and members [to waive] attorney-client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.” On the surface that request makes sense—that is until you unpack the legal implications of such a request. Here is a great application of the wisdom found in Proverbs 18:17 “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.”
As an EC member (like any board member of any corporation), I have a “fiduciary obligation” to steward wisely that entity. A formal legal definition of a fiduciary is “An individual in whom another has placed the utmost trust and confidence to manage and protect property or money. The relationship wherein one person has an obligation to act for another's benefit.” As we listened to attorneys who have significant experience and expertise, I felt like I was back in my sophomore year of college sitting in Dr. Bill Kratz’s Business Law I and II classes.
Since some are suggesting that the counsel we received during the executive session last Tuesday was biased and should be ignored, I did my due diligence and called a wonderful lady who advised our association on legal issues for years to seek an unbiased perspective on what I am facing as an EC member. I will use Admiral Ackbar’s words from the movie Return of the Jedi to summarize her comments, “It’s a trap!” Her advice was DO NOT vote to waive attorney-client privilege. The motion sets up a false narrative that justice can’t be done unless this constitutional right is waived. The reality is that it is a foundational principle of our justice system, and it is the only reason a guilty person would be willing to tell the truth to anyone. People are convicted every day in our country and none of them were asked to waive their attorney-client privilege. She stated that voting to waive attorney-client privilege would be an absolute disaster, and it would have significant unintended negative consequences. She also exhorted me to write this informed response piece that might help people see the big picture.
Bottom line is that every EC member is asked to find a way to be faithful to the messengers at the 2021 convention while we are also faithful to our fiduciary obligation. As I thought about our “predicament” it reminded me that as a Christian I am asked to believe that God is one and God is three AND that Jesus of Nazareth was fully God and fully man. As I share Christ I am asking others to believe that as well. It is almost impossible to really describe these two paradoxes without someone calling you a heretic. The question at hand is “Can we find a way forward that will honor both responsibilities: being transparent while maintaining organizational integrity?”
Another analogy came to my mind as I reflected on the polarization that exists today. My first ministry position following graduation from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, TX, was in north-central Iowa. We weren’t there very long when I heard that the city had condemned a property and was getting ready to burn it down because it had a roach infestation. Imagine my shock as one who had lived in Ft. Worth and while living there was on a first-name basis with the roach that looked out at me when I opened a cabinet door. Yes, we used roach proof. Yes, we set off roach bombs every time we were going to be gone for a few days. But you still have roaches who come in from outside. And yes, I did set off three roach bombs in the U-Haul truck as we were moving out of seminary housing.
My point is that WE CAN solve the difficult issues that we are facing without burning our house down. But if we can’t do that, then history will report this as the moment when the SBC lived out Jesus’ words: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:24-25).
Even if we are able to come to some basic agreement about moving forward without a blanket, in advance waiver of attorney-client privilege, we are still at a dangerous point in our convention as we are ignoring the advice Paul gave a deeply divided church in Corinth by our use of Guidepost Solutions.
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!
If you want to make the argument that this passage only applies to lawsuits between two believers, then I would suggest you have become blinded by your own righteous indignation for justice as you see it.
If within our 40,000 churches and among our 15 million members we can’t find a humble objective-wise group of men and women who can provide clarity and bring us together, then again I will suggest we are a house so deeply divided and that we will not stand.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.