Because of Dr. Ronnie Floyd’s announced resignation and the fact that some of you were able to meet him and his wife Jeana this spring at our minister and spouse retreat, I felt it appropriate to respond to his announcement.
Like many of you, I have played Fact or Fiction, Truth or Dare, or a similar game. I enjoy them because they feed my hunger to “know” but even more importantly to “know the truth.” Some of you share another of my personality traits—an intensely logical approach to making decisions. Part of that is driven by the reality that my “heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
In the last few months, these values have caused me a lot of sleepless nights as an Executive Committee Trustee. I spent an inordinate amount of time reading and listening to conflicting “facts” as I sought to identify the “truth” in an environment where emotions were high. The October 5th SBC Executive Committee’s vote to waive attorney-client privilege is history, and the internal reviews of the Executive Committee and Credentials Committee are underway. As the issue of waiving attorney-client privilege was being debated, emotions seemed to rule the day while facts were shoved aside. A decision driven by our emotions (a desire to care well for sexual abuse survivors), feelings (that it had to happen NOW!), and the optics that waiving of attorney-client privilege was necessary to find the truth are now confronted with the fact that doing so is beginning to trigger unintended consequences for Southern Baptists.
What we know today regarding unintended consequences is 1) several EC members, including myself, have resigned on moral and ethical grounds; 2) the law firm that has served the Southern Baptist Convention as general counsel since 1966 has formally withdrawn from that role, and 3) Dr. Ronnie Floyd has announced his resignation as EC President.
In an October 11th letter to the Executive Committee the firm of Guenther, Jordan, and Price stated:
The attorney-client privilege has been portrayed by some as an evil device by which misconduct is somehow allowed to be secreted so wrongdoers can escape justice and defeat the legal rights of others. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, the attorney-client privilege has been for centuries a pillar of this country’s jurisprudence and rules of evidence. The concept is rooted in a principle of judicial fairness and the belief that our nation of laws is best served if persons and entities can communicate with their legal counsel freely and confidentially. There is nothing sinister about it. It does not corrupt justice; it creates the space for justice.
As we debated waiving attorney-client privilege, I heard two emotion-driven comments that have stuck with me and speak to the reality that too often we make decisions based on feelings rather than facts. One EC member stated, “Attorneys can’t be trusted, they will just say what the client wants them to say.” This was stated in spite of the fact that we received the same legal advice from two lawyers from Guenther, Jordan, and Price who are experts on non-profit law, two attorneys who specialize in law related to internal reviews, and a fifth lawyer who works with the insurance industry. They unanimously said, DO NOT WAIVE THIS PRIVILEGE!! Other EC members chose to believe the advice provided by the Sexual Abuse Task Force’s attorneys Linklaters LLC. I would suggest you Google “Linklaters LLC” along with the letters “LGBTQ+” to see what kind of law firm would advise a client to waive their attorney-client privilege. (Wake Up Call: LGBTQ Group Says 7 Big Firms Join Litigation Push on Rights) When you make decisions based on feelings, you don’t bother to ask why the Task Force couldn’t find a law firm that shares our Christian values to advise them to waive privilege.
In case you hadn’t heard, Jeana’s mom passed away last Sunday, October 11th and the funeral was Wednesday. In Dr. Floyd’s announcement of his resignation he stated:
While Jeana and I have no idea where we are going and what we will do in the future, today I submit my resignation as the President and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. I will serve through Sunday, October 31, 2021.
If the average SBC messenger had the above information on what the attorney-client privilege is as clarified in the above letter from Guenther, Jordan, and Price, would they have voted differently at the convention this past June?
If the average SBC messenger had known that the “investigation” was going to cost well over $2 million, would they have voted to use a less expensive process that could still accomplish the purpose of transparency?
If the average SBC messenger had known that a lawsuit charging sexual misconduct would be filed by Hanna-Kate Williams against LifeWay, Southern Seminary, the Executive Committee, and some of its former officers, would they have still called for the waiver of attorney-client privilege knowing that it would hinder us from effectively defending ourself?
If the average SBC messenger had known that an ERLC trustee would release information stating that Russell Moore’s letters and the brief audio clips released were done so intentionally to impact the SBC’s presidential election, would they have voted differently? Reference: Letters from Russell Moore; SBC EC and ERLC resistance to sexual abuse reforms
I wish my answer would be that with these additional facts, messengers would have voted differently. However, the Executive Committee WAS GIVEN all of this information and still a majority voted to waive the privilege. The bottom line is that we live in a culture where our personal feelings and passions define the facts as we see them. Those feelings are formed by our unique life experiences.
My logical mind forces me to ask, “How can we claim with one breath that the Bible is our source of objective truth and with the next, we accept facts based on our current feelings and emotions?” It is as if we are asking “What is truth?” like Pilate asked Jesus (John 18:38). But we don’t accept the fact that Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
Let me close with two thoughts. We need to be reminded that Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (John 17:11). I am passionately praying that God will do a Romans 8:28 miracle for Southern Baptists and protect us from ourselves.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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