Ronnie Floyd, who was the top-ranking Southern Baptist Convention official, announced his resignation on Thursday evening. This follows weeks of contentious meetings concerning a sexual abuse inquiry.
“Due to my personal integrity and the leadership responsibility entrusted to me, I will not and cannot any longer fulfill the duties placed upon me as the leader of the executive, fiscal, and fiduciary entity of the SBC,” Floyd wrote in a letter sent to the executive committee members Thursday night.
The executive committee, which handles convention business when the full SBC isn’t in session during its two-day annual meeting, met in recent weeks to vote on waiving attorney-client privilege for an investigation into the committee’s handling of sexual abuse claims.
Floyd supported legal counsel, who advised executive committee members against waiving privilege. However, the committee voted in favor of waiver at its Oct. 5 meeting. Floyd claimed that his resignation stems directly from this.
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The decision to waive privilege, “now place our missionary enterprise as Southern Baptists into uncertain, unknown, unprecedented and uncharted waters,” Floyd said in his resignation letter. “In the midst of deep disappointment and discouragement, we have to make this decision by our own choice and do so willingly, because there is no other decision for me to make.”
As chief of the executive committee staff, who work for the executive committee representatives, or members, Floyd’s resignation is the latest and most significant of others that followed the committee’s vote to waive privilege.
Monday saw the resignation of the law firm which was the legal counsel for both the executive committee as well the whole SBC for 56 years. Last week, ten members of the executive committee also resigned.
Floyd’s resignation poses new challenges for the committee that was already reeling from a controversy that divided committee members and Southern Baptists across the country.
Critiques of crossing boundaries
The Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, with about 14 million members, is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. The Southern Baptist Convention has been criticized for its response to allegations of sex abuse within its churches.
The SBC annual meeting saw the convention messengers (or the voting delegate representing the local churches) approve the sexual abuse investigation into the executive board and tell the committee to give up its attorney-client confidentiality.
The investigator can review confidential legal communications and memos between members of the committee and their former legal counsel if they waive attorney-client privilege.
Between Sept. 21 and Oct. 5, the committee met three times. It voted against waiving privilege twice but approved it the third time. The committee was criticized by thousands of Southern Baptist Pastors and leaders for failing to obey the messengers before the third meeting.
See also:Southern Baptist’s law firm, a long-standing one, resigns after the loss of attorney client privilege in the sex abuse probe
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Floyd was among the executive committee leaders that were subject to this criticism.
“It is incumbent upon me to remind everyone that the best way to accomplish this objective for all concerned is to listen to and follow the advice of our counsel so that we can avoid unintended consequences and confusion,” Floyd said in the Sept. 28 executive committee meeting.
Floyd stated that he supports the investigation but did not waive attorney-client confidentiality. A new law firm that executive committee staff hired to provide counsel on the investigation warned executive committee members that waiving privilege could negatively affect the executive committee’s insurance.
To proponents of the waiver, Floyd’s stance on the waiver violated the spirit of conventional SBC governance.
It is important to keep in mind that we all serve at the pleasure of the convention. The staff serves the trustees. But, it’s also important to keep in mind that they are employees. It is very difficult to lift the cloud right now,” Adam Wyatt from The Tennessean, an executive member of the committee, said in an email to The Tennessean on Thursday.
The committee members request a special meeting the day before
The letter was sent to Rolland Slade by Wyatt along with the 24 executive committee members, the day prior to Floyd’s resignation. The Tennessean has a copy.
Though not explicitly stated in the letter, signatories told The Tennessean on Thursday afternoon that they were frustrated over, or at least had questions about, the guidance they received in recent weeks from Floyd and Greg Addison, the committee’s vice president. Each of the 25 signatories voted for waiver privilege.
“As a new trustee, I am not sure that I can completely trust everything that is going on within the executive leadership of the EC. A lot of what I have seen, at least on the major issue of our response to the sexual abuse allegations and investigation, have not seemed to be very proactive,” Wyatt said in his email Thursday afternoon about why he signed the letter.
Other committee members who signed the letter to Slade said it did not signal a collective desire to fire Floyd or Addison. Mike Keahbone, a member of the committee said that he was trying to get through all the negative comments about Floyd and figure out how he feels about leadership.
“I think it’s just good for us to be able to get together and ask, ‘Why are these things out there? What’s causing it? Are there things we can do to build trust and to strengthen integrity?’” Keahbone said in a phone call Thursday.
Floyd has been criticised before for his handling of similar issues. A Southern Baptist pastor published an audio clip in June of Floyd saying, “I’m not scared by anything the survivors would say… I’m thinking, the base. I just want to preserve the base,” referring to a conference that featured sexual abuse survivors speaking out about the issue in the convention.
Floyd addressed his resignation and rebutted the criticism. “One of the most grievous things for me personally has been the attacks on myself and the trustees as if we are people who only care about ‘the system,’” he wrote. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Floyd stated that he would serve the remainder of the month.
Slade confirmed to The Tennessean via phone that he will call another special meeting in the next 30 days. This was in response to 25 committee members’ requests. However, the topic of discussion could be very different from what was planned.
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