After 28 months on the job, the embattled president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee announced his resignation Oct. 14 saying he cannot abide by the recent decision to waive attorney-client privilege for a sexual abuse investigation.
Ronnie Floyd, who previously served as pastor of the same church in Arkansas for 32 years, has found himself at the center of a brewing storm over allegations of a coverup or mishandling of allegations of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches and agencies.
Floyd’s announcement comes nine days after the Executive Committee voted — after two previous failed attempts — to waive attorney-client privilege in the sexual abuse investigation as demanded by messengers to the SBC annual meeting in June. And his announcement comes three days after the longtime legal counsel for both the convention and the Executive Committee said it would end that relationship.
In early summer, an audio recording was leaked that portrayed Floyd as working against and being frustrated by calls for accountability for sexual abuse within the denomination, including his perceived need to “preserve the base.” There has been no implication that Floyd himself perpetuated any form of abuse, but that he has stood in the way of a full investigation of what others have done.
The battle within the Executive Committee’s trustees over whether to waive attorney-client privilege and to cede control of the sexual abuse investigation to the special task force appears to have been the final straw in Floyd’s ability to remain as leader. More than one-third of the Executive Committee trustees this week privately had called for another special meeting — this time to discuss concerns about lack of trust in the agency’s leadership.
Floyd announced his departure via a letter emailed to the Executive Committee and a larger group of those on the Executive Committee’s distribution list. The letter was sent at 7:40 p.m. Thursday night.
Floyd said he intended to release the letter on Monday, Oct. 11, but delayed because of the death of his mother-in-law on Sunday and the funeral on Wednesday afternoon in Texas.
“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, Oct. 31, 2021.”
Giving two weeks’ notice to leave the top position of a nonprofit of this scale is highly unusual. Typically, several months of preparation are allowed for a handoff to a successor.
“In the midst of multiple challenges facing the SBC, I was asked to come here because of my proven personal integrity, reputation and leadership,” Floyd wrote. “What was desired to be leveraged for the advancement of the gospel by those who called me here, I will not jeopardize any longer because of serving in this role.”
He specifically cited the trustees’ decision to waive attorney-client privilege as something he believes places “our missionary enterprise as Southern Baptists into uncertain, unknown, unprecedented and uncharted waters.”
“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.”
He explained: “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. 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.”
Floyd reiterated the position he and many Executive Committee trustees maintained across the past three weeks of turmoil: “Our SBC Executive Committee has had an unwavering commitment to doing this needed review. Our commitment has always been to fulfill the desires of the messengers, but the deliberations were about ‘how to do this’ in the most effective way. There was a way it could have been done that fulfilled these desires without creating these potential risks relating to the convention’s liability.”
Those on the other side of the debate — who ultimately prevailed — said there was no other way because convention messengers had made their wishes crystal clear.
An unknown number of Executive Committee trustees also have resigned within the last two weeks. That number is believed to be at least 10 or more.
An unknown number of Executive Committee trustees also have resigned within the last two weeks.
Floyd said “any sexual abuse done to anyone abhors me. As a husband, father and grandfather of seven, I deeply care about the protection of all people. Every Executive Committee staff member who is serving with me, along with trustees that I know, has been united in our desire to care for people while at the same time doing what we have been asked to do by the convention. 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.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Immediate response to Floyd’s announcement across social media included both calls to prayer and affirmations that Floyd needed to step down.
Georgia pastor Griffin Gulledge, who has been active in the internal denominational debate, tweeted that Floyd’s resignation letter “is emblematic of his final months: denying fault, blaming the messengers who resisted his wishes, and something something fiduciary responsibility. A disappointing ending that did not have to happen.”
He explained: “Ronnie Floyd had the opportunity to be a hero. He had the opportunity to support the messengers, bring a plan of action to the trustees last month, prepare to open the books and be fully transparent, and direct the lawyers to listen to the voices of the messengers. In the Southern Baptist Convention, when a leader decides that they are bigger than the messengers and churches, they have failed. That is *the* moment that their influence and ability to lead ends. It is because of this attitude that a hero has become a cautionary tale. Sad.”
Morris Chapman, one of Floyd’s predecessors in the Executive Committee role, released a statement Thursday night from him and his wife, Jodi, affirming their love for the Floyds.
“These challenging days have given our convention an opportunity to reaffirm that the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention belongs to the churches of the convention,” he wrote. “We must also affirm that the churches of the convention belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. So long as we keep the heavenly ownership of our convention and our churches in proper alignment, Southern Baptists may rest in the assurance that God is working his sovereign will among us.”