The independent firm originally hired by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee to investigate itself has been chosen for that task again — this time by the special task force created by SBC annual meeting messengers in a rebuke to Executive Committee leadership.
The letter of engagement with Guidepost Solutions, however, makes clear that the investigation into possible mishandling of sexual abuse claims will occur fully independent of influence by the Executive Committee and its leadership.
Two specific stipulations of the contract state:
- No later than 30 days prior to the 2022 SBC annual meeting, Guidepost will provide this report to the Task Force. No member of the Task Force, the SBC, the Executive Committee, or the Credentials Committee shall be permitted by Guidepost to edit the report prior to its public release. A written report will be made public in its entirety prior to the 2022 SBC annual meeting.
- To ensure appropriate levels of independence for the Guidepost investigation and audit, the Task Force, the SBC, the Executive Committee, or the Credentials Committee, or any member thereof, will not request, receive, or claim ownership of Guidepost’s work product, including but not limited to interview notes, internal memoranda, and draft, non-public reports.
Although the same firm ultimately was chosen to conduct the audit, the appearance and reality of independence is greater. The Executive Committee had not released a copy of its contract with Guidepost, but the SBC task force did release its contract. According to news reports at the time, the Executive Committee had intended for Guidepost to report only to itself, not to the convention.
Although the same firm ultimately was chosen to conduct the audit, the appearance and reality of independence is greater.
That perceived lack of transparency — having the entity being investigated receive the report of the investigators — sparked a revolt at the SBC annual meeting in Nashville in June. Messengers overwhelmingly overruled the Executive Committee’s action and demanded a more independent task force.
The task force then issued a nationwide call for bids on the project, which led to the Sept. 9 announcement that Guidepost still would do the work but under new terms.
What’s being investigated
The need for an investigation arose after several victims of sexual abuse claimed the Executive Committee and some of its leaders had ignored or made light of or sought to obscure their experiences. Then in May on his way out the door as leader of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore lit fire to the tinderbox of allegations. Two letters he had written documenting such misconduct and audio recordings of several conversations he had with Executive Committee members got leaked.
One of the leaders accused of downplaying the allegations of sexual abuse was Georgia pastor Mike Stone, who previously served as chairman of the Executive Committee and at the June meeting was running for election as SBC president. Amid the firestorm of allegations, Stone lost the presidential election, but only by about 500 votes. Had he been elected, he would have been charged with naming the task force that will investigate his own role in the matter.
According to the new contract with Guidepost Solutions, the scope of its investigation will include:
- Allegations of abuse by Executive Committee members.
- Mishandling of abuse allegations by Executive Committee members between Jan. 1, 2000, and June 14, 2021.
- Allegations of mistreatment of sexual abuse victims by Executive Committee members from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021.
- Patterns of intimidation of sexual abuse victims or advocates from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021.
- Resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021.
- An audit of the procedures and actions of the SBC Credentials Committee after its formation in mid-June 2019, using best standards and practices designed to ensure accountability, transparency and care for the well-being of survivors of sexual abuse.
The contract states that Guidepost’s investigative process will include interviews of survivors, witnesses and others, as well as reviews of existing and new documentation and evidence. “Survivor and witness interviews will be trauma-informed and will offer privacy and confidentiality if desired and permitted by law. The SBC, task force, Executive Committee, the Credentials Committee, and members of the aforementioned will not have access to names of, or identifying information about, survivors or witnesses without the consent of the survivors or witnesses.”
The contract states that Guidepost’s investigative process will include interviews of survivors, witnesses and others, as well as reviews of existing and new documentation and evidence.
Also, Guidepost will establish an independent reporting mechanism “to facilitate communication, either anonymously or otherwise, with Guidepost and encourage all those with relevant information to come forward.”
No attorney-client privilege
One potential sticking point is a request of convention messengers, the task force and Guidepost that members of the Executive Committee waive attorney-client privilege. The task force declared this to be “absolutely critical to ensuring that the third-party firm has full access to relevant and material information.”
In a statement also released Sept. 9, the Executive Committee said its leadership “is not opposed in principle to requests for the waiving of attorney-client privilege considerations when it is relevant, it is appropriate, and it is in consultation with the third-party commissioned to conduct the inquiry, Guidepost. Speculation to the contrary is internet rumor and untrue.”
It added, however, that “these are decisions for the Executive Committee’s board of trustees” to make. The statement also declared: “We urge the public to leave this review now to Guidepost and the Executive Committee to be handled in an appropriate and professional manner on behalf of all Southern Baptists.”
The task force contract signed with Guidepost says that Guidepost “will remain independent of the task force, the SBC, the Executive Committee, and the Credentials Committee. No attorney-client relationship will be formed between Guidepost and the task force, the SBC, the Executive Committee, or the Credentials Committee. Accordingly, communications between Guidepost (including its employees and agents) on the one hand, and the task force, the SBC, the Executive. Committee, and/or the Credentials Committee will not be protected by the attorney-client privilege.”
Guidepost “will document in its written report whether any person or entity has withheld access to information, documents, records, facilities and/or employees, officers, agents, or others through a claim of attorney-client privilege or the attorney work product doctrine.”
Further, it stipulates that Guidepost “will document in its written report whether any person or entity has withheld access to information, documents, records, facilities and/or employees, officers, agents, or others through a claim of attorney-client privilege or the attorney work product doctrine.”
What is Guidepost Solutions?
Guidepost describes itself as “a global team of investigators, experienced security and technology consultants, and compliance and monitoring experts” who provide “guidance and support to help you address critical needs and make strategic decisions.”
The company lists offices from Bogotá to Boston and from Seattle to Singapore. It’s contracted rate of service with the SBC tasks is listed as from $200 to $575 per hour, depending on the staff member doing the work.
Guidepost appears to have an extensive presence in the higher education market, having worked with Penn State University after its 2011 sex abuse scandal and currently working with the University of Michigan investigating sexual misconduct allegations against a former provost. The firm also was involved in addressing the aftermath of the BP Oil spill in 2010 and lists numerous government contracts among its achievements. Most of its leadership team has worked in government or law enforcement or both.
The firm’s executive leadership team is comprised of nine older men and two women, among whom the only non-Anglo is a Latino man. However, one of those two women is the firm’s CEO — Julie Myers Wood, who is a graduate of Baylor University and Cornell Law School. Wood is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and former assistant secretary of homeland security in the Bush administration.
SBC officials — both from the Executive Committee and the task force — praised Guidepost while acknowledging that only one other firm had bid on the work.
Guidepost was hired to evaluate the culture, policies and structure of Ravi Zacharias Ministries after it was revealed that the organization’s namesake founder had engaged in multiple acts of sexually inappropriate and sexually abusive behavior. Sexual abuse survivor advocate Rachael Denhollander worked with Guidepost as a confidential liaison with survivors of the Zacharias scandal. Denhollander currently serves as a consultant to the SBC task force.
On the other side of the ledger, the blogger Julie Roys, who covers Southern Baptists and evangelicals extensively, wrote in June that she sees numerous red flags about Guidepost, given its past clientele list and ties to wealthy clients who seek help getting out of public embarrassment.
However, SBC officials — both from the Executive Committee and the task force — praised Guidepost while acknowledging that only one other firm had bid on the work.
A statement from the task force said Guidepost was selected in part due to its “extensive background in abuse, trauma, and abusive dynamics, with considerable background involving abuse in religious contexts, significant experience with corporate and legal dynamics which contribute to the mishandling of or proper responses to, sexual abuse, survivor care and abuse prevention,” and its “robust understanding of and focus on the impact of leadership, with significant skill assessing and reporting on cultural dynamics of an institution and their impact on abuse and abuse prevention.”