The legal firm that previously served the Southern Baptist Convention and reportedly tried to block a full public investigation of mishandling sexual abuse claims is not happy with the report issued May 22 by Guidepost Solutions.
And Ronnie Floyd, the former president of the Executive Committee who resigned in protest of a vote to waive attorney-client privilege in the investigation, wants everyone to know he actually supported the investigation on his own terms.
These are among dozens of public reactions issued May 23 to the damning summary of how information about sexual abuse cases has been handled at the SBC’s top coordinating entity for decades.
Baptist Press published a summary of all the statements given by SBC entity heads.
Guenther and Jordan résponse
What stands out among all the other public responses is the reaction of the Nashville Law Firm Guenther, Jordan and Price, which represented the SBC and the SBC Executive Committee for more than 60 years. Guidepost investigators — many of whom are top lawyers and former federal investigators — placed a disproportionate amount of the blame for an alleged cover up of information about sexual abuse in SBC churches on the firm’s principals, Jim Guenther and Jaime Jordan. According to the 300-page report and its two lengthy appendices, the lawyers time and again advised SBC officials to do nothing with information they had on known cases of sexual abuse.
“We believe the report contains misstatements of fact and quotations from us which are misleading because they are reported out of context,” the Nashville lawyers wrote. “We disagree sharply with many of the characterizations in the report and its assignment of ill will and bad motives to men and women who struggled year after year with complex issues. In our experience, nearly all of these individuals were motivated by a deep desire to give their best service to the Southern Baptist Convention and to be good stewards of the trust placed in them.”
According to Guidepost, SBC officials and their legal counsel prioritized preventing any litigation against the SBC over alerting churches to known cases of abuse, sometimes resulting in abusive clergy moving from church to church.
“We are greatly disappointed in the lack of understanding the report shows for the role and responsibility of legal counsel. The report repeatedly attacks our firm for advising the Executive Committee and the Southern Baptist Convention regarding the risks which could arise from various courses of action. Understanding legal risks and how to mitigate those risks are primary reasons individuals and organizations hire legal counsel. As lawyers we are bound by professional rules of conduct to zealously protect our clients’ legitimate interests and to discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct. Our clients weigh that advice and choose their ultimate course of action.”
Guenther and Jordan gave similar advice to the Executive Committee after messengers to last year’s SBC annual meeting demanded an independent, outside investigation with full access to Executive Committee files and correspondence. This created a three-month rift among the 86 Executive Committee trustees about whether to allow that access.
Ultimately, after three votes spread over several weeks, trustees voted to allow access. And it appears that those files previously protected from outside eyes helped build the case of how a small cadre of Executive Committee staff, trustees and attorneys buried or manipulated every allegation they received — even to the point of making abuse victims appear to be sexually promiscuous when they instead had been victims.
One of the abuse survivor advocates who fought the uphill battle is Rachel Denhollander, who also was instrumental in bringing down former Team USA Gymanistics doctor Larry Nassar.
In a lengthy post shared on Twitter, Denhollander said abuse survivors were not shocked by the Guidepost report. “They’ve always known. We’ve always known. They tried to tell you. For years and years and years. They aren’t experiencing shock. They are left with the reality of what it cost them to bring this to light. And they are waiting to see if you pick up the mantel and start fighting with them. Waiting to see if you have even an inkling of what they have been through over the last several decades.
“They are reading the stories of children they couldn’t save, children who are so much more real to them because they have been them. They fought for them. And they couldn’t save them. They are left with the stillness of everything it has cost them to get that far, and they are waiting to see what you do when the emotions stop swirling.”
“This is the reality: The survivors and advocates were right. They have been telling the truth all along. Christa Brown, Tiffany Thigpen. Jules Woodsen. Jennifer Lyell. Dave Pittman. Debbie Vasquez, and so many others. They have been telling the truth this entire time. They told you that pastors were jumping from church to church abusing kids.”
Meanwhile, Floyd issued a statement with this reminder: “People reading the report may not realize that I supported the independent investigation. I also hired Guidepost to do it even before the 2021 convention.”
That part is true, but what Floyd didn’t explain is that he attempted to hire Guidepost knowing a motion was coming at the convention the next week to demand a fully independent investigation. The investigation Floyd wanted would have been managed by the Executive Committee and reported back only to the Executive Committee, not to the convention.
Convention messengers overwhelmingly rebuffed Floyd’s plan and said the investigation could not be controlled by the entity being investigated.
Echoing the counsel of Guenther and Jordan, Floyd said: “Our fiduciary duties also required due diligence to understand the implications of ‘waiving attorney-client privilege.’ This was never an effort to resist or obstruct the investigation, but responsible governance.”
Floyd then took credit for helping “guide the convention to establishing the Credentials Committee and leading the effort to pass the amendment to the SBC Constitution focused on sexual abuse.”
That also is partly true. The Guidepost report details how some Executive Committee leaders not only tried to prevent creation of the Credentials Committee but then worked to make it ineffective once created.
Lots of stone silence
Many of the most vocal SBC tweeters and bloggers were stone silent on Sunday and Monday. None of the three candidates for SBC president issued written responses, although Texas pastor Bart Barber did appear on a podcast with The Baptist Blogger on Monday and a similar conversation with Tom Ascol is scheduled for Wednesday,
Among those lamenting the findings of the Guidepost report was the pastor of the SBC’s largest church and his wife, whom he said was abused as a child at a church.
“I honor & support the courageous women & men who exposed abuse coverups in the SBC. I’m grieving for the victims & enraged at the perpetrators & those who protected them,” tweeted Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Southern California.
His wife, Kay Warren, added: “The SBC Executive Committee should hang their heads in remorse. Their stonewalling, circle-the-wagons approach against the victims, blindness to suffering, propping up a broken system — shame on you. SHAME ON YOU.”
Warren’s megachurch has had its fair share of staff problems through the years but none of them have made national headlines for being mishandled. However, the ultra-conservative wing of the SBC is on a campaign to get Warren’s church removed from the convention for a different reason — because last year they ordained three women as pastors.
SBC report shows how five words turn abuse victim from ‘survivor’ to ‘whore’ | Opinion by Marv Knox