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The Church's handling of sex abuse leaves much to be desired

NDA nondisclosure secret confidential private
iStock / Getty Images Plus/ Bill Oxford

The ending of silencing and shaming of sex abuse victims in the church gained a great victory recently through the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.

As the Senior Pastor of a Southern Baptist Church in Colorado Springs for the past almost twenty-five years, I am extremely proud of the Southern Baptist Executive committee for voting 44 to 31 to remove the exclusivity of attorney-client privilege so that sex abuse victims can be cared for, and the truth can be returned to the courts of the Lord’s house. However, I realize not everyone feels this way.

In their Oct. 11 resignation letter sent to the Executive Committee Director of the SBC, Dr. Floyd, the SBC's general counsel, attorneys James Guenther and James Jordan of Guenther, Jordan & Price law firm, emphasized that maintaining local church autonomy helps protect the SBC legally. They said committee members voted to waive privilege without fully understanding the "effect" doing so will have on the convention.

"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," Guenther and Jordan wrote. "That could not be further from the truth."

"The concept is rooted in a principle of judicial fairness and the belief that our nation of laws is best served if persons or entities can communicate with their legal counsel freely and confidentially," they added. "There is nothing sinister about it. It does not corrupt justice; it creates a space for justice."

This resignation of legal counsel led the president of the Executive Committee, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, to resign as well. Here is his statement of resignation:

"In the midst of multiple challenges facing the SBC, I was asked to come here because of my proven personal integrity, reputation and leadership. 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 wrote. 

"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."

It is hard to know for sure what Dr. Floyd means, but it seems he is saying, “I was brought here to use my integrity and experience to leverage the advancement of the Gospel.”

Now that this vote has changed the rules of attorney-client privilege, it appears he refuses to allow his integrity to be leveraged. Sad!

As a senior pastor of a SBC church for the past 25 years, I say, “If we have nothing to hide as Southern Baptist, we have nothing to fear.”

In Jeremiah’s day he addresses the secret refuges that the shepherds of God used in his day. He said in Jeremiah 25:34 “Wail, you shepherds, and cry out, and roll in ashes, you lords of the flock, for the days of your slaughter and dispersion have come, and you shall fall like a choice vessel. No refuge will remain for the shepherds, nor escape for the lords of the flock.”

Jeremiah says in verse 35, “No refuge will remain.” The attorney client privilege along with the NDA are the last bastions of “refuge” for secrecy left in the church from lawyers and insurance companies running the church and advising the elder board and senior pastors. These haunts have left damning and damaging effects that have rippled across our churches not just in the Southern Baptist Convention, but in all denominations and churches. Sadly, we as church leaders for the past few decades have bought into a legal process to “protect the reputation of the Gospel.”

Too long have denominations and churches sought to “protect the Gospel and the reputation of the church.”

I believe God is removing through this vote the last “refuge” of secrecy in the church. It’s time for us to walk in true integrity and in full disclosure. It is time for the light to shine on the dark places, as God did in Jeremiah’s day.

God said in Jeremiah 23:23, “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.”

If you are a pastor who has used NDAs and attorney client privilege to hide and sweep under the rug and even bury truth, your days in ministry may very well be numbered. The time for integrity in all places and spaces is being restored.

Ultimately, the outcome of all of this is sovereignly laid at the feet of Jesus who Himself suffered abuse at the hands of the religious. Jesus fought the “lawyers” of His day and it cost Him his life, but ultimately it brought life to all of us if we but believe in Him as God in the flesh and the Savior of our souls.

It is time for us to say unequivocally, “We have nothing to hide, so we have nothing to fear.”

Kelly Williams is co-founder and senior pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  His books include: The Mystery of 23, Friend of Sinners and Real Marriage. He also maintains a blog.  

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