Ronnie Floyd, the highest-ranking official of the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee announced his resignation Thursday evening, following weeks of contentious committee meetings about 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 sided with legal counsel who advised the executive committee against waiving privilege, though the committee ultimately voted to do so at an Oct. 5 meeting. Floyd said his resignation is a direct result of that.
A 'wake-up call'?: Bible teacher Beth Moore, Black pastors cut ties with Southern Baptists
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.
The law firm that served for 56 years as legal counsel for the executive committee and the entire SBC resigned Monday. Ten executive committee members also resigned last week.
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.
Criticisms about overstepping boundaries
The Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, with about 14 million members, is the nation's largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. It's been rocked in recent years over how it responded to sex abuse allegations within its network of churches.
During the SBC annual meeting in June, the convention messengers, or the voting delegates representing local churches, approved the sexual abuse inquiry into the executive committee and told the executive committee to waive its attorney-client privilege.
A waiver of attorney-client privilege allows the investigator to review privileged legal memos and communications between committee officials and its now-former legal counsel.
Between Sept. 21 and Oct. 5, the committee met three times. It voted against waiving privilege twice but approved it the third time. Before the third meeting, thousands of Southern Baptist pastors and other leaders criticized the committee for not obeying the messengers.
Floyd, among other executive committee leadership, was on the receiving end of that 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 said he supported the investigation, just not waiving attorney-client privilege. 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 also important to remember that each one of us serves at the will of the convention. But it is also important to remember that the staff works for the trustees. And, right now, there is a bit of a cloud over all of us and it is going to take an awful lot to remove it," executive committee member Adam Wyatt told The Tennessean in an email Thursday afternoon.
Committee members call for a special meeting a day before
The day before Floyd announced his resignation on Thursday, Wyatt and 24 other executive committee members called for a special meeting to discuss concerns about committee leadership in a letter sent to committee chairman Rolland Slade, according to a copy of the letter The Tennessean obtained.
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. All 25 signatories voted to waive 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. Committee member Mike Keahbone said he wanted to sort through the criticism about Floyd and discern for himself how he felt 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 come under criticism about similar issues before. 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.
In his resignation letter, Floyd pushed back against 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 said he will serve until the end of the month.
Slade told The Tennessean in a phone call Thursday evening that he will still call a special meeting in 30 days as the 25 committee members requested. But the nature of the discussion might be different than earlier plans.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Ronnie Floyd resigns as Southern Baptist Convention committee chief