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Ronnie Floyd resigns in wake of SBC's decision to wave attorney-client privilege

Ronnie Floyd
Ronnie Floyd. |

Ronnie Floyd has announced his resignation as head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee amid turmoil in America's largest Protestant denomination over its handling of a sexual abuse investigation.

Floyd, a past president of the SBC and former senior pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, announced his resignation in a letter sent to executive committee members Thursday night. He will continue to serve until the end of the month. 

He cited the committee's recent decision to waive attorney-client privilege as part of an investigation into the SBC leadership's handling of sexual abuse claims within the denomination as the key reason for his departure. 

"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."

After weeks of deliberations, the committee voted 44-31 on Oct. 5 to allow ​​Guidepost Solutions, the firm investigating the committee's handling of sexual abuse claims within SBC churches, to review privileged communications between committee members, staff, and lawyers. 

The investigation was prompted by a 2019 report from the Houston Chronicle that documented hundreds of abuse cases in Southern Baptist churches over decades.

Floyd had been among those opposed to waiving privilege, warning that doing so could open the SBC to lawsuits and financial ruin. In September, he urged members to work with the task force and Guidepost "in every way possible, but within our fiduciary responsibilities as assigned by the messengers."

In his letter Thursday, Floyd stressed that the committee maintained an "unwavering commitment to doing this needed review," adding that 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," he wrote. 

Floyd said that the committee's decision to waive privilege "now place our missionary enterprise as Southern Baptists into uncertain, unknown, unprecedented and uncharted waters."

"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."

The fallout from the decision has been swift. In response, at least 10 executive committee members resigned either before the vote or shortly after, The Tennessean reported. Meanwhile, the lawyers who served as the longtime legal counsel for the SBC resigned earlier this week.

Floyd warned that in the coming days, more "laypeople who are serving as our trustees" will have to submit their resignation "because their profession will not permit them to serve any longer due to these risks that now exist."

"This is unacceptable and should concern every Baptist layperson. The SBC entities need more laypersons, not less, who bring their professional expertise in law, finance, and other disciplines to us," he wrote. 

In their Oct. 11 resignation letter sent to 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."

At the SBC annual meeting in June — where messengers overwhelmingly voted to create a task force to oversee a third-party investigation into sexual abuse within the denomination — Floyd urged messengers to remember that sending missionaries out into the world is at the "heart" of the SBC.

"Oh, that doesn't mean we don't have a heart for other things," Floyd said. "But I'm telling you — doesn't matter whether you're a church, whether you're a convention, an association, a state convention, or you're a big ol' commission like we are across America with all of these churches, listen, sending missionaries is what we are really about."

"So I challenge you, pastors and laypeople today: Go back to your churches and begin to ask God to raise up people to go to the mission fields from your churches," he stressed. "The urgency is now."

In April 2019, Floyd stepped down from pastoring the church he led for over three decades to become the head of the SBC Executive Committee after former Executive Committee President Frank Page resigned due to an "inappropriate relationship.”

The executive committee, which has offices in Nashville, was formed in 1917 to act on behalf of the SBC between sessions. 

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