SBC President Bart Barber apologizes for filing legal brief seeking to limit liability for sex abuse

Pastor Bart Barber, the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, speaks at a press conference in Anaheim, California, on June 15, 2022. | Baptist Press/Sonya Singh

Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber admitted Monday that he approved joining a controversial amicus brief filed on behalf of the SBC Executive Committee, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Lifeway Christian Resources challenging the validity of new legislation in Kentucky that allows child sex abuse survivors to sue non-perpetrator third parties such as churches and schools retroactively.

Responding to significant negative feedback from SBC Executive Committee members and other SBC leaders, Barber issued a statement shared on his personal blog “Praisegod Barebones,” in which he, a vocal supporter of the sexual abuse survivor community, said he was only given three hours to decide on whether the SBC should join the brief after the organization’s lawyers had recommended it.

“This is my doing. I approved it. I take full responsibility for the SBC’s having joined this brief, and this lengthy statement will help to explain the mistakes I think I have made,” Barber wrote before explaining the circumstances under which he gave his approval to join the brief some 15 months ago on Aug. 9, 2022, shortly after he began his first term as SBC president.

“In the middle of that day, I now know that I received an email from the SBC’s legal team making me aware of this brief and recommending that we join it. It came at 1:30 PM, which was during the EC trustee orientation and a little more than two hours before I needed to lead that other meeting. The filing deadline was that day, the email said, so I had a little more than three hours to reply one way or the other,” he explained.

“I did not give this decision to file this brief the level of consideration that it deserved. Some of the most important information affecting my decision was information I failed to seek. Knowing what I know now, I know that I should have asked more questions. I should have taken the opportunity to request a meeting between the Interim CEO, myself, and our legal counsel to gather more information. I did not have the power to decide then, but I did have the opportunity to advise. I failed to use that opportunity wisely, and I regret that,” he said. “Our future decisions likewise lie with the SBC Executive Committee. I hope to do a better job of using my voice to influence those decisions going forward.”

Barber’s statement comes days after survivors of sexual abuse and their advocates in the SBC expressed outrage and accused the denomination’s leaders of betraying victims they promised to protect after an independent investigation from Guidepost Solutions found the denomination’s leadership had mishandled sexual abuse allegations, mistreated victims and advocates, engaged in an abusive pattern of intimidation and repeatedly resisted reforms aimed at making their churches safer largely to avoid liability.

In the amicus brief that was filed on April 5, lawyers for the SBC and its affiliated organizations make it clear that they oppose an effort by childhood sexual abuse survivor Samantha Killary to sue a Louisville police officer and the Louisville Metro Police Department under the 2021 Amendments KRS § 413 249 seeking to hold the parties accountable for the abuse she suffered.

In 2017, Kentucky’s General Assembly passed KRS § 413 249, allowing a child sex abuse victim to sue their abuser 10 years after they turn 18, or 10 years after the abuser is convicted. That law was then amended in 2021, to allow it to be applied retroactively to misconduct before 2017. Victims were also allowed to sue non-perpetrator third parties.

Lawyers for the SBC and its affiliates argue in the amicus brief that “the 2021 Amendments to KRS § 413 249 do not retroactively revive expired claims against non-perpetrator third parties” and that dispute is now pending before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

And the SBC and its affiliates make it clear in their brief that they oppose Killary’s case because of the liability it will expose them to if the court allows her action to proceed.

Well-known Christian author and professor, Karen Swallow Prior, who most recently wrote, The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis, suggested that Barber fire the lawyers who only gave him three hours to decide on whether the SBC should join the brief.

“Maybe fire the lawyers that gave you three hours to make such a momentous decision,” she replied to his statement on X.

Billy Graham’s grandson and former child abuse prosecutor, Boz Tchividjian, who now helps abuse survivors through his private practice Boz Law, appeared to endorse on X Monday, a recommendation by other survivor advocates, Christa Brown, David Clohessy, and Dave Pittman, that the SBC Executive Committee withdraw the brief and write a new one supporting the Kentucky law in favor of survivors.

“Merely withdrawing the brief is not enough. They still would benefit from it because, once filed, a brief can’t be unseen. So, if indeed the Executive Committee is remorseful about the brief, then it needs to affirmatively disavow the brief,” the advocates wrote in an op-ed for Baptist News Global.

“If the SBC, the Executive Committee, the seminary and Lifeway actually care about justice for #SBCtoo survivors, they need to withdraw their brief and substitute a new brief in support of the extension of limitations for child sex abuse survivors to seek justice against both their perpetrators and enabling institutions,” they added.  “That would be something meaningful. Short of that, it’s all just posturing, grandstanding and window-dressing.”

Last Friday, Tchividjian also released a strong statement on X, criticizing the SBC entities as “pious clowns” for supporting the brief.

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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