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Southern Baptist Conference’s attorneys to chop ties after vote to waive privilege

(SBC) — The longtime normal counsel for the Southern Baptist Conference has determined to chop ties with the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

The choice got here after members of the SBC’s Nashville-based Govt Committee determined to waive attorney-client privilege as a part of a sexual-abuse investigation. That call signifies that data of conversations on authorized issues amongst Govt Committee members and employees would now not be confidential.

That call made it inconceivable for the denomination’s authorized counsel to proceed its function, wrote attorneys James Guenther and James Jordan of Guenther, Jordan & Worth.  

“We merely have no idea how you can advise a shopper, and in any other case symbolize a shopper, with the standard of recommendation and illustration the shopper should have, and in step with the usual of apply our agency tries to uphold, when the shopper has indicated a willingness to forego this universally accepted precept of confidentiality,” Guenther and Jordan wrote in a letter to Govt Committee President Ronnie Floyd.

Information of the break between the agency and the Govt Committee was first reported by the Baptist and Reflector, a Tennessee Baptist state newspaper.

Guenther, 87, has been normal counsel for the SBC since 1966. Earlier than then, he spent a decade working for what was then generally known as the Baptist Sunday Faculty Board, now LifeWay Christian Assets.

Southern Baptist Conference headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 18, 2019. RNS photograph by Bob Smietana

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Guenther advised the Baptist and Reflector that his agency has represented the SBC in about 50 circumstances the place the denomination was being sued over the actions of an area congregation.

“As a result of Southern Baptists should not hierarchical, and the conference doesn’t management church buildings, Guenther and his agency have by no means misplaced an ascending legal responsibility,” the newspaper reported.

The legal professional warned Southern Baptists to remain true to their theology to be able to shield themselves legally.

“We have now bought to at all times be diligent that we apply what we preach and conventions have to take care to respect what the Baptist Religion and Message says about native church autonomy,” he advised the Baptist and Reflector.

The difficulty of confidentiality and legal professional shopper privilege was a topic of intense debate in current weeks amongst Southern Baptist leaders, as was the problem of native church management over nationwide SBC entities such because the Govt Committee.

The controversy centered round a choice made by the denomination’s annual assembly to research how the Govt Committee has responded to allegations of sexual abuse and the way Govt Committee members and employees handled abuse survivors.

The Govt Committee had initially ordered an investigation of its personal, however native church delegates took management of that investigation. These delegates, generally known as messengers, particularly directed the committee to waive privilege if requested to take action by the surface agency doing the investigation.

The Rev. Rolland Slade, top left, prays with attendees before a virtual special meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, Oct. 5, 2021. Video screen grab

The Rev. Rolland Slade, high left, prays with attendees earlier than a digital particular assembly of the Southern Baptist Conference Govt Committee, Oct. 5, 2021. Video display seize

Throughout conferences this fall, committee members argued that waiving privilege may bankrupt the SBC by exposing it to lawsuits. In addition they argued that waiving privilege went in opposition to the recommendation of Guenther and different attorneys introduced in to seek the advice of on the matter.

Different committee members, together with committee Chair Rolland Slade, argued they had been obligated to observe the directions of native church buildings’ messengers.

After weeks of impasse, the committee voted on Oct. 10 to waive privilege. At the least 10 committee members, most who opposed the waiver, have resigned. Of their letter to Floyd, who additionally raised questions in regards to the challenge of waiving privilege, Guenther and Jordan defended attorney-client privilege.

“The attorney-client privilege has been portrayed by some as an evil machine by which misconduct is someway allowed to be secreted so wrongdoers can escape justice and defeat the authorized rights of others,” they wrote. “That would not be farther from the reality.”

Floyd praised Guenther’s agency for its lengthy service to the SBC.

“With deep regrets, we settle for their resolution and totally perceive their cause behind it and their have to withdraw,” he advised Baptist Press. “We’re extraordinarily grateful for his or her 56 years of superior service to the Southern Baptist Conference and the Govt Committee.”

After information of Guenther’s break with the SBC, former Govt Committee President Morris Chapman posted a remark that seemed to be a response on social media.

“Southern Baptists will at all times have trustworthy illustration earlier than the throne of God,” he wrote.

RELATED: SBC committee votes to waive privilege after bitter debate

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