SBC Executive Committee names interim president amid fallout from attorney-client privilege vote

(CP) Willie McLaurin has been selected as the interim president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee amid an investigation on how the leadership body handled sexual abuse reports.

Executive Committee officers announced the selection of the 48-year-old McLaurin on Tuesday, according to Baptist Press, the official news service for the SBC.

McLaurin served on the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board for 15 years before joining the Executive Committee in January 2020, where he serves as the vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization. He also served as executive pastor at Greater Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee, and senior pastor at Greater Hope Baptist Church in Union City.

"Our EC staff is committed to serving our Convention well," McLaurin stated. "Jesus' last words to us in Acts 1:8 should be our first priority as a network of churches. My prayer is that we will continue to put a laser-sharp focus on cooperation and collaboration."

"I want to express deep appreciation to Chairman Rolland Slade and the Executive Committee officers for entrusting me with the opportunity to serve," he added. "It is an honor to partner with Southern Baptists in advancing the mission of winning the world to Jesus."

The move comes as the Executive Committee is undergoing an investigation into whether leaders mishandled sexual abuse complaints within the denomination.

Last October, former SBC President Ronnie Floyd resigned from his position as head of the Executive Committee in opposition to the committee's decision to waive attorney-client privilege as part of the investigation.

The committee voted 44-31 on Oct. 5 to allow ​​Guidepost Solutions, which is conducting the investigation into how the convention handled sexual abuse claims within SBC churches, to review privileged communications between committee members and others as requested by SBC messengers and the Sexual Abuse Task Force.

"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," stated Floyd in a letter sent to the committee.

"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."

Other members of the committee also resigned in response to the vote, as did the SBC's general counsel, attorneys James Guenther and James Jordan of the law firm Guenther, Jordan & Price.

"We simply do not know how to advise a client, and otherwise represent a client, with the quality of advice and representation the client must have, and in keeping with the standard of practice our firm tries to uphold, when the client has indicated a willingness to forego this universally accepted principle of confidentiality," stated the legal team.

The investigation was prompted by a 2019 report from The Houston Chronicle documenting hundreds of abuse cases in Southern Baptist churches over decades. In September, the Executive Committee voted to fund the investigation up to $1.6 million.

Some committee members expressed concern about waiving attorney-client privilege for the investigation, citing risks to the convention's insurance and that it could make the denomination susceptible to lawsuits.

The committee's attorneys warned that maintaining local church autonomy would protect the SBC. Jordan and Guenther argue that the committee voted to waive the privilege without understanding the "effect" it could 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," the attorneys wrote. "That could not be further from the truth."

In his comments to Baptist Press, McLaurin said he hopes to restore trust to the committee, adding that "No network of churches is without challenges."

Slade, elected as the first black chair of the Executive Committee in 2020, told Baptist Press that McLaurin's focus will be to "regain the sense of trust of Southern Baptists."

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