This is according to longtime convention lawyer Jim Guenther, and is an estimate for growing liability lawsuits where someone has a problem in a local church linked to the SBC and is suing the Executive Board or SBC.
There has never been a successful lawsuit of this kind.
Yes, I understand that the current matter is seriously serious and involves sad and heinous sins. I hope and pray that the SATF does its job efficiently and reasonably and that it comes to an end by assisting the SBC and its churches on the issues at stake.
You can read what Guenther says about the growing lawsuits for liability in Lonnie Wilkey’s Baptist and Spotlight Story, Protecting the Interests of Southern Baptists.
The litigant’s holy grail is to find a way to successfully impose responsibilities on the SBK above the level of First Baptist Church Podunk Crossroads or any other of the 47,592 independent, autonomous churches considered friendly cooperation with the SBK.
As previously explained, neither the SBK nor the SBK Executive Board employs, dismisses, supervises, ordains, dismisses, approves, rejects, blacklists, or anything else that involves the church and their pastor, staff, or volunteers.
Guenther “noted that religious organizations, when he first joined Baptist Sunday School, were immune to lawsuits.” He is in his seventh decade of service at SBC and various SBC entities. The times have changed. In the past few days alone, SBC, SBC EC and a number of individuals have been named in defamation lawsuits. NAMB is suing, the lawsuits have been going on for several years. At least one other lawsuit involves the pursuit of growing accountability.
[Your humble hacker and plodder blogger is a legal lay guy. Read the article linked for the proper terminology and more on the concepts.]
Because Southern Baptists are not hierarchical and the convention does not control churches, Guenther and his firm have never lost a lawsuit for growing liability. He estimates that he has had approximately 50 such cases over the years.
Guenther, however, warned the South Baptist entities. “We must always be diligent in practicing what we preach and that conventions should take care to respect what the Baptist faith and message say about the autonomy of the local church,” he stressed.
I do not know how the recently established, semi-independent Working Group on Sexual Abuse will behave in its work. I don’t know if they will have legal advisors. If they do, and I expect they should and will, who will fill that position? Will SBC EC fund legal counsel? SATF has no budget or funds.
there is nothing new about the lawsuit of the South Baptist entities, noted Guenther, who is a member of the First Baptist Church, Nashville.
“Our responsibility as lawyers is to help Baptist institutions and conventions understand the law so that they can abide by it and to help our clients manage risk.
“There are also legal risks with the ministry, and the southern Baptists give their money to the ministries of the southern Baptists for those reasons, and not to pay the verdicts for the injustices that those institutions committed,” he said.
“So much of our work is designed to maintain the integrity of managers and help our clients not behave in a way that will violate the rights of others and result in judgments against the institution.”
The SATF is made up of some very smart, outstanding southern Baptists. They are only on task for 46 days. Their first big decision-making date is likely to come to the Executive Board meeting in September. The SATF is not part of the task of protecting our autonomy system, but it should be built into all their tasks.
At the annual session, the SBC called this working group by a large majority and gave them what the SATF calls “mandates”. There are six of them, and the words of the action used are “review”, “research” and “evaluate”. All this according to the EC, and not according to individual, local churches of the SBC.
We’ll see if SATF can thread this needle.
I appreciate that the Working Group has announced its intention to be open and transparent.
A few guys said they read my entire much longer article on SATF. We’ll happily buy two people a CFA milkshake if we run into each other at a CFA that has an open dining room with ice cream machines still working.