The Southern Baptist Convention has a flurry of lawsuits threatening its financial stability. This resulted in the announcements of layoffs last week to the Executive Committee staff. This week, a devastating blow came to the legal defense of the SBC and its affiliated churches when a South Carolina court denied the motion to dismiss in large part due to previous comments and actions taken by now-SBC president, Bart Barber.
Jane Doe alleges SBC and state conventions can and do exercise substantial control over local church operations.
The Southern Baptist Convention is a cooperation to advance missions. The churches partner to advance goals an common interests. They do not share each other’s liability nor that of the organization and vice versa. However, the actions undertaken by SBC kingpins, like Kevin Ezell, have undermined this autonomy greatly. After all, it was the national convention that interfered in FBC Naples, Florida. That’s just one example of how SBC elites believe they wield power over local congregations.
Yet is the Southern Baptist Convention responsible for the actions of an allegedly creepy youth pastor from a church in South Carolina? Thanks to Bart Barber, the answer is looking like a yes.
During the hearing, Defendants argued jurisdiction should be declined because Jane Doe No. 2’s claims would inevitably require the Court to rule on the existence or propriety of the autonomous but cooperative relationship SBC claims to have with local churches and conventions. However, after reviewing the Complaint and documents presented in connection with the motion, it does not appear the specific misconduct Jane Doe No. 2 alleges will implicate any actions those SBC has acknowledged it may take in interacting with local churches. The obligations Jane Doe No. 2 alleges SBC/SC Baptist undertook but violated include duties to (1) investigate allegations of sexual misconduct; (2) counsel local churches concerning sexual misconduct; (3) enact reasonable policies to prevent sexual misconduct; and (4) train local churches regarding the handling of sexual misconduct violations. (Compl. ¶ 293).
The plaintiff argues that the SBC has a duty to essentially police its tens of thousands of churches, something it is ill-equipped to do. Yet Bart Barber has said as much in the past.
Based on the statements of the now-SBC president, it does not appear that taking any of these alleged actions would violate SBC’s claimed role as an autonomous organization.1 Mr. Barber has stated that the autonomy principle “in no way prevents churches from advising one another, critiquing one another, or establishing or withdrawing fellowship from one another.” Barber Blog Post at 3. Mr. Barber went on to say SBC “can affirm local church autonomy while putting in place a robust process for determining the truth about allegations that member churches have dealt recklessly with cases of sexual abuse and then taking action upon the truth we discover.” Id. Mr. Barber then went a step further by stating SBC “can affirm local church autonomy while disfellowshipping congregations who . . . persist in employing those who have abused survivors” of sexual misconduct. Id. Thus, even accepting for argument’s sake that disputes over SBC’s autonomy position could compel courts to decline jurisdictions in some instances, this case does not present any such dispute.2
The May 2022 blog post written by Bart Barber is titled, “Response to the Sexual Abuse Task Force Report.” And because he won in 2022, his vision in the post became evidence of liability against the Southern Baptist Convention. The election of Bart Barber has had disastrous effects on the SBC, and this has continued into his second term.