By PETER SMITH and TRAVIS LOLLER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ The president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee said Friday it is contracting an outside firm to investigate its actions amid accusations that top denominational leaders mishandled sex abuses cases, despite calls from some critics for a more independent probe.
Ronnie Floyd announced the hiring of international consulting company Guidepost Solutions to review the allegations made by Russell Moore, who resigned last month as president of the denomination’s influential Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
In letters to SBC officials that became public, Moore accused Floyd and Mike Stone, who at the time was chairman of the Executive Committee, of trying to stall efforts to hold churches accountable for their handling of abuse cases and of seeking to intimidate and retaliate against those who advocated on the issue.
Floyd and Stone, who is now a candidate to become president of the SBC, have denied those claims. On Thursday a former assistant to Moore released clandestinely recorded audio clips from meetings with Floyd and Stone to bolster Moore’s allegations.
Guidepost will be tasked with reviewing the allegations and providing training for the committee.
Rachael Denhollander, an attorney and prominent advocate for fellow abuse survivors who has been urging an independent investigation, called Guidepost “a highly qualified firm, well able to do the job.“
But she cautioned that the company must have free rein in its investigation including access to materials that might otherwise be shielded under attorney-client privilege, and she said the full findings must be released publicly.
The announcement comes as more than 16,000 delegates are expected at the SBC’s annual meeting next week in Nashville, the largest gathering of the country’s biggest Protestant denomination in a quarter-century, and amid controversies over sexual abuse, race and the role of women in ministry.
Two pastors have planned to propose at the meeting that the SBC create a task force to pick an independent investigator, an idea that has won prominent endorsements.
One of the proponents, Tennessee pastor Grant Gaines, said Friday that the announcement by Floyd is a step in the right direction but he plans to go forward with the idea. The task force should comprise Southern Baptists and sexual abuse experts to do the hiring and oversight and should be responsible for reporting findings to the denomination and the public, he said.
“At the end of the day, we do not believe the Executive Committee should be trusted to hold themselves accountable,” Gaines said.
A similar sentiment was expressed by Christa Brown, a longtime advocate for fellow survivors of abuse within Southern Baptist churches. She has called for an even more independent commission composed of people not affiliated with the denomination and with a mandate to hear and report on cases of abuse and cover-up.
“So long as (the Executive Committee) controls purse strings, I’d expect problems,” Brown said.
Smith reported from Pittsburgh.
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.