(RNS) — Ronnie Floyd, the embattled president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, has resigned, effective at the end of October.
Floyd, a longtime Arkansas megachurch pastor, was elected as head of the Executive Committee in 2019, with high hopes of rallying the nation’s largest Protestant denomination to focus its energy on evangelism and missions.
But his plans were overshadowed by infighting among Southern Baptist leaders as well as controversies over racism and sexual abuse. In his resignation, Floyd said that his reputation was being harmed by serving as the committee’s president.
“In the midst of multiple challenges facing the SBC, I was asked to come here because of my proven personal integrity, reputation, and leadership,” he said in his resignation letter, which was made public Thursday (Oct. 14). “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.”
His letter cited a recent decision made by the Executive Committee to waive attorney-client privilege in an investigation into the SBC leadership’s handling of sexual abuse claims as a reason for leaving. That decision would remove confidentiality between Executive Committee staff and members and allow an outside firm to review their communications.
During this summer’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, local church delegates, known as messengers, instructed the committee to waive privilege if asked to do so. But Floyd and a number of committee members balked, saying that waiving privilege could open the SBC up to lawsuits and financial harm.
He repeated his opposition to waiving privilege in his resignation letter. That decision, he said, left the Southern Baptists in “uncertain, unknown, unprecedented and uncharted waters.”
“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,” he said. “In the midst of deep disappointment and discouragement, we have to make this decision by our own choice and do so willingly, because there is no other decision for me to make.”
Floyd repeated his disdain for sexual abuse and said that as a pastor and father and grandfather, he cares “deeply about the protection of all people.” He also defended committee members who opposed waiving privilege and said that many felt they had to resign when they were outvoted.
“One of the most grievous things for me personally has been the attacks on myself and the trustees as if we are people who only care about ‘the system.’ Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
His resignation came a day after a group of Executive Committee members sent a letter asking the group’s chairman, California pastor Rolland Slade, to call a special meeting to fill a vacancy among the committee’s officers and to discuss “issues of leadership and trust among the committee, officers, and executive staff.”
Dean Inserra, an Executive Committee member and pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida, called Floyd’s resignation sad and unfortunate. Inserra was one of a group of committee members who advocated for waiving privilege and found themselves at odds with Floyd.
The committee deadlocked over the issue for several weeks, during which time a series of Southern Baptist leaders — including the heads of the denomination’s seminaries — called for the committee to follow the will of messengers.
“There could have been a different outcome if he had done the right thing,” Inserra said.
Slade said he was saddened at the news of Floyd’s resignation but said he understood the decision.
“We will just have to keep moving forward,” Slade said.
He said that the committee will look now to Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton for leadership in the months to come. One of the committee’s first tasks following Floyd’s departure will be to appoint an interim president. According to the Executive Committee’s bylaws, that interim has to be chosen from one of the current vice-presidents on staff.
The search for a new permanent president will take some time. Slade said that the committee is unlikely to elect a new president until after the abuse investigation is completed. To do otherwise would be unfair to any new leader.
“They would not know what they are stepping into,” he said.
Floyd was the longtime pastor of Cross Church, a congregation of about 9,000 based in Arkansas, and is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The denomination’s longtime lawyers have cut ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, citing the decision to waive privilege.
A spokesperson for the Executive Committee said Floyd would not give interviews or comment about his resignation.
This is a developing story and has been updated