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Lawyer views role on EC as that of ‘servant,’ not ‘savior’

NASHVILLE (BP) – When Dani Bryson was initially asked to consider a nomination to serve on the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, she said the offer was completely unexpected.

“I never aspired to be on the Executive Committee,” Bryson said. “I never considered that I would be on the Executive Committee, like it was the last thing from my mind. I’m just an ordinary church-goer in the Southern Baptist Convention.” 

Bryson, assistant district general attorney for the 23rd judicial district in Dickson, Tenn., told Baptist Press reflecting on the biblical story of Esther helped her put the opportunity into perspective.

“God’s going to do what God’s going to do, and if you don’t say yes, He’ll use somebody else, but you’re going to miss out on getting to be part of the process,” Bryson told Baptist Press.

“My gut reaction and my thought through the entire two weeks is, ‘I do not want to say yes out of pride or no out of fear.’

“I thought ‘OK God, if you’ve offered me this opportunity to serve, I will take it.’”

Bryson knew she wanted to be an attorney since the fifth grade, and in her 10 years on the job, she has worked on a variety of cases including some involving domestic violence and child abuse.

Back before her nomination to the EC, Bryson was watching along with everyone else as the topic of sexual abuse came to the forefront in the Convention.

She followed along as messenger Grant Gaines, senior pastor at Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., made a motion to appoint a sexual abuse task force to oversee a third-party investigation into allegations of mishandling abuse claims at the SBC Executive Committee.

That motion subsequently led to several additional EC meetings beyond the committee’s scheduled September gathering to discuss, and eventually vote, to waive attorney client privilege for the investigation, which was carried out by Guidepost Solutions.

“I was wondering how many times they could go into executive session just like everybody else,” Bryson said.

Now having served on the EC for a year, and taking part in a few executive sessions of her own, Bryson said she has tried to view the opportunity in terms of humility.

“I do not think that I am some savior of the Executive Committee,” Bryson said. “I’m a servant to Southern Baptists.”

Even before her service on the EC, Bryson has had an active role in serving Southern Baptists, including in the area of sexual abuse.

At the time of her nomination, Bryson was serving on the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and in the beginning stages of serving with that convention’s sexual abuse task force.

With her experience as an attorney working on cases related to abuse, Bryson wanted to help the task force fulfill its given mission.

“We (the task force) were directed to look through existing TBMB policies, and basically resource and equip our churches the best that we could,” Bryson said.

“I wanted to pour in whatever resources I could to help our pastors know ‘hey what do I do.’

“We created a handbook which is available on TBMB website. It includes not just example policies and procedures to put in place, but also a checklist if you’ve had an abuse survivor make a disclosure to somebody in your church.”

Bryson said she has been encouraged by hearing the latest updates and announcements from the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF).

The ARITF announced at the February EC meeting its recommendation to the SBC Credentials Committee to utilize Guidepost Solutions to establish and maintain a “Ministry Check” website database for those credibly accused of sexual abuse.

The task force later announced plans for a meeting in which representatives from each of the state convention’s task forces can connect, share information and talk through the issue of sexual abuse at a local level.

The meeting is scheduled for March 28 in Atlanta.

Bryson said the meeting will be a great way for the task forces to partner together in a way that keeps with Southern Baptist polity.

“Each state task force was given a different job by their individual convention,” Bryson said.

“It’s useful for us to come together because we weren’t all doing the same things. Information sharing is good here. There’s no bad information sharing, when you’re sharing resources.

“The ARITF is looking to make sure the state conventions are equipped to handle stuff. They are not telling them what to do, just like we’re (the TBMB task force) not telling pastors ‘You have to put these policies in effect.’ They’re making sure that they have the resources.”

In addition to resourcing churches, Bryson has enjoyed getting a first-hand look at Southern Baptist ministry around the world.

“One of the awesome things about being on the EC is getting the inside reports (from the entities) and really getting to see what we as Baptists can do together when we cooperate,” Bryson said.

“Anyone who’s ever gone to the Southern Baptist Convention, one of their favorite things is the sending ceremony. That’s one of the main reasons we cooperate, so that the name of Christ may be known in places where it’s never been heard before.

“As an EC member you get a closer, more tangible view of that. A lot of what we do in our meetings is celebrating what Southern Baptists have done together.”