Southern Baptist Clergy Sex Abuse Covered Up For Decades: Report
Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant organization in the U.S., covered up credible claims of clergy sexual abuse for years, and prioritized the protection of their organization from liability over the safety its members, according to the findings of a new report.
The damning report (PDF) was created by Guidepost Solutions LLC, and is the result of a third-party, independent investigation into how the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) handled reports and allegations of sexual abuse involving those who worked with the organization since 2000.
The investigation was launched at the demand of members at an annual meeting in 2021, amid fears that the Southern Baptist Convention was hiding problems of clergy abuse similar to those being dealt with by the Catholic Church in recent years. The report’s authors warn it should be read with caution and not by children, as the detailed reports of incidents of abuse could be disturbing to readers, particularly those with triggers stemming from past abuse and trauma.
The SBC is the largest Protestant organization in the U.S., with nearly 14 million members. SBC leadership, known as the Executive Committee (EC), has always maintained that its member churches have autonomy, claiming they are limited in the control they can exert. However, the report reveals that the executive committee did exert influence, but focused those efforts on avoiding liability, instead of preventing women and children from being sexually abused.
“For almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists have been contacting the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff,” the executive summary of the report states. “They made phone calls, mailed letters, sent emails, appeared at SBC and EC meetings, held rallies, and contacted the press…only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC.”
Victims interviewed by investigators say they were branded as opportunists, liars, and even agents of Satan for trying to shed light on their own abuse, and abusers who were often still part of the SBC system. Even when not met with outright hostility, SBC leaders indicated that they were unwilling or unable to do things like maintain a database of potential abusers. However, privately, the report indicates that the EC did maintain exactly such a list, but kept it secret.
That list contained the names of 703 alleged abusers, with 409 of those suspected of being affiliated with Southern Baptist Convention, including some who are still in the ministry or associated with an SBC church, according to the report.
Reports of abuse went all the way up the chain of power in the organization, with the investigation detailing how even former SBC President Johnny Hunt, who led the Convention from 2008 to 2010, was the target of “credible” accusations by an Southern Baptist Convention pastor and his wife. According to the investigation, Hunt allegedly sexually assaulted the wife in July 2010, and the couple’s story was backed up by multiple credible witnesses. The investigators, however, did not find Hunt’s claims of innocence and his version of the story to be as credible.
Hunt resigned his post as vice president earlier this month, but still denies wrongdoing.
The report indicates former Southern Baptist Executive Committee vice president August Boto, as recently as 2019, wrote in an email that sexual abuse allegations were an attempt to undermine the church.
“It is a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism,” Boto is alleged to have said in the email.
In fact, the report found Boto and other leaders were far more concerned with legal liability, working to avoid lawsuits, instead of helping victims and protecting its members, including children, from known sexual predators.
Reforms that may have helped victims and protected worshippers were stonewalled if there was any hint of legal exposure for the Southern Baptist Convention, the investigators found. For example, after consulting legal counsel, SBC leaders called for avoiding the use of the word “crisis” when describing sexual abuse, just because of the potential legal exposure.
Even other EC trustees were not told about the abuser list or reports of abuse the SBC had looked into over the years. Despite maintaining the files since at least 2007, the report indicated there is no evidence the SBC took any action to verify or ensure that ministers accused of abuse were no longer in positions of power or influence.
The report includes recommendations for a number of reforms, including the creation of a system to alert SBC members of known offenders, the creation of an abuse-prevention program, and the creation of a new administrative group to oversee sexual abuse reforms.
Ed Litton, the current SBC president, praised the courage and persistence of the victims, indicating that he believes the report is an “honest look” at the failings of the Southern Baptist Convention, and said the organization must respond to the report with desperately needed reforms and compassion for victims. Litton has said he is not running for another term as SBC president, though he indicates that is because he wishes to focus on racial reconciliation among Southern Baptists at the local level, according to an interview with AL.com.
The findings of the report mirror many of the clergy abuse problems found in both the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America, who have faced tens of thousands of lawsuits as a result. The Boy Scouts, which similarly maintained a list of sexual predators, known as the “perversion files” was ultimately driven into bankruptcy by the allegations, and is still trying to negotiate a settlement which would move it out of bankruptcy.
CliffordMay 27, 2022 at 3:04 am
Extremely sad topic but I truly appreciate that someone is taking the time to address it. Problems don't get fixed unless someone is willing to point them out
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