Report: Leading Southern Baptist sex abuse victims deadlocked
According to a scathing 288-page investigative report released Sunday, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, have blocked and denigrated survivors of clergy sex abuse for nearly two decades while seeking to protect their own reputation.
These survivors, and other concerned Southern Baptists, have repeatedly shared allegations with the SBC executive committee, “only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, obstruction and even hostility. outright from some EC members,” the report said.
The seven-month investigation was carried out by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm hired by the Executive Committee after delegates at last year’s national meeting lobbied for an investigation by outsiders.
“Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC officials, as well as outside attorneys, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse…and focused singularly on the avoidance of SBC liability,” the report said.
“In service of this goal, survivors and others who have reported abuse have been ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action because of its self-reliance regime. church – even if it meant the convicted abusers continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” the report adds.
The report claims that an Executive Committee staff member maintained a list of Baptist ministers accused of abuse, but there is no indication that anyone “took steps to ensure that accused ministers no longer occupied positions of power in SBC churches”.
The most recent list includes the names of hundreds of abusers believed to be affiliated at any given time with the SBC. Survivors and advocates have long called for a public database of abusers.
SBC President Ed Litton in a statement on Sunday said he was “grieved in my heart” for the victims and thanked God for their work in propelling the SBC at this time. He called on Southern Baptists to mourn and prepare to change the culture of the denomination and implement reforms.
“I pray that Southern Baptists begin to prepare today to take deliberate action to address these failures and chart a new course when we meet in Anaheim,” Litton said, referring to the California town that will host the national meeting of the SBC on June 14-15. .
Among the main recommendations of the report:
— Form an independent commission and later establish a permanent administrative entity to oversee long-term comprehensive reforms regarding sexual abuse and related misconduct within the SBC.
—Create and maintain an offender information system to alert the community of known offenders.
— Provide a comprehensive resource toolkit including protocols, training, education, and how-to information.
—Restrict the use of non-disclosure agreements and civil settlements that bind victims to confidentiality in sexual abuse cases, unless requested by the victim.
Acting executive committee leaders Willie McLaurin and Rolland Slade welcomed the recommendations and pledged to make every effort to eliminate sexual abuse within the SBC.
“We recognize that there are no shortcuts,” they said. “We must all meet this challenge with careful and prayerful application, and we must do so with Christlike compassion.
The Executive Committee is due to hold a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the report.
The sex abuse scandal was brought to light in 2019 by a landmark report by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News documenting hundreds of cases at Southern Baptist churches, including several in which the alleged perpetrators remained in ministry.
Last year, thousands of delegates to the SBC’s national rally made it clear they did not want the Executive Committee overseeing an investigation into its own actions. Instead, they voted overwhelmingly to create the task force to oversee the third-party review. Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, named the panel.
The task force had a week to review the report before it was made public. The task force’s recommendations based on Guidepost’s findings will be presented at the SBC meeting in Anaheim.
The report offers shocking details about how Johnny Hunt, a Georgia-based pastor and former SBC president, sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife while on a beach vacation in 2010. In an interview with investigators, Hunt denied any physical contact with the woman, but admitted he had interactions with her.
On May 13, Hunt, who was senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board, the SBC’s national mission agency, resigned from that position, said Kevin Ezell, president and chief executive. organisation. Ezell said that prior to May 13 he was “not aware of any alleged misconduct” by Hunt.
The report details a meeting Hunt arranged days after the alleged assault between the woman, her husband, Hunt and a counselor pastor. Hunt admitted touching the victim inappropriately, but said “thank goodness I didn’t consummate the relationship.”
Among those who reacted strongly to the Guidepost report was Russell Moore, who previously led the SBC’s public policy wing but left the denomination after accusing top executive committee leaders of blocking efforts to resolve the crisis. sexual abuse.
“Crisis is too small a word. It’s an apocalypse,” Moore wrote for Christianity Today after reading the report. “As grim as I got from SBC’s executive committee, the investigation reveals a far more diabolical and systemic reality than I imagined.”
According to the report, Guidepost investigators, who spoke with survivors of varying ages, including children, said survivors were also traumatized by the way churches responded to their reports of sexual abuse.
Survivors “spoke of the trauma caused by the initial abuse, but also told us of the debilitating effects that come from the response of churches and institutions like the SBC who disbelieved them, ignored them, mistreated them and didn’t believe them.” failed to help them,” the report said.
He cited the case of Dave Pittman, who from 2006 to 2011 made phone calls and sent letters and emails to the SBC and the Georgia Baptist Convention Board reporting that he had been abused by Frankie Wiley, a young pastor from the Rehoboth Baptist Church when he was 12. at 15.
Pittman and several others have come forward publicly to report that Wiley assaulted and raped them and Wiley admitted to abusing “numerous victims” at several Baptist churches in southern Georgia.
According to the report, a Georgia Baptist Convention official told Pittman that the churches were self-governing and he could do nothing but pray.
The report also tells the story of Christa Brown, who says she was sexually abused as a teenager by the youth and education minister of her SBC church.
When she disclosed the abuse to the music minister after months of abuse, she was told not to talk about it, according to the report, which said her abuser had also served in Southern Baptist churches in several states.
Brown, who was one of the most outspoken survivors, told investigators that over the past 15 years she had received “volumes of hate mail, awful blog comments and vitriolic phone calls.”
After reading the report, Brown told The Associated Press that it “fundamentally confirms what victims of Southern Baptist clergy sex abuse have been saying for decades.”
“I view this investigation report as a beginning, not an end. The work will continue,” Brown said. “But no one should ever forget the human cost of what it took for the SBC to approach that starting line to begin addressing clergy sex abuse.”
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