Top Southern Baptists Hold Back Sexual Abuse Victims, Reports Findings

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, have held back and criticized survivors of clergy sexual abuse for nearly two decades while trying to protect their own reputation, according to a damning 288-page investigative report published Sunday.

These survivors, and other concerned Southern Baptists, repeatedly shared accusations with the SBC’s Executive Committee, “but were met again and again with resistance, opposition and even outright hostility from some within the EC,” the report said.

The seven-month investigation was conducted by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted by the Executive Committee after delegates to last year’s national assembly urged an outsider investigation.

The Southern Baptist Convention headquarters is on display in Nashville, Tennessee, on December 7, 2011.
The Southern Baptist Convention headquarters is on display in Nashville, Tennessee, on December 7, 2011.

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey


“Our investigation revealed that a few senior EC leaders, along with outside counsel, largely monitored the EC’s response to these reports of abuse for many years…

“In service to this purpose, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or given the constant chorus that the SBC could not take action because of its policies regarding church autonomy – even if it meant allowing convicted molesters to continue their ministry.” continue with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” the report added.

The report states that an Executive Committee employee maintained a list of Baptist pastors accused of abuse, but there is no indication that anyone “took any action to ensure the accused pastors were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches.” “

The most recent list contains the names of hundreds of abusers believed to have had connections with the SBC. Survivors and advocates have long argued for a public database of abusers.

SBC President Ed Litton said in a statement on Sunday that he is “sorrowed from the bottom of my heart” for the victims and thanked God for their work to propel the SBC to this point. He called on Southern Baptists to wail and prepare to change denominational culture and make reforms.

“I pray that Southern Baptists will prepare today to take deliberate action to address these failures and chart a new course when we meet in Anaheim,” said Litton, referring to the California city that hosted the National Assembly. will host the SBC on June 14-15. †

Among the key recommendations of the report:

  • Form an independent committee and later establish a permanent administrative entity to oversee comprehensive long-term reforms related to sexual abuse and related misconduct within the SBC.
  • Create and maintain an offender information system to alert the community to known offenders.
  • Provide a comprehensive Resource Toolbox with protocols, training, education and practical information.
  • Restrict the use of nondisclosure agreements and civil settlements that bind survivors to confidentiality in sexual abuse cases unless the survivor so requests.

Interim Executive Committee leaders Willie McLaurin and Rolland Slade welcomed the recommendations and pledged their best efforts to eradicate sexual abuse within the SBC.

“We recognize that there are no shortcuts,” they said. “We must all meet this challenge by applying cautiously and prayerfully, and we must do so with Christ-like compassion.

The Executive Committee will hold a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the report.

The sex abuse scandal was spotlighted in 2019 by a landmark report from the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News documenting hundreds of cases in Southern Baptist churches, including several in which alleged perpetrators remained employed.

Last year, thousands of delegates at the SBC national meeting made it clear that they did not want the Executive Committee to oversee an investigation into its own actions. Instead, they voted overwhelmingly to create the task force charged with overseeing third-party assessment. Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, appointed the panel.

The task force had a week to review the report before it was released publicly. The task force’s recommendations based on Guidepost’s findings will be presented at the SBC meeting in Anaheim.

The report provides shocking details about how Johnny Hunt, a Georgia 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 gave in. he had interactions with her.

On May 13, Hunt, who was the senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board, the SBC’s domestic mission office, resigned from that position, said Kevin Ezell, the organization’s president and CEO. Ezell said before May 13 that he was “not aware of any alleged misconduct” by Hunt.

The report details a meeting Hunt organized a few days after the alleged attack between the woman, her husband, Hunt and a pastor. Hunt admitted to touching the victim inappropriately, but said, “Thank God I didn’t consummate the relationship.”

Among those who reacted vehemently to the Guidepost report was Russell Moore, who previously headed the SBC’s public policy wing but left the denomination after accusing senior executives of slowing down efforts to address the sexual assault crisis. tackle abuse.

“Crisis is too small a word. It’s an apocalypse,” Moore wrote for Christianity Today after reading the report. “As gloomy as I was about the SBC’s Executive Committee, the investigation reveals a reality far more evil and systematic than I imagined.”

According to the report, Guidepost researchers, who spoke to survivors of various ages, including children, said the survivors were equally traumatized by the way churches responded to their reports of sexual abuse.

Survivors “talked about the trauma of the initial abuse, but also told us about the debilitating effects of the response of churches and institutions like the SBC who disbelieved, ignored, mistreated and failed to help them,” the statement said. report.

It cited the case of Dave Pittman, who from 2006 to 2011, made phone calls and sent letters and emails to the SBC and Georgia Baptist Convention Board reporting that he had been abused by Frankie Wiley, a youth pastor at Rehoboth Baptist Church when he 12 wash. up to 15 years.

Pittman and several others have come forward publicly to report that Wiley assaulted and raped them and that Wiley admitted to abusing “countless victims” at several Georgia Southern Baptist churches.

According to the report, a Georgia Baptist Convention official told Pittman that the churches were autonomous and that he could do nothing but pray.

The report also tells the story of Christa Brown, who says she was sexually assaulted as a teenager by the Minister of Youth and Education at her SBC church. When she revealed 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 would also serve in Southern Baptist churches in multiple states.

Brown, one of the most outspoken survivors, told the researchers that she has received “a lot of hate mail, horrible blog comments and vicious phone calls” over the past 15 years.

After reading the report, Brown told The Associated Press that it “fundamentally confirms what survivors of Southern Baptist clergy sexual abuse have been saying for decades.”

“I see this investigative report as a start, not an end. The work will continue,” Brown said. “But no one should ever forget the human cost of what it has taken for the SBC to even approach this starting line of addressing clergy sexual abuse.”

In the US, help is available for survivors of sexual violence and their families. RAINN offers resources at 1-800-656-HOPE and on their website, www.rainn.org

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