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Report: Top Southern Baptists stonewalled sex abuse victims

UPDATED: Mon., May 23, 2022

By Deepa Bharath, Holly Meyere and David Crary Associated Press Associated Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee – and thousands of its rank-and-file members – now have opportunities to address a scathing investigative report that says top SBC leaders stonewalled and denigrated survivors of clergy sex abuse over two decades while seeking to protect their own reputations.

The report, issued Sunday, says these survivors, and other concerned Southern Baptists, repeatedly shared allegations with the Executive Committee, “only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC.”

The seven-month investigation was conducted by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted by the Executive Committee after delegates to last year’s national meeting pressed for a probe by outsiders.

Since then, several top Executive Committee leaders have resigned, and the body – under interim leadership – will meet Tuesday to discuss the report. Three weeks later, the SBC will convene its 2022 national meeting in Anaheim, California, and the report will be discussed there as well.

“Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC leaders, along with outside counsel, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse … and were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC,” the report said.

“In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” the report added.

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

The most recent list includes the names of hundreds of abusers thought to be affiliated at some point with the SBC. Survivors and advocates have long called for a public database of abusers.

SBC President Ed Litton, in a statement Sunday, said he is “grieved to my core” for the victims and thanked God for their work propelling the SBC to this moment. He called on Southern Baptists to lament and prepare to change the denomination’s culture and implement reforms.

“I pray Southern Baptists will begin preparing today to take deliberate action to address these failures and chart a new course when we meet together in Anaheim,” Litton said.

Among the report’s key recommendations:

  • Form an independent commission and later establish a permanent administrative entity to oversee comprehensive long-term reforms concerning 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 including protocols, training, education, and practical information.
  • Restrict the use of nondisclosure agreements and civil settlements which bind survivors to confidentiality in sexual abuse matters, unless requested by the survivor.

The interim leaders of the Executive Committee, Willie McLaurin and Rolland Slade, welcomed the recommendations, and pledged an all-out effort to eliminate sex abuse within the SBC.

“We recognize there are no shortcuts,” they said. “We must all meet this challenge through prudent and prayerful application, and we must do so with Christ-like compassion.”

The sex abuse scandal was thrust into the spotlight 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 in ministry.

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