Southern Baptist Convention leaders mishandled sexual abuse allegations, report says

“Survivors and others who reported abuse were either ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC couldn’t take any action,” the report found, “even if it meant convicted abusers continued in ministry.” without notice or warning to their current church or congregation.

According to the investigation report by Guidepost Solutions, abuse survivors and others within the Southern Baptist community contacted the SBC Executive Committee (EC) to inform them of child sexual abuse and other forms of abuse committed by persons employed by the church. as well as those who were in the pulpit, but were met with inaction.

In a statement, the SBC said in part: “To members of the survivor community, we are saddened by the findings of this investigation. We are committed to doing everything possible to prevent future cases of sexual abuse in churches, to improve our our response and our attention, to remove barriers to reporting.

The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, with an estimated 14 million members in more than 47,000 Baptist churches. Last year, its members voted at the organization’s convention in Nashville to approve a task force to oversee an independent investigation into allegations and stories of abuse that had surfaced in the media.

The investigative firm reviewed documents and interviewed current and former EC staff, trustees, witnesses and survivors of sexual abuse. In total, approximately 330 people were interviewed, the report noted. The investigation focused on the period between January 1, 2000 and June 14, 2021. This is what it found.

Report: Top Priority Was Avoiding Liability

The report sets out a timeline of the SBC Executive Committee’s response to sexual abuse issues from 2000 to 2021.

The EC is governed by 86 trustees who serve limited terms. During the SBC’s own internal investigation, decisions regarding sexual abuse were “largely left to the discretion” of the chairman of the executive committee and chief executive officer, as well as their closest advisers on staff, with “matters high-level” brought to the chairman of the SBC, according to the report. He said that the trustees were not informed or involved in the decision-making process.

As a result, the report says, the SBC’s response to allegations of sexual abuse over the course of two decades was largely driven “by a small group of staff” as well as its outside lawyers.

“Claims of abuse were often mishandled in a way that involved the mistreatment of survivors,” the report said, adding that SBC staff and law firm’s primary concern “was to avoid any potential liability for SBC.” .

The report highlighted that a list beginning in 2007 was maintained by an EC staff member who had been documenting reports of abuse for more than a decade; however, there was no indication that EC staff “took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power in the SBC churches”.

The most recent list the staff member prepared “contained the names of 703 abusers, with 409 believed to have been affiliated with SBC at some point,” according to the report. As part of their review, the Guidepost Solutions research team found that nine individuals accused of abuse remain in active ministry or are connected to active ministry, two of whom appear to be associated with an SBC church.

Numerous accounts included in the timeline indicate that some within the EC leadership attempted to downplay or ignore the allegations in order to protect SBC’s reputation and “avoid the risk of legal liability for sexual abuse” in their churches.

Victims who attempted to shed light on the issues were deemed “opportunists,” or had a “hidden agenda of lawsuits” or “acted like a ‘professional victim,'” the report continues.

The organization’s communications arm, Baptist Press, also helped prevent accusers from appearing in an “unflattering light and mischaracterizing allegations of abuse,” according to the report.

One of the top leaders named in the investigation was former SBC president Johnny Hunt, who was sued by an SBC pastor and his wife for sexually assaulting her on July 25, 2010, according to the report.

Hunt responded to the report complaint on Twitter saying in part: “To put it bluntly: I strongly deny the circumstances and characterizations set forth in the Guidepost report. I have never abused anyone.”

The report says investigators found the sexual assault allegation credible, in part because it was corroborated by witnesses. CNN has reached out to Hunt for further comment.

The timeline of events shows, the report says, how “the dismissive attitude towards survivors by some EC members continued into 2021.”

The changes will require a “significant amount of work”

Guidepost Solutions proposed recommendations to improve how SBC responds to allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct.

“Some recommendations will require a significant amount of work, while other elements recognize the need for education and cultural change. A comprehensive implementation of these recommendations should help create safe spaces for children and all members of the Convention,” the report says. .

Recommendations include:

  • Create and maintain an “Offender Information System” database to alert communities to known criminals.
  • Establish an independent commission and, subsequently, a permanent administrative entity to oversee comprehensive reforms.
  • Provide a “Resource Toolbox” that includes protocols, training, education and practical information.
  • Restrict the use of confidentiality agreements and civil agreements that require confidentiality.
  • Acknowledging those affected through a sincere apology and a tangible gesture, accompanied by dedicated support for the defense of survivors and a compensation fund.

The SBC EC will meet on Tuesday to discuss the report.

“We have asked the members and staff of the SBC Executive Committee to closely examine the findings and recommendations of this report and begin to formulate how they might be incorporated into the policy and structure of the Southern Baptist Convention,” the statement said. of the SBC.

The 2022 SBC Annual Meeting will be held next month in Anaheim, California.

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