Monday, May 23, 2022

New report has shocking details about cover-ups of sex-abuse cases by leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention

Southern Baptist Convention leaders routinely ignored, pressured, and/or discredited people who said they had been sexually abused by pastors and other church staff since 2000, according to a third-party investigation released Sunday. "The report also names several senior SBC leaders who protected and even supported alleged abusers, including three past presidents of the convention, a former vice president and the former head of the SBC’s administrative arm," reports The Washington Post's Sarah Pulliam Bailey, who has chronicled the scandal in depth.

The nearly 300-page report, compiled by Guidepost Solutions at SBC's request, includes "shocking new details about specific abuse cases and shine a light on how denominational leaders for decades actively resisted calls for abuse prevention and reform. Evidence in the report suggests leaders also lied to Southern Baptists over whether they could maintain a database of offenders to prevent more abuse when top leaders were secretly keeping a private list for years," Bailey writes. "The report — the first investigation of its kind in a massive Protestant denomination like the SBC — is expected to send shock waves throughout a conservative Christian community that has had intense internal battles over how to handle sex abuse."

The investigation roiled SBC even before it was published. Leadership approved the investigation after an explosive 2019 Houston Chronicle investigation that detailed hundreds of sexual abuse reports. Many in the denomination's Executive Committee, including SBC President Ed Litton, supported waiving attorney-client privilege so investigators could have on-record conversations with leadership about what they knew. But the committee's acting CEO, Ronnie Floyd, resigned in October, saying that waiving attorney-client privilege would expose them to lawsuits that could bankrupt the SBC. 

"Sex-abuse survivors, many of whom have been sharing their stories for years, anticipated Sunday’s release would confirm the facts around many of the stories they have already shared, but many were still surprised to see the pattern of coverups by the highest levels of leadership," Bailey reports.

Executive Committee leaders "knew the scope of the problem. But, working closely with their lawyers, they maligned the people who wanted to do something about abuse and repeatedly rejected pleas for help and reform," Kate Shellnutt reports for Christianity Today.

Christianity Today's Russell Moore, who resigned last year as president of the SBC's public-policy office, had long called for more accountability amid what he described as a culture of ignoring and mishandling sex abuse claims. But what the investigation uncovered was even worse than what he had imagined, and throws into sharp relief a denomination with badly misplaced priorities, he writes: "Who cannot now see the rot in a culture that mobilizes to exile churches that call a woman on staff a 'pastor' or that invite a woman to speak from the pulpit on Mother’s Day, but dismisses rape and molestation as 'distractions' and efforts to address them as violations of cherished church autonomy? In sectors of today’s SBC, women wearing leggings is a social media crisis; dealing with rape in the church is a distraction."

One of the worst results of the investigation, Moore writes, is that it has made clear that SBC leadership took advantage of innocent supporters. Most of the people in the pews believed the Bible and wanted to support the leaders who did also. They didn’t know that some would use the truth of the Bible to prop up a lie about themselves," Moore writes. "We were told they wanted to conserve the old time religion. What they wanted was to conquer their enemies and to make stained-glass windows honoring themselves—no matter who was hurt along the way."

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