A bombshell has been dropped.
A rather large report about rampant sexual abuse and coverup by Southern Baptists was published on May 22, 2022. It is a familiar story, victims were stonewalled and denigrated, while the guilty were protected.
My first initial thought was to wonder if the creators of the report had any conflict of interest.
Apparently not, an SBC Task Force engaged an independent firm, Guidepost Solutions to conduct an investigation and then create the report.
That investigation ran for a seven month period and so it has now been published.
Let’s jump in.
The first thing to strike you is the vast size of this report, it runs to 288 pages. That alone should flag up the sheer size of the issue. The next bombshell to smack you are the opening paragraphs. They really nail the issue by pointing out that this is not simply a saga about a few bad apples, but instead is a story about rampant and persistent corruption at the very top of the SBC over multiple decades …
For almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists have been contacting the Southern Baptist Convention (“SBC”) Executive Committee (“EC”) to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff. They made phone calls, mailed letters, sent emails, appeared at SBC and EC meetings, held rallies, and contacted the press…only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC.
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. They closely guarded information about abuse allegations and lawsuits, which were not shared with EC Trustees, and were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations. 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 goes on the explain how things became so bad that SBC were forced to set up Task Force to oversee an independent investigation.
288 Pages is just too long for you to read – what is a summary of it all?
SBC President Johnny Hunt is himself credibly accused of Sexual Abuse
The authors of the report found that the pastor and his wife who accused Hunt were credible and verified it via another minister and three other witnesses. They also found that Hunt’s statements regarding it all to be a pack of lies.
Credible Allegations were Mishandled and Victims were mistreated
The response to allegations were mainly driven by the SBC Executive Committee. The primary focus was to simply cover it all up. Those reporting abuse were ignored. Staff were explicitly directed to take no action and to not investigate.
The very existence of reports of abuse were also denied.
Since 2007 they also maintained a list of accused ministers, but they took no action to ensure any of those named should be removed from the ministry. The report notes that nine of those accused still remain in active ministry at the time the report was written.
There exists a Pattern of Intimidation of Victims or their Advocates
Instead of dealing with the sexual abusers, the Executive Committee leadership instead spent their time denigrating the victims and anybody else who dared to speak out. They were labelled as “opportunistic” and had a “hidden agenda” because they “wanted to burn things to the ground”.
The very existence of credible accusations was described by Mr Boto, the SBC President, as “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism“.
Hey, guess what would have completely thwarted this “satanic scheme”?
Actually addressing the issue.
Baptist Press was also used to attack accusers, falsely labelled them as bitter, jealous, adulterers and naming them.
Baptist Press Articles exposing the abuse and corruption were censored.
Senior SBC Leaders protected and supported Abusers
On page 7 they list some very senior figures by name, former SBC Presidents and Vice Presidents and detail how each specifically covered up abuse and protected the abusers, not even reporting them to police. Some of those accused then went on to abuse others, for example …
Former SBC President Jack Graham, when he was pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church, allegedly allowed an accused abuser of young boys to be dismissed quietly in 1989 without reporting the abuse to police. The accused abuser, John Langworthy, later was charged with abusing young boys in Mississippi in 2011;
Rejection of Sexual Abuse Reform Initiative over past 20 years
There have been many effort to reform things, but the SBC Executive Committee has steadfastly resisted because they feared the legal liability they would face as a consequence. The full details of it all can be found within Part V of the report.
How did this Report come about?
It its present form it almost did not.
True independence was needed because the SBC Executive Committee had a huge conflict of interest. In June 2021 at the SBC convention a few wise heads put a motion to the floor that a separate task force should direct third-party investigations and that was overwhelmingly approved.
There was some delay and a bit of a fuss concerning the waving of attorney client privilege, but by Oct 2021 they finally got that sorted. Waving attorney client privilege enabled the independent investigator to perform a far more comprehensive investigation.
The key principle for them was independence. The Executive Committee had no control and so could not censor any direct criticism of their actions over the last twenty years.
What paved the way for it all was a story published in 2019 by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. I remember it well. It documented hundreds of cases in Southern Baptist churches, including several in which alleged perpetrators remained in ministry.
They have done a fine job holding SBC feet to the fire. Without journalism like that it would to this day still be buried and kept secret.
The key point of the report is not just to document the abuse and also the associated coverup, but to also document the meaningful change that needs to be made. The report has a lot of recommendations, all very obvious stuff …
- Greatly enhanced background checks
- Restrict the use of nondisclosure agreements with survivors unless they specifically request it
- Create an Independent Commission to investigate all sexual abuse
- Provide a comprehensive Resource Toolbox including protocols, training, education, and practical information
… and much more.
Who are the Abusers and what did they do?
One revelation via the report was the existence of a list of known sexual abusers that SBC had been maintaining.
Not only had this previously been kept secret, but when asked, there had been denials that such a list existed. Via the report it soon became clear that the list was real and so the publication of the report created pressure for the list to also be published.
That happened on 28th May, and so here it is.
Names, dates, what they did, links to news articles, where the church was, everything.
There is some truly obnoxious and quite vile stuff in there. It is not about consenting adults, but kids.
How was this Abuse possible?
I’m not religious, so I have no skin in this game. That frees me up to make the rather obvious observation.
The essence of their Christian claim is that you can invite Jesus into your heart and so have the Holy Spirit in your life.
Where was Jesus, and what was the Holy Spirit doing, when all of this abuse was happening. Did Jesus take that day off, had the Holy Spirit decided to turn a blind eye to it all?
This is not just about a few rogues, it goes to the very top. Johnny Hunt, a past SBC president, and also senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board, is revealed to be a sexual abuser. He has admitted that what he was accused of is true, but when the report was published, issued a statement denying it once again.
Remember, beyond the abusers there are many who claim that God guides them and speaks to them. So why has God been silent on this topic and not told them about it?
My point is the obvious one. I don’t believe the Christian claims to be true due to a complete lack of any credible evidence. The lives and the truly obnoxious behaviour of those that do promote the Christian claim speaks volumes and sends a very clear message.
Yes, I’m biased, so perhaps my thoughts should not be the way to finish this article.
Christianity Today: This Is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse – May 22
Russell Moore once headed SBCs public policy wing, but left the denomination due to some profound concerns he had regarding what was happening.
He writes the following opening paragraphs within Christianity Today as a former insider …
Someone asked me a few weeks ago what I expected from the third-party investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. I said I didn’t expect to be surprised at all. How could I be? I lived through years with that entity. I was the one who called for such an investigation in the first place.
And yet, as I read the report, I found that I could not swipe the screen to the next page because my hands were shaking with rage. That’s because, as dark a view as I had of the SBC Executive Committee, the investigation uncovers a reality far more evil and systemic than I imagined it could be.
The conclusions of the report are so massive as to almost defy summation. It corroborates and details charges of deception, stonewalling, and intimidation of victims and those calling for reform. It includes written conversations among top Executive Committee staff and their lawyers that display the sort of inhumanity one could hardly have scripted for villains in a television crime drama. It documents callous cover-ups by some SBC leaders and credible allegations of sexually predatory behavior by some leaders themselves, including former SBC president Johnny Hunt (who was one of the only figures in SBC life who seemed to be respected across all of the typical divides).
This is going to have a huge impact upon their membership. Given what has been happening for decades, that can only be a good thing.
SBC Membership Statistics
I’ll just leave this here …