… 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 (structure) regarding church autonomy …Findings of a nearly 300-page report chronicling how leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have consistently hid reports of abuse and avoided liability.
Why It Matters: With 13.7 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention is “America’s largest protestant denomination” (AP) and is “the nation’s most powerful and influential evangelical denomination” (Atlantic). After years of allegations, this report highlights abuse within the Christian denomination and provides recommendations for moving forward — such as creating a database to make abusers known publicly.
- Background: In 2019, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News reported on hundreds of cases of sexual abuse within Southern Baptist churches — several in which accused predators remained in ministry.
- Southern Baptist delegates at last year’s national meeting called for an independent review of how the convention has dealt with abuse accusations. An outside, independent firm, hired by the Executive Committee, conducted a seven-month investigation.
- Amongst the findings: There is no indication that leaders “took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches.” Top leaders, some of which were themselves accused of abuse, knew about sex abuse claims and claimed they were not able to intervene. However, they kept a private list on file of alleged abusers; 409 of the 703 people of the list are believed to be SBC affiliated at some point. The report found that leaders were motivated to remain silent in order to refrain from potential lawsuits.
- The SCB’s response: Prior to the report being released, several top Executive Committee leaders resigned and the convention is under interim leadership. The delegates are meeting today to discuss the report. The SBC will meet for its 2022 national meeting in California in three weeks; they will discuss the report during the meeting.
- Ed Litton, president of the SBC and the pastor of a church in Alabama, said, “people feared but did not really expect the report to be as full as it is.” He added that he is dealing with the report by “evaluating the culture that needs to change in the SBC. I’m only optimistic at this level. I believe this convention of churches has the capacity to change its culture.”
Report: Top Southern Baptists stonewalled sex abuse victims (Associated Press)
Key takeaways from the bombshell sex abuse report by Southern Baptists (Washington Post)
by Jenna Lee,