Updated May 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Southern Baptist report finds evidence of sexual abuse cover-up

This Feb. 12, 2019 photo shows a Houston Chronicle story on alleged abuse in Southern Baptist churches.
This Feb. 12, 2019 photo shows a front page Houston Chronicle story on alleged abuse in Southern Baptist churches. Photo: Loren Elliott/AFP via Getty Images

Southern Baptist Convention leaders mishandled sexual abuse claims and survivors were "met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility" from some within the SBC's Executive Committee, according to a new report.

State of play: The report comes ahead of the SBC's annual gathering in June with membership of the country's largest Protestant denomination at the lowest it's been for some 40 years amid controversies about systemic problems of clergy sexual abuse, racism and the treatment of women, per the New York Times.

Driving the news: The report, published Sunday following a seven-month investigation by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted by the EC, covers allegations of abuse at the SBC from the year 2000 to the present.

  • Divisions in the evangelical Christian denomination emerged after the clergy abuse allegations came to the fore in a joint 2019 investigative report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.

What they found: "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," according to the report.

  • "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," the report continues.
"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."
— SBC report excerpt

The bottom line: "While stories of abuse were minimized, and survivors were ignored or even vilified, revelations came to light in recent years that some senior SBC leaders had protected or even supported alleged abusers," per the report.

What they're saying: SBC president Ed Litton said in a statement he's "grieved to my core" for the victims and prayed "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," AP reports.

  • Willie McLaurin and Rolland Slade, interim leaders of the Executive Committee, said they welcomed the report's recommendations and "recognize there are no shortcuts," according to AP.

Zoom in: Among the report's key recommendations are that the SBC:

  • Forms an independent commission and later establishes a permanent administrative entity to oversee comprehensive long-term reforms concerning sexual abuse and related misconduct within the SBC;
  • Creates and maintains an information system to alert the community to known offenders;
  • Provides a comprehensive resource toolbox to include protocols, training, education, and practical information;
  • Restricts the use of nondisclosure agreements and civil settlements that bind survivors to confidentiality in sexual abuse matters, unless requested by the survivor.

What's next: The Executive Committee will meet on Tuesday to discuss the report.

Read the report in full, obtained by the Houston Chronicle, via DocumentCloud:

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