Aug 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

DOJ investigating Southern Baptist Convention over handling of sex abuse

Photo of a sign that says "End Abuse Now #MeToo" embedded in grass with people standing around
Protesters outside the Southern Baptist Convention on June 12, 2018, in Dallas. Photo: Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Justice Department is investigating the Southern Baptist Convention for its handling of sex abuse cases after an independent review found evidence of a cover-up among leaders.

Driving the news: The federal probe comes amid controversies about systemic problems of clergy sexual abuse, racism and the mistreatment of women. Survivors were "met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility," the SBC-commissioned review found.

  • Some senior SBC leaders had also "protected or even supported alleged abusers."

What they're saying: The SBC Executive Committee said Friday that it's been informed that the investigation will include "multiple SBC entities."

  • "Individually and collectively, each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation," SBC president Bart Barber and all SBC entity leaders said in a statement Friday.
  • "Our commitment to cooperate with the Department of Justice is born from our demonstrated commitment to transparently address the scourge of sexual abuse."
  • "While we continue to grieve and lament past mistakes related to sexual abuse, current leaders across the SBC have demonstrated a firm conviction to address those issues of the past and are implementing measures to ensure they are never repeated in the future," the statement added.
  • The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The big picture: The Southern Baptist Convention passed two reforms to address sexual abuse at its annual convention in June. The reforms would establish an abuse implementation task force and create a process for tracking credible accusations against ministers and pastors.

  • In May, the SBC published a list of hundreds of clergy and other church staff who were found to be "credibly accused" of sexual abuse.
  • SBC clergy abuse allegations originally came to light in a joint 2019 investigative report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.
  • Membership of the country's largest Protestant denomination is at the lowest it's been for some 40 years.
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