300-page independent report highlights shocking new details about specific abuse cases, vilification of victims, secret predator databases, and reveals how denominational leaders worked for decades to actively resist calls for abuse prevention and reform
As reported by the Washington Post, a new independent investigation has revealed not only decades of sexual abuse with the Southern Baptist Convention of Churches (described as a “massive” group of Protestant-denomination religious institutions throughout the Southeastern U.S.), but an equally long-lived program of cover-ups, deflection, minimization, and outright vilification of sex abuse victims by top clergy all in an ongoing attempt to hide the crimes and conceal the ruination of congregant lives. The report found that sexual abuse survivors within the churches were ignored and disregarded, even as denominational leaders actively resisted calls for abuse preservation and reform. “Evidence in the report,” the Post notes, “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.”
With 13 million members, the Southern Baptist church league has long resisted comparisons of its own sexual abuse crisis with that of the Catholic Church, claiming that the number of abuse victims was “small.”
The investigation finds that for almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists have been contacting the Southern Baptist Convention’s administrative arm to report alleged child molesters and other accused abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff members.
The article notes that it is unclear if any abusers were even criminally charged. The source report states that the calls and emails of sexual abuse survivors were “met time and time again with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility” by church leaders “more with protecting the institution from liability than from protecting Southern Baptists from further abuse.”
The report goes on to note that, “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.” The litany of abuses was in no way limited to the local or community levels; one major Southern Baptist leader was credibly accused of sexually assaulting a woman within one month of completing his two-year service as President of the Southern Baptist Convention itself.
The Post goes on to report, “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.”
“I knew it was rotten, but it’s astonishing and infuriating,” said Jennifer Lyell, a survivor who was once the highest-paid female executive at the SBC and whose story of sexual abuse at a Southern Baptist seminary is detailed in the report. “This is a denomination that is through and through about power. It is misappropriated power. It does not in any way reflect the Jesus I see in the scriptures. I am so gutted.”
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.
“They’ve made their own faith into a complicit partner for their own decision to choose institutional protection over the protection of kids and congregants.”
For decades, the report shows, Southern Baptists were told the denomination could not put together a registry of sex offenders because it would go against the denomination’s most basic level of functioning. But what the report reveals is that SBC leaders maintained their own internal list of sex offenders while keeping the information secret to avoid the possibility of getting sued. The report also includes private emails showing how longtime leaders were completely dismissive about concerns over rampant sexual abuse within congregations, calling them “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”
Christa Brown, an SBC abuse survivor who has spent the past two decades fighting for reform, told church leaders that she was abused by a youth pastor who went on to serve in other Southern Baptist churches in multiple states, has long advocated a churchwide database and was met with hostility. When she actually met with SBC leaders in 2007, a member of the Executive Committee “turned his back to her during her speech, and another chortled.”
“The Executive Committee betrayed not only survivors who worked hard to try to make something happen, but betrayed the whole Southern Baptist Convention,” said Brown, who is a retired appellate attorney in the Western U.S. “They’ve made their own faith into a complicit partner for their own decision to choose institutional protection over the protection of kids and congregants.”
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