Tennessee (United States): Leaders of the world’s largest Baptist denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), for decades covered up sex abuse by clergy and vilified survivors, an internal report revealed.
The eight-month-long investigation has come up with a nearly 300-page report that included confidential emails and memos between longtime lawyers for the 13-million member denomination and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The investigation found that survivors had come forward over two decades about abusers within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). But their pleas for intervention were met with “resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility” by officials.
The investigation was carried out for the SBC by a third party. The report issued on Sunday names several senior leaders on the church’s executive committee. The investigation found that these officials “protected or even supported alleged abusers”.
The report also contained many recommendations, including creating an independent commission that would oversee reforms in the handling of sexual misconduct, and restricting the use of non-disclosure agreements and civil settlements by the accused.
In a statement on Sunday, SBC President Ed Litton called on Southern Baptists to lament in prayer and prepare to implement reforms, adding he was “grieved to my core” for victims. The SBC executive committee will hold a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the report.
1. Top leaders buried sex abuse complaints and lied about what they could do:
The report details multiple instances when Southern Baptist leaders shot down requests by survivors and other concerned members to maintain a database of abusers. The leaders said they couldn’t because of “church polity,” or the denomination’s decentralized structure. But the report found that their attorneys had advised them that they could keep such a list and that the leaders did so in secret. According to the report, “there is no indication leaders took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches.”
Debbie Vasquez, a survivor who was raped by her pastor when she was a minor, said she couldn’t sleep Sunday night after the report came out.
“To some people, this is an eye-opener. Survivors knew,” said Vasquez. “We’ve been at it for over a decade. We already knew they were covering this up. I have yet to come across a leader who was willing to do something about it.”
2. Former SBC president Johnny Hunt was considered “credibly accused” of sexual assault
Former SBC president Johnny Hunt was considered “credibly accused” of sexually assaulting a woman in 2010. After the report was published, Hunt denied the accusation in a tweet. A spokesman for NAMB did not respond to questions over what NAMB leaders knew about the woman’s accusations and whether Hunt was provided severance in his resignation.
3. Leaders ignored warnings for decades:
The report also detailed a series of instances when leaders ignored warnings by sex abuse survivors and advocates. The report includes emails between leaders and employees of the SBC’s Executive Committee in which members of the survivor community were ignored or “shunned, shamed, and vilified.”
4. Leaders preferred avoiding lawsuits over preventing sexual abuse:
According to the report, “it is striking that many reform efforts were met with resistance, typically due to concerns over incurring legal liability.” For example, based on outside counsel, leaders recommended removing the word “crisis” when referring to sex abuse.