According to a scathing 288-page investigative report released Sunday, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, have blocked and denigrated survivors of clergy sex abuse for nearly two decades while seeking to protect their own reputation.
These survivors, and other concerned Southern Baptists, have repeatedly shared allegations with the SBC Executive Committee, “only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, obstruction and even hostility. outright from some EC members,” the report said.
The seven-month-long investigation was carried out by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm hired by the Executive Committee after delegates at last year’s national meeting pushed for an independent investigation.
“Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC officials, as well as outside attorneys, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse…and focused particularly on accountability of the SBC,” the report said.
“In service of this goal, survivors and others who have reported abuse have been ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action because of its self-reliance regime. church – even if it meant the convicted abusers continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” the report adds.
SBC President Ed Litton in a statement Sunday said he was “grieved in my heart” for the victims and thanked God for their work propelling the SBC forward at this time. He called on Southern Baptists to mourn and prepare to change the culture of the denomination and implement reforms.
“I pray that Southern Baptists will begin to prepare today to take deliberate action to address these failures and chart a new course when we meet in Anaheim,” Litton said.
Among the main recommendations of the report:
— Form an independent commission and later establish a permanent administrative entity to oversee long-term comprehensive reforms regarding sexual abuse and related misconduct within the SBC.
—Create and maintain an offender information system to alert the community of known offenders.
— Provide a comprehensive resource toolkit including protocols, training, education, and how-to information.
—Restrict the use of non-disclosure agreements and civil settlements that bind victims to confidentiality in sexual abuse cases, unless requested by the victim.
The sexual abuse scandal was brought into the spotlight in 2019 by a landmark report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News documenting hundreds of cases in Southern Baptist churches, including several in which the alleged perpetrators remained in ministry.
Last year, thousands of delegates to the SBC national rally sent the message that they did not want the Executive Committee overseeing an investigation into its own actions. Instead, they voted overwhelmingly to create the task force to oversee the third-party review. SBC President Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, nominated the panel.
Executive Committee members were given a week to review the report before it was made public on Sunday afternoon. The task force’s recommendations based on Guidepost’s findings will be presented at the SBC’s annual meeting in Anaheim on June 14-15.
In February, the executive committee issued a public apology and confidential financial settlement to sexual abuse survivor Jennifer Lyell, who was misrepresented by the denomination’s internal reporting service when she decided to go public with her story. in March 2019.
Lyell publicly came out as a survivor of sexual abuse after learning that the man she accused of abuse, a former Southern Baptist seminary teacher, had recently returned to the ministry. She said she told her story to prevent the man from engaging in further acts of violence.