Southern Baptist leaders mishandled sex abuse crisis, report says

National leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have suppressed reports of sexual abuse and resisted reform proposals for two decades, according to an independent investigation released by the convention on Sunday. The report also says a former president of the denomination was charged with sexually assaulting a woman in 2010, a charge the report called “credible.”

Allegations of sexual abuse and the church’s handling of them have rocked convention for years. After mounting pressure from survivors of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist circles, delegates to the denomination’s annual meeting last summer voted overwhelmingly to commission the report and demanded that its executive committee of 86 members hands over confidential documents in cooperation. The report covers reports of abuse of women and children against male pastors, church workers and government officials from the year 2000 to the present day.

The ruling in the Baptist denomination comes after the larger, long-running sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, which has affected thousands of victims and bankrupt dioceses and is still being worked out by the courts and colonies.

The largest Protestant denomination in the country, the convention has long stressed that its decentralized structure meant it had little ability to force churches to take action, as legally each church stood alone and did not report to higher authorities. But the report alleged that a handful of powerful leaders had the ability to block reports of abuse and attempts at accountability and reform.

He also found a tendency to intimidate sexual assault survivors and their advocates, and said they were “disparaged as ‘opportunists’.”

In an internal email, August Boto, a senior member of the executive committee, described the attorneys’ efforts as a “satanic plan to completely distract us from evangelism,” referencing the work of survivor Christa Brown and of attorney Rachael Denhollander, who has worked with the denomination, as “the temporarily successful devil”. Mr. Boto could not immediately be reached for comment.

The report, which was produced by Guidepost Solutions, said that over the past two decades, “many reform efforts have met with resistance, usually due to fears of incurring legal liability.” The Times has not independently verified the contents of the report.

He revealed that an executive committee staff member working for Mr Boto had, for more than 10 years, maintained a detailed list of ministers accused of abuse. But no one “took steps to ensure that the accused ministers no longer held positions of power in SBC churches,” the report said. “The most recent list prepared by the EC staff member contained the names of 703 attackers, 409 of whom are believed to be affiliated with SBC at any given time.”

He said leaders including Ronnie Floyd, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention who resigned as head of the executive committee in October, resisted the creation of a task force to investigate the executive committee. Mr. Floyd did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The report described revelations in recent years that senior leaders had “protected or even supported aggressors”. The leaders included three former presidents of the denomination, Steve Gaines, Jack Graham and Paige Patterson, as well as a former vice president and Mr. Boto, former acting chairman of the executive committee and general counsel.

During Guidepost’s investigation, according to the report, a pastor and his wife came forward to allege that Johnny Hunt, who was president of the denomination from 2008 to 2010, sexually assaulted the woman shortly after the end of his presidency. The report describes the pastor and his wife as “credible” and says parts of their story were corroborated by four other credible witnesses.

Mr. Hunt denied the charges to Guidepost, but he resigned from the denomination’s North American Mission Board this month. Mr. Hunt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When the denomination’s public policy arm, the Commission on Ethics and Religious Liberty, compiled a report on sexual abuse, executive committee leaders and outside attorneys “suggested changes to the report to avoid accountability. potential, including the removal of the word ‘crisis’ when referring to sexual abuse,” the report said.

A 2007 proposal to track accused sex offenders was rejected in 2008 on the grounds that it interfered with each church’s autonomy, the report said, even though an outside lawyer had suggested it could be done within the structure. denominational.

The report comes weeks before the convention’s annual meeting and is likely to send shockwaves through its nearly 14 million members.

“This report is horrible. The number of lives decimated by those who claim to follow Jesus is almost beyond comprehension,” said Boz Tchividjian, a lawyer who represents victims of abuse across the country. “Maybe it’s time the SBC no longer exists.”

Executive committee leaders said in a statement they would hold a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the report.

“To members of the survivor community, we are saddened by the findings of this investigation,” Rolland Slade, the group’s president, and Willie McLaurin, the group’s acting president, said in the statement. “This is the start of a season of listening, lamenting and learning about the fight against sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

The report recommended actions for future reforms. These measures included the creation of an offender information system “to alert the community to known offenders” which could be made available to churches on a “voluntary basis”, and the creation of a abuse prevention self-certification for churches and other Baptist churches. entities, which would also be voluntary.

The report also recommended that Southern Baptists eventually create a new administrative group that would oversee “long-term comprehensive reforms regarding sexual abuse and related misconduct,” and that church entities should restrict the use of nondisclosure agreements. and civil regulations that require confidentiality unless requested. by the survivor. He also suggested that the committee that currently deals with allegations of abuse improve its procedures to become more transparent.

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