Top leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention mishandled sexual abuse claims, while ignoring — or even vilifying — victims to protect abusers, an explosive new report released Sunday has found.
The report is the conclusion of a seven-month investigation by Guidepost Solutions, an independent company that was contracted by SBC’s executive committee. It was released just a few weeks before SBC’s annual gathering, which will be held in Anaheim, California, from June 12 to 15.
According to the 288-page report, victims of abuse tried contacting the executive committee for nearly two decades to report child molesters and other instances of abuse involving individuals who were “in the pulpit or employed as church staff.”
Survivors tried to have their voices heard by making phone calls, sending letters and emails, contacting the press, organizing rallies and even appearing at meetings held by church leaders — “only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the (executive committee).”
The investigation found that “for many years” top leaders within the executive committee, along with outside counsel, controlled the group’s response to abuse allegations, by refusing to share information with the committee’s trustees.
As a result, people who reported abuse — including victims — “were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy — even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.”
“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,” according to the report.
In a statement released late on Sunday, SBC President Ed Litton said that he was “grieved to the core” for the victims.
He added that amid his “grief, anger, and disappointment over the grave sin and failures” brought to light by the report, he believes that the denomination “must resolve to change our culture and implement desperately needed reforms.”
“I pray Southern Baptists will begin preparing today to take deliberate action to address these failures and chart a new course when we meet together in Anaheim,” he said.
The nation’s largest protestant denomination has been rocked by reports of hundreds of sexual abuse cases, which were uncovered in 2019 by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. Since then, several leaders have resigned over the handling of abuse cases.
The executive committee, currently under interim leadership, will meet Tuesday to discuss the report.
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