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Q&A: Talking about the Southern Baptist sex abuse scandal with Pastor P.J. Tibayan

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

LOS ANGELES — More than 8,000 Southern Baptists will descend on Anaheim next week for the annual meeting of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States — the first time in 41 years that the two-day meeting has been held in California.

The gathering comes just weeks after the release of an explosive 288-page report commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention that found allegations of sexual abuse were ignored or covered up for nearly 20 years by senior members of the SBC's executive committee.

In painstaking detail, the third-party investigators at Guidepost Solutions describe how leaders minimized or disregarded survivors' reports of abuse, appeared more concerned with protecting abusers than victims, denigrated survivors as "opportunists" or worse, and made avoiding any risk of legal liability for the SBC the top priority.

"The survivors with whom we spoke perceived the totality of these actions as a pattern of intimidation," the authors wrote. "Moreover, this poor treatment likely had a chilling effect on other survivors coming forward to report abuse."

The report was commissioned by the SBC executive committee at the 2021 meeting with the support of an overwhelming majority of delegates from Southern Baptist churches, known as "messengers." It was spurred in part by a 2019 investigation by the Houston Chronicle that found more than 700 survivors of abuse perpetrated by hundreds of pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, youth pastors and others associated with Southern Baptist churches.

Time has been set aside at the 2022 meeting to discuss the report and next steps, and messengers will vote on whether to adopt some of the authors' recommendations. These include establishing a new task force to implement sexual abuse initiatives, and the creation of a "Ministry Check" website that would list credibly accused offenders associated with SBC churches to prevent abusers from easily moving from church to church.

 

To understand how individual pastors are processing the report ahead of the annual meeting on June 14 and 15, the L.A. Times reached out to P.J. Tibayan, 42, lead pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in Bellflower. Tibayan has worked as a pastor since 2002, and as a Southern Baptist pastor since 2008. He started at his current church in 2014.

Tibayan, who has one son and four daughters, asked that his wife Frances Tibayan sit by his side for the interview. She's a survivor of sexual abuse and has spoken about it publicly.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Were you surprised by what was revealed in the Guidepost report?

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