Chris Lange, FISM News
An investigative report probing hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention found that victims were stonewalled while their alleged perpetrators were allowed to remain in positions of leadership within America’s largest Protestant denomination.
The scathing 288-page report published by Guidepost Solutions stated that sexual abuse victims who came forward were met with “resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility” from some church clergymen who sought only to protect the SBC from potential fallout over the explosive allegations without regard for the victims.
“Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC [Executive Committee] leaders, along with outside counsel, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse … and were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC,” the report said.
The findings also conclude that perpetrators of sexual assault were given “autonomy” and even allowed to remain in ministry in the face of the bombshell accusations.
“In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse 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,” Guidepost found.
The investigation was initiated following SBC’s national meeting last year when outsiders demanded that its executive committee take action concerning abuse allegations spanning two decades. In response, SBC President Ed Litton created a Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF) to cooperate with the investigation following multiple delays by the SBC.
According to a Houston Chronicle report, Guidepost Solutions conducted 330 interviews and combed through over two decades of SBC internal filings before producing its report. The independent review also revealed that SBC leadership had compiled an internal list of 703 offenders, including former SBC president Johnny Hunt.
“As the task force, we grieve for what has been revealed in this report,” the SATF wrote in a statement following the release of the Guidepost findings. “We lament on behalf of survivors for how they have not been protected and cared for as they deserve and as God demands. With broken hearts, we want to lead the way by publicly repenting for what has happened in our convention,” the statement continued.
The SATF also urged the church to “respond to this report with deep repentance and a commitment to the ongoing moral demands of the gospel as it relates to sexual abuse.”
The task force, which SBC president Ed Litton had asked to make recommendations based on the findings, urged Southern Baptists to dedicate time and resources to care for the victims and “to provide a culture of accountability, transparency, and safety as we move forward.”
Litton said that words could not adequately convey his “sorrow” over the Guidepost findings in a statement to the Baptist Press.
“I am grieved to my core for those who have suffered sexual abuse in Southern Baptist contexts, both for those named in this report and the many who are not. I thank God for the courage and persistence of the survivors and advocates who brought the Southern Baptist Convention to this moment.”
Litton also echoed the SATF’s call for transparency and reforms within the church in light of the report and called on messengers to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting to be prepared to respond swiftly and decisively to the findings.
“Amid my grief, anger, and disappointment over the grave sin and failures this report lays bare, I earnestly believe that Southern Baptists must resolve to change our culture and implement desperately needed reforms,” Litton continued.
“The time is now. We have so much to lament, but genuine grief requires a godly response. 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.”