Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant group in the United States, harassed and denigrated survivors of clergy sexual abuse for nearly two decades to protect their reputations, according to a compelling 288-page investigation published on Sunday.
Sexual abuse at Southern Baptist
These survivors, as well as other Baptists, repeatedly brought accusations before the SBC Executive Committee, “but were met, time and time again, with resistance, obstruction, and even outright hostility from some within the Committee. Executive,” the report says.
“In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported the abuse were either ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that CBS could not take any action because of its policy regarding church autonomy, even if it meant that convicted abusers continued in ministry without disciplinary action or warnings to their current church or congregation,” the report added.
10 Big points
- The sexual abuse scandal came into the spotlight in 2019 following a landmark report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News that documented hundreds of cases at Southern Baptist churches, including several in which the alleged perpetrators remained in the ministry.
- Thousands of delegates at the CBS national meeting sent the message that they did not want the Executive Committee to oversee an investigation into their own actions
- In February, the Executive Committee offered a public apology and a confidential monetary settlement to sexual assault survivor Jennifer Lyell, who was convicted by the group’s internal news service when she decided to go public with her story in March 2019.
- Lyell publicly revealed that she was a survivor of sexual abuse after learning that the man she accused of abuse, a former Southern Baptist seminary professor, had recently returned to ministry. She said that she came forward with her story to prevent the man from committing further abusive acts.
- The seven-month investigation was carried out by the independent firm Guidepost Solutions, which was hired by the Executive Committee after delegates to last year’s national meeting pushed for an independent investigation.
- “The investigation revealed that, for many years, a number of senior Executive Committee leaders, along with outside counsel, largely controlled the Committee’s response to these reports of abuse…and were singularly focused on avoiding Convention accountability,” the report says.
- Guidepost researchers, who spoke to survivors of different ages, including children, said survivors were similarly traumatized by how churches responded to their reports of sexual abuse.
- He cited the case of Dave Pittman, who from 2006 to 2011 made phone calls and sent letters and emails to the SBC and the Board of the Georgia Baptist Convention reporting that he had been abused by Frankie Wiley, a young pastor from the Rehoboth Baptist Church when he was 12 to 15 year old.
- Brown, who has been one of the most outspoken survivors, told investigators that over the past 15 years she has received “volumes of hate emails, horrible blog comments and vitriolic phone calls.”
- The most recent list includes the names of hundreds of abusers believed to be affiliated with the SBC at some point. Survivors and advocates have long called for a public database of abusers.
Key recommendations of report:
- Create an independent commission and then establish a permanent administrative entity to oversee long-term, comprehensive reforms related to sexual abuse and related misconduct within CBS.
- Create and maintain an offender information system to alert the community to known offenders.
- Provide a comprehensive toolkit with resources including protocols, training, education and practical information.
- Restrict the use of non-disclosure agreements and civil agreements, which bind survivors to confidentiality in cases of sexual abuse, unless requested by the survivor.