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Southern Baptist Convention leaders ‘hid abuse for decades’

10 June 2022

Southern Baptist Convention

LEADERS of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, routinely covered up decades of sexual abuse by pastors; and survivors who came forward were disparaged, an independent inquiry has revealed.

Abuse survivors have been reporting abusers, “only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility”.

Leaders in the Convention’s executive committee were focused solely on avoiding any liability for the Convention, “even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation”, the inquiry revealed.

The independent Guidepost Solutions inquiry was commissioned last year only when pressure was such that delegates to the Convention voted overwhelmingly for an investigation of the responseto allegations of abuse dating back two decades.

Hundreds of cases involving pastors, deacons, and youth pastors had been highlighted in a 2019 investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News.

The SBC says that it has more than 13 million members in the US, and 40 million worldwide.

The inquiry found that a small group of senior staff — particularly a former vice-president, Augie Boto, and two independent counsel to the executive committee — covered up reports of abuse from other trustees.

A staff member for Mr Boto kept a list of ministers accused of abuse in Baptist churches, which numbered 703 in more than a decade, but no action was taken to ensure that the accused were no longer in positions of power in SBC churches.

The investigation team found that a few were still working at churches in the SBC or other denominations. The full list has now been made public for the first time.

Instead of taking action against abusers, leaders turned on those trying to uncover sexual abuse, including survivors and their advocates, investigators found.

Survivors were denigrated as “opportunistic” and “acting as professional victims”. In one email, Mr Boto even equated attempts to investigate sexual abuse with the work of the devil, describing it as a “satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism”.

In a statement after the publication of the inquiry’s report, members of the executive committee said that they were grieved by the report and committed to “doing all we can to prevent future instances of sexual abuse” in churches.

“This is the beginning of a season of listening, lamenting, and learning,” Rolland Slade, who chairs the committee, said in the statement.

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