Read More Atheist Republic In the nearly 300-page report of an independent investigation, the first correlative study of the immense Protestant sect of Southern Baptists, several top clergy members were found to have minimized, ignored, and even vilified sex abuse survivors who came forward for help. Released on Sunday, May 22nd, this third-party examination was gathered by the Guidepost Solutions organization, just as Southern Baptist Church (SBC) leaders had requested.
The seven-month investigation report states the abuse survivors’ emails and phone calls were “only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility” by church leaders. These leaders seemed less concerned about protecting SBC members from further abuse and more about protecting the institution from liability.
Top leaders kept a secret list for many years while lying to Southern Baptists. These same SBC members requested that the leaders maintain a database of sex offenders as a preventative measure against more abuse. Further shocking new evidence emerged from this investigation that detailed specific abuse cases and shed lighton how denominational leaders actively resisted calls for abuse prevention for decades.
As a denomination of 13 million members, the SBC has grappled with declining membership during the past 15 years. Other denominations have also been subject to steep declines. The SBC has long thwarted any comparisons with the Catholic Church regarding its sexual abuse case numbers. Yet the report states that some senior leaders of the SBC had been supporting and protecting alleged abusers.
Many sex abuse survivors are relieved that the investigation has finally blown the cover-ups wide open. However, they are still surprised to see the pattern of such cover-ups at the highest levels of church leadership.
A female sex abuse survivor, once the highest-paid executive at the SBC, stated, “I knew it was rotten, but it’s astonishing and infuriating.” Jennifer Lyell’s story of abuse is part of the investigation. “This is a denomination that is through and through about power. It is misappropriated power. It does not in any way reflect the Jesus I see in the scriptures. I am so gutted.”
The investigative report findings show that SBC members were informed that compiling a sex registry of offenders goes against the denomination’s polity. Yet the SBC leaders secured a sex offenders list while keeping it classified to avoid possible litigation. The findings also include private emails that reveal long-term leaders like Agusto Boto were dismissive regarding any sexual abuse allegations, saying they are “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”
The Convention’s attorney sent an April 2007 email to Boto, which explains how an SBC directory of sex abusers might be implemented to comply with the church’s polity. The memo stated, “it would fit our polity and present ministries to help churches in this area of child abuse and sexual misconduct.” The attorney proposed “immediate action to signal the Convention’s desire that the [executive committee] and the entities begin a more aggressive effort in this area.” Later that same year, a Southern Baptist pastor motioned for a database, but Boto rejected it.
According to the report, Boto collected a database of sex offense reports for over a decade. Still, he never acted to ensure that he would remove the accused from their positions of power within the church.
On Tuesday, SBC administrative leaders said they would make the secret list public, revealing hundreds of church personnel and pastorsaccused as sex offenders. The committee released a statement explicitly rejecting Boto’s communication to survivors, and they intend to “publicly repent for its failure to rectify this position and wholeheartedly listen to survivors.”
A statement on the release of a list of alleged abusers:List: https://t.co/JKB7sA6L7l pic.twitter.com/lXAktGl7ob
— SBC Executive Committee (@SBCExecComm) May 27, 2022
SBC’s interim president of the executive committee, Willie McLaurin, stated, “‘The reality is we’ll never know the extent of the pain and the hurt that was caused to survivors.”
He added, “Today on behalf of all Southern Baptists, I want to issue a formal apology and say that we are sorry to the survivors for all that we’ve done to cause hurt, pain, and frustration.”
During Tuesday’s virtual meeting, the committee’s interim council, Gene Besen, expressed the importance of releasing the list as a crucial step toward transparency. He advised that the names of confidential witnesses, survivors, and any unfounded allegations of abuse will be redacted. He added that the leaders would be looking into revoking Boto’s retirement benefits and anyone else involved in the cover-up.
The Executive Committee’s CEO and interim president, Willie McLaurin, announced a formal public apology within the SBC for those who suffered sexual abuse from the church’s various leaders. The Southern Baptist Convention’s membership exceeds 47,000 churches.
“We are sorry to the survivors for all we have done to cause pain and frustration,” McLaurin said. “Now is the time to change the culture. We have to be proactive in our openness and transparency.”