Jan 3, 2023
Leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest denomination in the United States, confirmed Tuesday that they will disclose a secret list of hundreds of pastors and other church-affiliated personnel accused of sexual abuse. The announcement comes following the release of a damning 288-page investigative report detailing repeated inaction on the part of Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee (EC) members despite countless allegations of sexual abuse over multiple decades.
“Survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action,” the report found, “even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.”
Additionally, survivors and allies “made phone calls, mailed letters, sent emails, appeared at SBC and EC (executive committee) meetings, held rallies, and contacted the press…only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC,” according to the report.
An attorney for the SBC’s Executive Committee announced the decision to disclose the secret list of accused sexual predators during a virtual meeting called in response to the troubling report, according to NPR. SBC leaders “vowed to work toward changing the culture of the denomination and to listen more attentively to survivors’ voices and stories” during the meeting, NPR confirmed.
The SBC report was commissioned by Guidepost Solutions, an investigative consultancy company, and released after a seven-month long investigation. Several “explosive revelations” were featured in the report, according to NPR, including that the Executive Committee’s former vice president and general counsel, D. August Boto, along with former SBC spokesman Roger Oldham kept their own private list of abusive pastors.
“Despite collecting these reports for more than 10 years, there is no indication that (Oldham and Boto) or anyone else, took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches,” the report said.
Both Boto and Oldham reportedly retired in 2019.
In communication to survivors and their advocates, Boto’s written words from September 29, 2006 indicating that “continued discourse between us (the Executive Committee and survivors’ advocates) will not be positive or fruitful” were singled out and denounced in statement released by the committee on Tuesday.
In its statement, the committee indicated that it:
“… rejects the sentiment (of Boto’s words) in its entirety and seeks to publicly repent for its failure to rectify this position and wholeheartedly listen to survivors.”
The report further noted that the committee’s response to widespread sexual abuse allegations was handled by a few senior officials and outside attorneys who were “singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations.”
Hundreds of alleged abusers have been documented by the EC since 2007, according to the report. Investigators noted, however, that many survivors may never have reached out to the EC about their abuse.
CNN confirmed through SBC President Ed Litton that the EC “intends to make public its list of known abusers and is reviewing whether it can revoke retirement benefits for leaders who mishandled allegations.”
Some additional findings from the report include:
In an interview with CNN, Russell Moore, a theologian and columnist for Christianity Today, described the potential fallout from the scathing report.
“This is huge. There were many who told us we were wrong to say that sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention is a crisis,” he said. “This report reveals that crisis is too small of a word. This is an apocalypse, an unveiling, a meltdown.”
Guidepost Solutions Independent Investigation of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee
The Guidepost Solutions investigation looked into the actions and decisions of EC staff and members from January 1, 2000, through June 14, 2021, as they related to allegations of abuse, treatment of survivors and their advocates, and reform efforts, according to a CNN report.
Moreover, investigators interviewed about 330 people, including 22 accusers, and had access to more than five terabytes of data, including emails from survivors and EC leadership, CNN confirmed.
The report included key recommendations, according to NPR, including:
Executive Committee interim leaders, Willie McLaurin and Rolland Slade, reportedly welcomed the recommendations, pledging an “all-out effort to eliminate sex abuse within the SBC,” according to NPR.
“We recognize there are no shortcuts,” they said. “We must all meet this challenge through prudent and prayerful application, and we must do so with Christ-like compassion.”
The report details an allegation against Johnny Hunt, a Georgia-based pastor and past SBC president. Hunt allegedly sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife during a beach vacation in 2010, according to NPR. In an interview with investigators, Hunt reportedly denied any physical contact with the woman, but did admit to having interactions with her.
On May 13, Hunt, who was the senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board, the SBC’s domestic missions agency, resigned from that post, according to Kevin Ezell, the organization’s president and CEO. Ezell said, before May 13, he was “not aware of any alleged misconduct” on Hunt’s part,” according to NPR.
Furthermore, the report details a meeting Hunt arranged a few days after the alleged assault between the woman, her husband, Hunt, and a counseling pastor. Hunt admitted to touching the victim inappropriately, but said “thank God I didn’t consummate the relationship,” according to NPR’s report.
Via Twitter, Hunt issued the following response:
“To put it bluntly: I vigorously deny the circumstances and characterizations set forth in the Guidepost report. I have never abused anybody.”
However, the report indicated that investigators found the sexual assault allegation against Hunt credible, partly because it was corroborated by witnesses, according to CNN.
44 women reportedly made allegations of sexual assault and abuse against Jacksonville Pastor Darrell Gilyard, according to a local NBC News4JAX report.
As the NBC Jacksonville report notes:
Furthermore, the report indicates that Dr. Jerry Vines, then-pastor of First Baptist, “was dismissive of her report” and told her “it would be embarrassing for her if others knew about it.”
Subsequently, according to the report, Gilyard worked at a church in Texas, where other women accused him of abuse.
The SBC Executive Committee said it became aware that “44 women had reported being victims of sexually inappropriate conduct” by Gilyard. The letter on page 146 says, “In almost every case, they were reportedly shamed for it and left feeling they were not believed,” according to NBC Jacksonville.
Dr. Heath Lambert, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, sent NBC News Jacksonville the following statement on Tuesday night:
“I am horrified and saddened by the abuse and cover up of abuse that was chronicled in the SBC sex abuse report. That is particularly true of the abuse of a precious former member of First Baptist Church 30 years ago. It is sinful and wrong to abuse any human being, to counsel abuse victims to remain silent, and to protect abusers from exposure. The leadership of our church today demands strict screening of all staff and volunteers, strictly enforces policies protecting innocent people, and requires all accusations of abuse to be reported to the authorities. I call on any person involved in abuse or concealing abuse to confess this sin and seek reconciliation with those they have wronged.”
The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, with an estimated 14 million members across more than 47,000 churches, according to CNN.
During the organization’s 2021 convention in Nashville, members voted to approve a task force to supervise an independent investigation following accusations and stories of abuse that had been featured in the media.
The SBC’s Executive Committee is governed by 86 trustees who serve limited terms. According to the report from Guidepost Solutions:
During the SBC’s own internal investigation, decisions regarding sexual abuse were “largely left to the discretion” of the executive committee president and chief executive officer as well as his closest advisors on staff, with “high-level issues” brought to the SBC president. The report also indicated that the trustees “were not informed nor involved in the decision-making process.”
The 2022 SBC Annual Meeting will be held next month in Anaheim, California.
Appointed at the demand of SBC delegates during last year’s meeting, the Sexual Abuse Task Force is expected to make its formal motions based on the Guidepost report public next week, according to NPR.
Said recommendations will also be presented at the June 2022 SBC Annual Meeting.
Pastor Bruce Frank, who led the task force, told NPR the “crux of the task force’s recommendations based on Guidepost’s report would be to prevent sexual abuse, to better care for survivors when such abuse does occur, and to make sure abusers are not allowed to continue in ministry.”
Sexual abuse civil lawsuits may be brought in an effort to recover financial compensation for various types of losses endured by survivors. Certain compensatory damages may be pursued and recovered through a civil claim, such as:
Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) sexual abuse lawyers are dedicated to fighting aggressively on behalf of all survivors to secure any applicable financial damages and successfully obtain maximum settlements or verdicts for their claims.
For sexual abuse claims involving minors, many states have implemented revival windows similar to California’s AB 218, which currently allows any survivor of a childhood sex crime the opportunity to file a civil lawsuit seeking financial compensation through the end of 2022.
For a complete listing of state revival windows, please visit our recent blog.
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