Armed with a secret list of more than 700 abusive pastors, Southern Baptist leaders chose to protect the denomination from lawsuits rather than protect the people in their churches from […]
Armed with a secret list of more than 700 abusive pastors, Southern Baptist leaders chose to protect the denomination from lawsuits rather than protect the people in their churches from further abuse.
Survivors, advocates, and some Southern Baptists themselves spent more than 15 years calling for ways to keep sexual predators from moving quietly from one flock to another. The men who controlled the Executive Committee —which runs day-to-day operations of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)—knew the scope of the problem. But, working closely with their lawyers, they maligned the people who wanted to do something about abuse and repeatedly rejected pleas for help and reform.
“Behind the curtain, the lawyers were advising to say nothing and do nothing, even when the callers were identifying predators still in SBC pulpits,” according to a massive third-party investigative report released on May22.
The investigation centres responsibility on members of the EC staff and their attorneys and says the hundreds of elected EC trustees were largely kept in the dark. EC general counsel Augie Boto and long-time attorney Jim Guenther advised the past three EC presidents—Ronnie Floyd, Frank Page, and Morris Chapman—that taking action on abuse would pose a risk to SBC liability and polity, leading the presidents to challenge proposed abuse reforms.
As renewed calls for action emerged with the #ChurchToo and #SBCToo movements, Boto referred to advocacy for abuse survivors as “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism”. Survivors, in turn, described the soul-crushing effects of not only their abuse, but the stonewalling, insulting responses from leaders at the EC for 15-plus years.
Christa Brown, a longtime advocate who experienced sexual abuse by her pastor at 16, said her “countless encounters with Baptist leaders” who shunned and disbelieved her “left a legacy of hate” and communicated “you are a creature void of any value—you don’t matter.” As a result, she said, instead of her faith providing solace, her faith has become “neurologically networked with a nightmare.” She referred to it as “soul murder”.
Another victim, Debbie Vasquez, was repeatedly sexually assaulted by an SBC pastor starting at the age of 14. When one assault led to her pregnancy, she was forced to apologise in front of the church but forbidden to mention the father. The pastor went on to serve at another Southern Baptist church, and when Vasquez reached out to the EC, her entreaties were ignored and evaded for years until a Houston Chronicle investigation three years ago.
Over the past 20 years, meanwhile, a string of SBC presidents failed to appropriately respond to abuse in their own churches and seminaries. In several instances, leaders sided with individuals and churches that had been credibly accused of abuse or cover-up. One former president—pastor Johnny Hunt—sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife in 2010, investigators found.