Southern Baptist Convention Sexual Abuse Report: What You Need to Know

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What is the Southern Baptist Convention?

The second-largest religious group in the country is made up of 47,000 independent churches and an 86-member executive committee, the convention’s highest governing body. As Chronicle reporter Rob Downen wrote in 2019, “A foundation of Baptist governance: SBC-affiliated churches are independent and self-governing. The convention and its entities generally do not interfere with or comment on church affairs. individuals, although several have lost their affiliation with the convention due to their acceptance of homosexuality.”

They generally have the same beliefs about scripture and church governance; they share resources and fund mission trips and seminars through the SBC’s “Cooperative Program”. Despite the name, there are many Southern Baptist-affiliated churches located outside of the southern United States. With approximately 15 million members, the SBC is the largest group of Baptists in the world.

Who is in charge of the SBC?

The SBC Executive Committee is a trustee of the convention, its affiliated churches, and 11 “ministry” entities. It is made up of 86 members from across the country and manages the tax and business affairs of the convention through three meetings held between annual gatherings in June. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, the executive committee generally does not act on behalf of the convention out of respect for the autonomy of the local church.

Johnny Hunt was the past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and was a well-known Georgia preacher. The new report reveals he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman weeks after his presidential term ended in 2010.

What has the SBC been accused of?

Among the findings of the new report:

  • A small group of SBC leaders routinely misled other SBC executive committee members about abuse issues, and rarely mentioned the frequent and persistent warnings and calls for help from survivors. Fearing legal action, leaders also failed to inform the SBC’s 15 million members that predators and pedophiles were targeting churches.
  • Longtime SBC leaders have maintained a private list of abusive pastors and ministers, despite claiming for years that such an idea was impractical to stop predators and impossible to enact due to the decentralized structure of the SBC. Compiled since 2007, the list contained the names of 703 offenders, most with an SBC connection. A few still work in SBC churches or other denominations.
  • Former SBC President Johnny Hunt is accused of sexually assaulting a woman weeks after his presidential term ended in 2010. The woman said Hunt manipulated her into keeping quiet saying that disclosure of the incident would harm SBC churches. Four other people corroborated much of the woman’s allegations to Guidepost. Hunt denied the allegations, but resigned from the SBC’s North American Mission Board days before the report was released.

Who wrote the report?

The report was published by Signpost Solutions, an independent firm that conducted 330 interviews and reviewed two decades of internal SBC records during the seven-month investigation.

Guidepost investigated the 86-member executive committee of the SBC, the convention’s highest governing body. Firm investigators had unprecedented access to SBC leadership and reviewed thousands of internal documents, including previously confidential communications between SBC attorneys.

What are the main lessons of the report?

In this article, we’ve broken down the top five takeaways from the latest SBC report. You can also read our initial story on the report itself here.

How did this problem start?

The report is by far the SBC’s most consequential response to date to the widespread abuses detailed in a 2019 investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. Newspapers found that hundreds of SBC church leaders and volunteers have been criminally charged with sex crimes since 2000. They were pastors. Deacons. Youth pastors. They left behind more than 700 victims. Read and listen to the stories of these victims and discover the extent of the crimes and misconduct of church leaders they trusted.

The series also detailed numerous incidents in which denominational leaders mishandled, ignored, or covered up warnings that SBC churches were being targeted by predators.

What is the history of sexual abuse allegations at the SBC?

The allegations against the SBC are not new: In total, since 1998, about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, according to the newspapers. This includes those who have been convicted, credibly charged and successfully prosecuted, and those who have confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.

The Chronicle’s 2019 investigation found that:

  • At least 35 church pastors, staff and volunteers who have exhibited predatory behavior have still been able to find church jobs over the past two decades. In some cases, religious leaders apparently did not alert law enforcement of complaints or notify other congregations of allegations of misconduct.
  • Several former presidents and prominent leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are among those criticized by victims for covering up or mishandling complaints of abuse within their own churches or seminaries.
  • Some registered sex offenders have returned to the pulpit. Others remain there, including a Houston preacher who sexually assaulted a teenager and is now the senior director of a Houston nonprofit that works with student organizations, according to federal records. Its name: Touching the Future Today Inc.
  • Many of the victims were teenage girls who were sexually assaulted, sent explicit photos or texts, exposed to pornography, photographed naked, or repeatedly raped by youth pastors. Some victims as young as 3 years old were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms. A few were adults – women and men who sought pastoral counseling and instead said they had been seduced or sexually assaulted.
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