Southern Baptists release database of sex offenders they’ve kept secret for years

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Southern Baptists were awaiting the release Thursday night of a list of alleged church-related sex abusers that denominational leaders had kept secret for more than a decade. The executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention said it would release the names after issuing a third party investigation this suggested a widespread cover-up by senior leaders who ignored and even “vilified” people who reported stories of abuse.

The database, which an SBC lawyer says includes people who have had criminal convictions for abuse and those who have confessed to abuse, is expected to show what top leaders knew behind the scenes while telling Baptists in the South that they could not create a list of accused abusers because the denomination is not hierarchical and the churches operate independently of each other.

The release of the database comes 15 years after Christa Brown began sounding the alarm that Southern Baptists needed to keep such a list to prevent abusers from moving from one church to another. She first told SBC leaders in 2004 that she had been abused by a young pastor who later served in other Southern Baptist churches in several states. But the report released Monday by the SBC says it was met with hostility when she suggested the idea in 2007.

Brown became emotional on Thursday when she thought about the idea that the man she claimed to have abused her might be listed in the database official recognition by the Southern Baptist Convention. She said the man began abusing her in 1968 and when she originally filed a civil suit against him in 2005, the statute of limitations expired.

“I’ve waited a long time to see this name and this recognition of what was done to me as a child by this religious group,” she said. “It would be extremely powerful emotional if it was.”

But, Brown said, it would look like a “very small measure of justice.”

“They don’t congratulate each other for that,” Brown added. “I’m sorry. God only knows why they were keeping it a secret. It’s the least they can do.”

Key takeaways from explosive Southern Baptist sex abuse report

Before releasing the list, SBC attorneys said they would remove the names of survivors and try to ensure that they only include the names of people who have been “credibly accused”. This includes pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees or volunteers who have confessed to being abused, been sentenced by a court or have been the subject of a civil judgment. Additionally, an independent third party could determine that someone has been “credibly accused” by a “preponderance of the evidence”.

“This is a crucial first step,” said Rachael Denhollander, an attorney and former gymnast who exposed former USA gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar for his serial sexual assaults. and is now an adviser to a Southern Baptist task force on the matter. “It at least begins to demonstrate a level of transparency and accountability.”

The SBC has long sought to distinguish itself from the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal by claiming that its churches are independent of each other. But University of Pennsylvania professor Marci Hamilton, an expert on laws to prevent child abuse, said the SBC had no right to legally distinguish itself from the Catholic Church in terms of accountability to victims. , whether they are minors or adults when incidents occur. The SBC, she said, is “the governing body of the whole church, so it is responsible for policy and cover-up, which is obvious.”

While sanctions of up to billions of dollars have been imposed on the Catholic Church over the past 20 years, Hamilton said, other non-Catholic religious groups have argued that their structure and beliefs make them different. in terms of liability. Southern Baptists and non-denominational groups said they were too loosely affiliated to be held accountable, but she said courts had found otherwise when considering other faith groups.

“The question is: did they act recklessly, endangering children and adults? And the answer is yes,” Hamilton said. “They took unreasonable risks, lacked effective prevention policies and put individuals in their herds at risk of sexual assault and abuse, leaving abusers in positions of authority and failing to alert the public and avoiding going to the authorities. This defense that they say — “We are organized differently” — is full of holes. It’s not a defence.

Hamilton said victims who were minors at the time of the abuse and come forward as adults may have a harder time due to slowly changing statutes of limitations. However, more states are extend the time for people to file civil suits.

The Guidepost Solutions survey, commissioned by Southern Baptists at its annual convention last year and released Sunday, focused narrowly on the Nashville-based SBC executive committee, the second-smallest organization within the convention that handles finances and administration, including the distribution of funds from churches across the country to its other organizations.

Two Southern Baptist leaders, Kevin Ezell of the North American Mission Board and Danny Akin of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said this week they would invite Guidepost to investigate the allegations in their organizations.

Akin said in an interview that he knew perhaps three of the four cases of alleged sexual abuse during her 19 years at Southeastern, including one that ultimately led to the firing of former Southeastern President Paige Patterson, who was named in the Guidepost report.

Akin said he recommends to his board that Patterson’s name be removed from one of the seminary buildings. Patterson was fired from another seminary in 2018 after his board said he mishandled the sexual abuse cases of two women, including one in the Southeast.

The Guidepost report also alleged that Johnny Hunt, a former NAMB vice president and longtime pastor, sexually assaulted a woman, which he denied on Twitter. Akin said the seminary has already removed its name from programs and facilities.

Akin said he was close to both Patterson and Hunt and called the last few days “some of the saddest of my life”.

“My heart just crushed, but that didn’t change my love for [Johnny], and I pray that he responds appropriately and knows that Southern Baptists forgive people,” Akin said. “I think if he tells us what’s right, he’ll get that forgiveness. It doesn’t mean he’ll be a pastor or anything, but I believe he could serve in a meaningful way. But we’ll see. .

Several survivors of sexual abuse have said they plan to travel to Anaheim, Calif., for the SBC’s annual meeting next month because they see momentum for potential change. Among them is Jules Woodson, whose 2018 allegation that her young Southern Baptist pastor sexually assaulted her has been seen as one of the main points that led the denomination to deal with sexual abuse.

Woodson, who has advocated for reform outside the 2019 annual meeting, said she hopes the SBC will pursue more actions than the database release on Thursday, including creating a compensation fund survivors and a memorial for survivors in Nashville.

“They’re not credited with doing the right thing now,” Woodson said. “Am I happy for the database? Yes. It’s a piece of the puzzle.

SBC Executive Committee Apologizes to Sexual Abuse Victims After Explosive Report Released

In 2019, Woodson wrote to leaders of the Germantown Baptist Church in Tennessee to see if they would revoke the ordination of the man who admitted to his congregation that he had “a sexual incident” with Woodson when she was a teenager. According to Woodson, a church leader wrote back to him to say there was no comment. The church did not respond to requests from The Washington Post for further comment.

The executive committee on Wednesday set up a third-party hotline for victims of sexual abuse, operated by Guidepost. The hotline can be reached at (202) 864-5578 or [email protected]

Mike Holloway, pastor of Ouachita Baptist Church in Louisiana and board member of the executive committee, said he was in favor of releasing the names to the public, but was nervous about the list, including anyone who has denied abusing someone.

“My fear is that we’ll be crucified and find out six months later that we were wrong,” Holloway said. “Repairs may need to be made…I totally agree, that’s where the churches need to come in.”

Holloway was also nervous about the idea floated earlier this week that the executive committee could take retirement benefits from longtime SBC leader August Boto, one of the leaders named in the Guidepost report who told members that they couldn’t develop a database. The Guidepost report revealed that a staff member who worked it kept a secret list of ministers charged, including the name of the minister, the year of the charge, relevant news articles, state and denomination. . Boto could not be reached for comment.

“Are we saying a person has to live a perfect life and make an error in judgment, we’re going to do everything we can to punish them and retire? said Holloway. “There’s not a lot of grace in that.”

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

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