Southern Baptist leaders stonewalled, denigrated clergy sex abuse victims, report says

Southern Baptist leaders stonewalled, denigrated clergy sex abuse victims, report says

According to the scathing 288-page investigative report released Sunday, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Protestant denomination, stonewalled and denigrated survivors of clergy sex abuse over nearly two decades while trying to protect their own reputations.

These survivors and other concerned Southern Baptists shared allegations with the SBC's Executive Committee, only to be met time and time again with resistance, stonewalling and even outright hostility from some within the EC, according to the report.

After delegates to the national meeting last year pressed for an independent investigation, Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted by the Executive Committee, conducted the seven-month investigation.

Our investigation revealed that a number of senior EC leaders, together with outside counsel, largely controlled the EC's response to these reports of abuse and were focused solely on avoiding liability for the SBC, the report said.

The report said survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy, even if they continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.

SBC President Ed Litton said he was grieved to the victims and thanked God for their work propelling the SBC to this moment. He called on Southern Baptists to lament and prepare to change the denomination's culture and implement reforms.

I pray Southern Baptists will begin preparing to take deliberate action today to address these failures and chart a new course when we meet in Anaheim, Litton said.

— Form an independent commission and establish a permanent administrative entity to oversee long-term reforms regarding sexual abuse and related misconduct within the SBC.

The Offender Information System should be created and maintained to alert the community to known offenders.

— Restrict the use of nondisclosure agreements and civil settlements thatbind survivors to confidentiality in sexual abuse matters unless requested by the survivor.

In the year 2019 a landmark report from the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News showed hundreds of cases in Southern Baptist churches, including several in which alleged perpetrators remained in ministry.

Last year, thousands of delegates at the national SBC gathering sent the message that they did not want the Executive Committee to oversee an investigation of its own actions. They voted to create a task force that would provide oversight of the third-party review. SBC President Ed Litton, Pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, appointed the panel.

The Executive Committee members had a week to review the report before it was publicly released Sunday afternoon. The task force's recommendations based on Guidepost's findings will be presented on June 14 - 15 at the SBC's annual meeting in Anaheim.

In February, the Executive Committee offered a public apology and a confidential monetary settlement to the sexual abuse survivor Jennifer Lyell, who was mischaracterized by the denomination's in-house news service when she decided to go public with her story in March 2019.

Lyell was a sexual abuse survivor after learning that the man she accused of abuse, a former Southern Baptist seminary professor, had recently returned to ministry. She said she came forward with her story to prevent the man from engaging in further abusive acts.