Southern Baptist Convention in shock after newspapers reveal hundreds of abuse cases Christian Today staff writer for Christian Today
An extraordinary investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News has found that hundreds of Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers have faced accusations of sexual misconduct during the last 20 years.
Many have returned to church roles even after being convicted of sex crimes.
The report found around 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers had been ‘credibly accused’ of misconduct, with around 220 convicted or receiving plea deals. There were more than 700 victims, who experienced abuse ranging from exposure to pornography to impregnation.
The papers said the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) failed to deal adequately with the allegations, taking an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. It failed to create a registry of alleged offenders, meaning they could move from city to city and continue their behaviour. The SBC cited the principle of ‘local church autonomy’.
Among other examples, the papers cite a victim who died of a drug overdose 14 years after she was molested in 1994. After the abuse took place, when she was only 14 years old, she slit her wrists. According to the Chronicle, her mother blames the daughter’s subsequent death on the trauma she suffered.
SBC leaders have reacted with horror to the revelations. Current president JD Greear issued a series of tweets in which he said: ‘I am broken over what was revealed today. The abuses described in this @HoustonChron article are pure evil. I join with countless others who are currently “weeping with those who weep.”‘
He said: ‘We must admit that our failures, as churches, put these survivors in a position where they were forced to stand alone and speak, when we should have been fighting for them. Their courage is exemplary and prophetic. But I grieve that their courage was necessary.’
He said there could be ‘no ambiguity’ about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe space for vulnerable people, adding: ‘The safety of the victims matters more than the reputation of Southern Baptists.’