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'Stonewalling and Even Outright Hostility': Southern Baptist Report Shows Mistreatment of Abuse Victims

People attend the morning session of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
The Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 16, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Southern Baptists are reeling in the wake of a third-party investigation that shows the denomination's top leaders mistreated abuse survivors and advocates for decades.

Southern Baptist messengers voted last June at the 2021 annual meeting, calling for a sexual abuse task force to oversee an independent third-party investigation into how the denomination's Executive Committee (EC) handled sex abuse allegations for the last twenty years.

The Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 16, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Guidepost Solutions released a report on that investigation Sunday, finding that abuse survivors and advocates were repeatedly met with "resistance, stonewalling and even outright hostility from some within the EC."

It also determined that a few senior EC leaders "largely controlled the EC's response to these reports of abuse," identifying EC general counsel August "Augie" Boto and outside counsel at the law firm of Guenther, Jordan & Price.

The Executive Committee controls the day-to-day functioning of the Southern Baptist Convention while the president typically serves two one-year terms. 

SBC president Ed Litton, who's announced he's not running again, told CBN News Monday that he's shocked, disappointed and dismayed by the report.

He said he was most stunned by the finding that the EC kept a list of hundreds of accused abusers affiliated with SBC churches. The report said there was no indication that Boto or anyone else took action "to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches."

"It's a culture of protecting power, position," said Litton. "It's not a culture that Jesus would model for us of caring for the least of these."

Guidepost Solutions interviewed more than 300 people for the report. 

The Baptist principle of church autonomy was cited frequently as a reason for inaction.

"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 it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation," Guidepost wrote.

Pastor Bruce Frank, chair of the sexual abuse task force, told CBN News that years ago, Guenther, Price & Jordan advised that there's a workable model for church autonomy but that a few individuals squashed the idea.

"Church autonomy certainly is a cherished value and it is our polity," said Frank. "But that is in no means to say you can't have accountability and communication."

*** BELOW: The SBC Executive Committee will be Livestreaming its discussion of the sexual abuse report at 11:00 AM Eastern, Tuesday, May 24, 2022. ***

Guidepost spelled out key recommendations, including an independent commission to oversee long-term reforms around sexual abuse and a database to alert the denomination to known offenders.

Litton says the first concern must be for abuse survivors.

"They have been brutalized by physical assaults and attack by people that should have been trustworthy," he said. "But then, to face the kind of resistance and sometimes out and out attacks according to the report--is unthinkable."

Frank said the task force will work to craft motions for the annual meeting on June 14-15 in Anaheim, California. He said it's important to care for survivors and increase communication between churches so predators can't move around.

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