Southern Baptist leaders ‘blocked’ victims of sexual abuse, scathing report says | Christianity

According to a scathing 288-page investigative report released Sunday, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, blocked and denigrated survivors of clergy sex abuse for nearly two decades while seeking to protect their own reputation.

These survivors, and other concerned Southern Baptists, have repeatedly shared allegations with the SBC Executive Committee, “only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, obstruction and even outright hostility and simple of certain” leaders, according to the report.

Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm hired by the SBC’s executive committee under pressure from outsiders at the denomination’s national meeting last year, conducted the seven-month investigation that produced Sunday’s report.

“Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior (executive committee) leaders, as well as outside attorneys, largely controlled the…response to these reports of abuse…and focused singularly on avoiding abuse. responsibility of the SBC,” the report said. .

The report added: “In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action because of its policy on abuse. autonomy of the church – even if it meant the convicted abusers continued in ministry without notice or warning to their current church or congregation.

A member of the executive committee maintained a list of Baptist ministers accused of abuse, but there is no indication that anyone “took steps to ensure that the ministers accused no longer held positions of power in the churches. SBC,” according to the report.

In one example cited in the report, August Boto, a longtime SBC leader, denounced the allegations in an email and said it was a “satanic plan to completely distract us from the evangelization”.

“All of this should be seen for what it is,” Boto wrote. “It’s a game of misdirection.”

Boto added that a survivor and survivor advocate went to the SBC “looking for sexual abuse, and sure enough, they found it.”

“It’s the devil who succeeds temporarily,” Boto said.

The most recent list of alleged abusers includes the names of hundreds of people believed to be affiliated at one point with the SBC. Survivors and advocates have long called for a public database of abusers.

The report offers shocking details about how Johnny Hunt, a Georgia-based pastor and former SBC president, sexually abused another pastor’s wife while on a beach vacation in 2010.

According to the report, Hunt “became close as (the woman) shared a story of the stress she and her husband were going through at church.” He asked a series of increasingly personal questions, including, “Have you ever done anything like this before?” what if she “grew up wildly”.

At one point, Hunt approached the woman and “started pulling her shorts down and turning her around and looking at her back… (and) made sexual remarks about her body and the things he had imagined about her”.

The report went on to detail how Hunt pinned the woman to the couch, pulled up her shirt, and sexually assaulted her with his hands and mouth.

In an interview with investigators, Hunt denied any physical contact with the woman but admitted he had had interactions with her.

On May 13, Hunt resigned from his position as senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the SBC’s national missions agency, the North American Missions Board. Chairman and CEO of the board, Kevin Ezell, said “he was not aware of any alleged misconduct” by Hunt prior to that day.

The report details a meeting Hunt arranged days after the alleged abuse between him, the wife, her husband and a counselor pastor. Hunt reportedly admitted touching the victim inappropriately, but said, “Thank God I didn’t consummate the relationship.”

According to the report, Guidepost investigators said they interviewed survivors of varying ages, including children, and they were all traumatized by the way churches responded to their reports of sexual abuse.

Survivors “spoke of the trauma of the initial abuse, but also told us of the debilitating effects that come from the response of churches and institutions like the SBC who disbelieved them, ignored them, mistreated them and did not believe them. failed to help them,” the report said.

SBC President Ed Litton in a statement on Sunday said he was “deeply grieved” for the abuse suffered by survivors and thanked God for his work in propelling the SBC at this time. He called on Southern Baptists to change the culture of the denomination and implement reforms.

“I pray that Southern Baptists will begin to prepare today to take deliberate action to address these failures and chart a new course,” beginning when the denomination hosts its two-day annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif. , from June 14.

SBC executive committee leaders Rolland Slade and Willie McLaurin pledged to “take action to eliminate sexual abuse within the convention” after the report.

“We recognize that there are no shortcuts,” they said in a statement.

The executive committee has scheduled a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the report.

Last year, thousands of delegates to the SBC’s national rally made it clear they did not want the executive committee overseeing an investigation into its own actions. Instead, they voted overwhelmingly to create the task force to oversee the third-party review.

Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, named the panel.

The task force had a week to review the report before it was released on Sunday, along with recommendations to present at the Anaheim meeting.

Recommendations include the formation of an independent commission and the subsequent establishment of a permanent administrative body to oversee comprehensive long-term reforms regarding allegations of sexual abuse within the SBC.

Other suggested measures include installing and maintaining a system to alert and notify the community of known offenders, as well as providing a comprehensive toolkit of resources providing protocols, training and support. ‘education.

In addition, the report recommended eliminating non-disclosure agreements and civil settlements that bind survivors to sexual abuse confidentiality unless the survivor requests it, a measure that the Catholic bishops have adopted. as part of handling the decades-old clerical abuse crisis at their church.

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