Monday, March 27

Southern Baptist Convention under federal investigation for sexual abuse scandal

Federal investigators are probing the Southern Baptist Convention over its handling of sexual abuse following the publication of an explosive report that found top officials had for two decades silenced abuse survivors and fought reforms out of fears of lawsuits, leaders of the nation’s second-largest faith group said on Friday.

In a statement, the SBC’s top leadership body, the Executive Committee, confirmed that the Department of Justice is looking into “multiple” Southern Baptist entities. 

The statement was signed by all of the leaders of the SBC’s seminaries and main entities. They said they will cooperate fully with the criminal investigation and “continue to grieve and lament past mistakes.”

Leaders also noted that the faith group has taken numerous steps towards rectifying the abuse problem in the wake of a 2019 investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. 

“Individually and collectively, each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation,” the SBC’s Nashville-based Executive Committee said in a statement.

The Southern Baptist committee received a federal subpoena from the Justice Department, but no individuals have yet been subpoenaed. Justice Department officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Albert Mohler, the longtime president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, told the Chronicle Friday afternoon that he was awaiting specifics of the inquiry, but like other leaders vowed that his school would cooperate with law enforcement.

“I don’t know anything specific about the investigation other than what’s been relayed to me by the Executive Committee’s counsel,” Mohler said in an interview before the investigation was made public. “But as far as we are concerned, we believe in the rule of law. We respect law enforcement and we will be fully cooperative with federal authorities.”

Also Read  Tiger Woods intends to play in the Masters and thinks he can win

The federal investigation introduces an unprecedented level of scrutiny on the 47,000-church coalition. The SBC is the world’s largest Baptist congregation.

ABUSE OF FAITH: 20 years, 700 victims: Sexual abuse spreads as leaders resist reforms

The SBC’s handling of abuse has been in the public spotlight since 2019, when the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published the first of an ongoing series, Abuse of Faith, that found hundreds of church leaders and volunteers had been convicted of sex crimes. 

They left behind at least 700 victims, nearly all of them children. 

The newspapers’ reporting prompted Southern Baptist church members to request a third-party review last year of the SBC’s Executive Committee’s handling of abuse reports dating back to 2000.

FALLOUT: As ex-Southern Baptist figure alleges ‘criminal conspiracy,’ prominent leader defends abuse response

SBC church representatives also demanded that the Executive Committee grant the firm, Guidepost Solutions, unprecedented access to confidential, attorney-client records for its review. 

Guidepost spokesman Montieth Illingworth declined to say Friday whether the firm had been subpoenaed or answer other questions about the federal investigation. Per the firm’s agreement with the SBC, Guidepost is required to alert Southern Baptist officials when it receives law enforcement requests for documents.

“Guidepost shall notify the SBC of any effort … either by subpoena or otherwise to gain access to information, documents, materials, or work product, or information of any kind in the possession of Guidepost that has been generated, obtained, or learned as a result of the work performed by Guidepost,” the agreement says.

Also Read  Jokic's triple-double leads Nuggets past Warriors 131-124

FROM MAY: Bombshell 400-page report finds Southern Baptist leaders routinely silenced sexual abuse survivors

In May, Guidepost revealed that a handful of longtime Southern Baptist leaders and attorneys had mishandled sexual abuse complaints, disparaged victims and rejected proposed reforms that could have protected children from predators.

Among the revelations was that a longtime SBC lawyer, August “Augie” Boto, had secretly maintained a list of accused sexual abusers in Southern Baptist churches. The Chronicle identified 75 ministers on the list who had worked in Texas churches.

SURVIVORS SPEAK: Christa Brown spent decades warning Southern Baptists about abuse. Recent revelations brought her ‘no joy.’

Meanwhile, Boto said a public version of such a database wasn’t feasible and dismissed efforts by advocates to create one as a backgrounding tool for churches to weed out problematic employees and volunteers.

Guidepost also uncovered sexual assault allegations against a former SBC president, Johnny Hunt, that allegedly occurred just after he left office because of term limits in 2010. Hunt has admitted to an improper relationship, but maintains it was a consensual affair. 

RELATED: Explosive report alleged sex abuse by SBC leader Johnny Hunt. His accuser still waits for justice.

Response to the Guidepost report was swift. One former SBC official, prominent evangelical leader Russell Moore, called it the “Southern Baptist apocalypse” and said the findings amounted to a “criminal conspiracy.”

As fallout from the report continued this summer, SBC church representatives overwhelmingly approved safeguards at their June meeting, including a database of accused ministers that churches could consult when making hiring decisions. 

The SBC also elected new leaders that have been particularly outspoken on the need for abuse reforms, including Texas pastor Bart Barber, who vowed to turn the SBC’s 47,000 churches into places where predators were “hunted.”

Also Read  South Carolina animal rescue CEO arrested after 30 dead dogs, cats found in her home

[email protected]

[email protected]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *