A scathing report into the Southern Baptist Convention’s mishandling of sex abuse allegations raises the possibility that the denomination, for the first time, will create a publicly accessible database of pastors and other staff at the church known to be abusers.
The creation of an ‘offender information system’ was one of the key recommendations of a report released Sunday by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm hired by the SBC’s executive committee after delegates to the national meeting of last year called for an investigation by outsiders.
The proposed database is expected to be one of many recommendations presented to thousands of delegates attending this year’s national meeting, scheduled for June 14-15 in Anaheim, California.
“These recommendations will be open to questions, debate and comment in the meeting room,” said SBC Chairman Ed Litton.
He expressed hope that the shocking findings of the Guidepost report will bring “lasting change” to the SBC, America’s largest Protestant denomination. It has steadily lost members in recent years, while being wracked by internal divisions over race and gender roles.
The Guidepost report said survivors of abuse by SBC clergy have repeatedly shared allegations with the Executive Committee, “to be met, time and time again, with resistance, obstruction and even hostility. plain and simple of some within the EC”.
“Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC officials, as well as outside attorneys, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse…and focused particularly on the avoidance of liability,” the report said.
The motion for an independent inquiry was brought forward at last year’s national meeting by the Reverend Grant Gaines, senior pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Reading the Guidepost report, Gaines said he was struck by repeated examples of callous disregard for survivors, as well as leaders prioritizing SBC protection from liability over prevention. abuses.
“We’re at a crossroads,” Gaines said. “I think this report provided the information we needed for there to be an outpouring of support to take the right steps.”
Specifically, Gaines said he supports the proposal to create a system that alerts communities to known offenders.
“I think that’s one of the first things we should do,” he said.
Lawyer and writer Christa Brown, who says she was sexually abused as a teenager by her church’s SBC youth minister, has been lobbying the SBC since 2006 to create a publicly available database of known abusers. She was encouraged that Guidepost recommended such a system, but said questions remain about its implementation.
“What is absolutely critical is that the local church cannot function as a survivor’s default or presumed starting place to try to get a clergy sex abuse investigation,” he said. she said by e-mail. “If the local church is seen as a mandatory first stop for survivors to continue their work, then the voices of many survivors will be stifled in their throats before the sound is ever uttered.”
Among the findings of the Guidepost report was that the Executive Committee kept a secret list of hundreds of SBC-affiliated clergy and other personnel identified as sex abusers. Brown said the committee, at a special meeting on Tuesday, should agree to release that list.
“I urge you to release your entire list of pastors and ministers accused of sexual abuse, in whatever form it has been kept for these many years,” Brown tweeted. “Post. This. Now.”
Final decisions on recommendations to submit to Anaheim delegates will be made by the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Task Force, comprised of seven members and two advisors. Its work over the past year has been an emotional journey, said Pastor Bruce Frank, who led the group.
“We saw patterns and things that were deeply concerning,” he said. “Our main job was to allow Guidepost to do its job, and they have done a truly remarkable job over the past nine months looking at events that have happened over 20 years.”
Over the next week, the task force will present formal motions in “precise language,” which will be made public and presented to delegates in Anaheim for a vote, said Frank, senior pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden. , North Carolina.
Frank said the heart of the task force’s recommendations based on Guidepost’s report can be summed up in two words – prevention and care.
“Our main goal should be to prevent sexual abuse,” he said. “And if abuse happens, how can we care for survivors in a much better pastoral way? How can we communicate better to make sure (the abusers) don’t go from church to church?
He hopes this report will serve as a “catalyst for change”.
“Any impartial person will review the contents of this report and demand that things get better,” Frank said. “SBC is a big family with 48,000 churches. There might be a disagreement on how to improve things. But I am convinced that we will overcome the difficulties.
In addition to sexual abuse, the agenda for the meeting in Anaheim includes the election of a new SBC chairman to succeed Litton.
One of the main contenders is Bart Barber, a pastor from Farmersville, Texas, who expressed dismay at mean-spirited behavior attributed to some SBC officials in the Guidepost report.
If elected, Barber said in an interview aired Monday, “I pray that God gives me wisdom to know what to do…We are navigating uncharted waters.”
“The job is not done,” he added. “We got the report, but I think everyone in the survivor community that I’ve heard of has said the reports are one thing, but we’ll see if this family of churches has the courage and the resolve to ‘to act.”
The sex abuse scandal was brought to light in 2019 by a landmark report by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News documenting hundreds of cases at Southern Baptist churches, including several in which the alleged perpetrators remained in ministry.
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