Southern Baptist Leaders Reportedly Tried to Cover Up Sex Abuse Crisis

A report found that the SBC spent decades stonewalling people who alleged abuse at the hands of church figures.
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A small group of protesters fighting various forms of abuse within the church engage passersby outside at the Southern Baptist Convention meeting on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have spent nearly two decades stonewalling and even being outright hostile to people who alleged sexual abuse by church figures, according to an explosive report issued Sunday.

The report arrived after seven months of investigation by the firm Guidepost Solutions, which SBC delegates tasked last year with conducting an independent probe into allegations of abuse within the SBC, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. The firm found that a few members of the SBC’s executive committee, as well as “outside counsel,” largely controlled the denomination’s response to reports of abuse, and those members were “singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC.”

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“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 policy regarding church autonomy—even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” concluded the report.

Investigators found that one executive committee staff member, working for the longtime SBC lawyer August Boto, had maintained a list of Baptist ministers since 2007 who’d been accused of sexual abuse. But there’s no evidence that anybody “took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches,” according to the report.

The most recent iteration of the list, investigators said, included 703 abusers. More than 400 are thought to have been affiliated with the SBC at some point.

In one internal email, investigators said, Boto described people trying to shed light on the SBC sex abuse crisis as “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”

Boto retired in 2019, according to the Houston Chronicle, which published a groundbreaking report on abuse within the SBC that same year. The newspaper could not reach Boto for comment on Sunday.

Investigators also found that a former SBC president, Johnny Hunt, had been accused of sexually assaulting the wife of a pastor in 2010, a claim the report labeled “credible.” Hunt had admitted to the couple that he had touched the woman inappropriately, adding, “Thank God I didn’t consummate the relationship,” according to the report. However, Hunt later told investigators that he didn’t make that comment and had no physical contact with the woman.

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Hunt resigned as the senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board, which handles U.S.-based missions earlier this month, the Associated Press reported.

In a statement, SBC President Ed Litton said that he was “grieved to his core.”

“There are not adequate words to express my sorrow at the things revealed in this report,” Litton said. “Amid my grief, anger, and disappointment over the grave sin and failures this report lays bare, I earnestly believe that Southern Baptists must resolve to change our culture and implement desperately needed reforms.”

The SBC’s executive committee is set to meet Tuesday to discuss the report, Axios reported.

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