A new report published by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News shows that almost 400 leaders within the Southern Baptist church have been accused of sexual misconduct in the last 20 years, and church leadership did nothing to protect potential victims.
There are at least 700 victims. Some of the victims were as young as three-years-old. Many of the victims were raped repeatedly. Roughly 380 church leaders and volunteers since 1998 have been accused. About 220 of the accused were convicted or took plea deals. Many cases are still pending.
The report, published yesterday, also reveals how the Southern Baptist Convention leadership stood firmly against policy changes over the years that could have given the church more power to protect potential victims.
In 2007, victims of sexual abuse committed by Southern Baptist pastors requested that the church create a registry of all current and former church leaders convicted or accused of sex crimes.
Church leadership refused.
In 2008, victims again went before the leadership of the Southern Baptist Church and asked them to track sexual predators and to do something about any congregations found to be concealing crimes committed by their pastors.
Again, church leadership refused.
In 2018, church leaders were again pressured to create a registry for church leaders accused or convicted of sex crimes.
Once again, they failed to create such a registry.
The report includes details of what several victims suffered and of the subsequent mishandling of the situation by church leaders.
One of the victims was 14 when she was molested in 1994. She slit her wrists the next day, but survived. According to the victim's mother, the trauma of the attack then led her to become addicted to drugs. She died of an overdose in 2008. It took the church months to fire the pageant director who attacked her, who later pleaded no contest.
A man who was 12 when he was molested in 1981 did not come forward until 2006. Two other members of the victim's church also accused the same minister of abuse. But it was too late to press criminal charges, and the minister who abused these three people still works for the Southern Baptist Church today.
Another girl, raped when she was 14-years-old, was abused repeatedly. At 18, she was left pregnant by the pastor who had been raping her. Church leaders forced her to stand before the congregation and ask for forgiveness, without naming the father of the child. Church leaders then shunned her, and asked her to get an abortion. She refused, which prompted church leaders to threaten her and her child. She ultimately left the country.
The release of these horrific stories, and many more, prompted J.D. Greear, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, to respond. He took to Twitter after the report's publication where he said, “I am broken over what was revealed today. The abuses described in this @HoustonChron article are pure evil. I join with countless others who are currently 'weeping with those who weep.'"
Greear continued, writing, "We must admit that our failures, as churches, put these survivors in a position where they were forced to stand alone and speak, when we should have been fighting for them. Their courage is exemplary and prophetic. But I grieve that their courage was necessary."
Yes, Greear, I am sure you are just full of grief right now. You assumed office in June 2018, and maybe if you had actually proactively tried to police your ranks for predatory priests, or enacted some of the requested changes that victims asked for, then I could try to give you the benefit of the doubt. Instead, your tweets just ring hollow.
"It’s time for pervasive change. God demands it. Survivors deserve it," Greear said later in his Twitter thread. "We must change how we prepare before abuse (prevention), respond during disclosure (full cooperation with legal authorities), and act after instances of abuse (holistic care)," he continued.
Right, make all these grand promises for reform after you have been outed in stories making national headlines. All the years of victims pleading for reform, that can be ignored, but once the church's reputation is on the line... that changes things.
The Southern Baptist Convention is currently the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Overall membership has declined in recent years, down from their peak around 2006. Controversies like this I am sure will continue to push away members. Most of my coverage of controversies like this have been of the Catholic Church, although I have also written about the Mormon Church and stories involving the Jehovah's Witnesses and a Jewish community.
Now we can add Southern Baptists to the list.
This story is likely to continue developing in the near future. Perhaps the SBC will actually enact some meaningful reform (doubtful), or more startling revelations may come to light (much more likely). Considering that the publication of the report in both the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News says that it is the "First of three parts," I suspect we may be learning a lot more soon.