The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest protestant denomination in the United States, and is second only to the Catholic Church in American membership in the Christian faith. And they have some soul searching to do:
Journalists in the two newsrooms spent more than six months reviewing thousands of pages of court, prison and police records and conducting hundreds of interviews. They built a database of former leaders in Southern Baptist churches who have been convicted of sex crimes.
The investigation reveals that:
• At least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades. In some cases, church leaders apparently failed to alert law enforcement about complaints or to warn other congregations about allegations of misconduct.
• Several past presidents and prominent leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are among those criticized by victims for concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their own churches or seminaries.
• Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit. Others remain there, including a Houston preacher who sexually assaulted a teenager and now is the principal officer of a Houston nonprofit that works with student organizations, federal records show. Its name: Touching the Future Today Inc.
• Many of the victims were adolescents who were molested, sent explicit photos or texts, exposed to pornography, photographed nude, or repeatedly raped by youth pastors. Some victims as young as 3 were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms.
A few were adults — women and men who sought pastoral guidance and instead say they were seduced or sexually assaulted.
The reporting is extensive. Many will draw comparisons to the on-going scandals in the Catholic Church, but there are a few difference that should be noted. Local SBC churches, while under the umbrella of the national convention are fully autonomous and self-governed. Money and giving goes up but there is little of the authority the Catholic Church holds over their congregations coming back down. The piece goes into detail on how that model is ripe for predators, and how that makes any internal changes unlikely to be of much benefit.
“Change has to begin at the ground level with churches and organizations,” SBC President JD Greear is quoted in the report, “Our churches must start standing together with a commitment to take this issue much more seriously than ever before.”
We will see what happens now going forward.