Southern Baptist leaders covered up sexual abuse for decades, re-traumatizing victims, report finds

Southern Baptist Convention in 2018
(Image credit: Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service/Getty Images)

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention released a landmark 288-page report Sunday that outlined two decades of "resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility" toward people who came forward with allegations of sexual abuse in the largest U.S. Protestant denomination. The report was compiled by Guidepost Solutions, an independent organization contracted by the SBC's executive committee.

The seven-month investigation that a few executive committee leaders and the SBC's law firm "largely controlled the EC's response to these reports of abuse," Guidepost said in its reports. "Almost always the internal focus was on protecting the SBC from legal liability and not on caring for survivors or creating any plan to prevent sexual abuse within SBC churches." This stonewalling re-traumatized people sexually abused by pastors and other church leaders, the report found.

The report singled out a handful of Southern Baptist leaders, notably August "Augie" Boto, a top member of the executive committee who kept a list of hundreds of abusers at Southern Baptist churches, including some active ministers, even while the executive committee told Southern Baptists a database of accused clergy would violate SBC policy.

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In one of the report's most shocking revelations, Georgia pastor Johnny Hunt is credibly accused of sexually assaulting the wife of a fellow pastor during a 2010 Florida beach vacation, just a month after he finished his two-year term as SBC president. Hunt denied assaulting the woman to investigators and on Twitter, but the investigators deemed him not credible; he resigned from the SBC's North American Mission Board on May 13.

The Southern Baptists have wrestled with how to handle sexual abuse allegations in its churches for years before the Houston Chronicle documented hundreds of such cases in 2019.

"The depths of wickedness and inhumanity in this report are breathtaking," said Russell Moore, a top theologian who left the SBC over its mishandling of sexual abuse. "As dark a view as I had of the SBC executive committee, the investigation uncovers a reality far more evil and systemic than I imagined it could be."

Executive committee board chairman Rolland Slade and interim CEO Willie McLaurin called the report "the beginning of a season of listening, lamenting, and learning how to address sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention," adding that "there are no shortcuts" to fixing the problem. The report will be addressed at an executive committee meeting Tuesday and the annual SBC convention next month.

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