Sexual abuse
February 19, 2019

On Monday night, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear outlined plans to improve how America's largest Protestant denomination handles sexual abuse, especially of minors. His proposals, presented to the Souther Baptist Convention's executive committee at a meeting in Nashville, include providing free training for pastors and other ministry leaders, encouraging member churches to revisit their sexual abuse policies, breaking fellowship with member churches that show "wanton disregard for sexual abuse," and taking a look at how Baptist ministers are ordained.

Greear's presentation follows a bombshell report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News about widespread sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches, including by some ministers who are both registered sex offenders and active pastors. But Greear, elected president in June following the surprise resignation of a previous leader who stepped down amid sexual misconduct and a broader #MeToo furor, had commissioned a study on the topic months before the reports were published. "The reason I formed this group last summer was we have known there was a problem and whatever had been done in the past, clearly was not enough," he told his fellow Southern Baptist leaders.

"If we don't get this right, our churches will not be a safe place for the lost," Greear said, according to his prepared remarks. "That's not something I'm okay with, and I know it's not something you're okay with." Southern Baptists "need to regard any exposure, any shining of light on abuse, as our friend, even if it makes us ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves, publicly," he added. "This is not a fabricated story made up by people with a secular agenda. We've not taken reports of abuse in our churches as seriously as our gospel demands, and sometimes even worse, outright ignored or silenced victims." You can learn more about the Southern Baptist abuses and abusers in the sometimes disturbing Houston Chronicle report below. Peter Weber

February 11, 2019

In June 2008, Debbie Vasquez and other sexual abuse survivors traveled to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual gathering and pleaded with the convention to track sexual predators who worked at the SBC's 47,000 affiliated churches, sanctioning those that harbored or hid predatory abusers. Vasquez — who says her Southern Baptist pastor sexually molested her starting at 14, and her church urged her to get an abortion when he impregnated her at 18 — pleaded with SBC leaders to enact abuse-prevention policies like the U.S. Catholic Church had done years earlier, according to a recording she shared with the Houston Chronicle.

SBC leaders declined to act, the Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News reported Sunday, so the newspapers compiled their own list. They found that since that 2008 meeting, more than 250 people who worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches nationwide — pastors, youth ministers, deacons, Sunday school teachers — have been charged with sex crimes. And since 1998, at least 380 SBC leaders or volunteers have been charged or credibly accused of abuse, leaving behind more than 700 victims. About 220 offenders were convicted of sex-related crimes or took plea deals. Some of these convicted and registered sex offenders still preach at Southern Baptist churches, including one who also heads a Houston nonprofit that works with schoolchildren, Touching the Future Today Inc.

Southern Baptist leaders knew there was a sexual abuse problem, they tell the Chronicle, but they were powerless to act because of the core autonomy and independence accorded each Southern Baptist church. Some leaders are implicated in abuse or cover-ups themselves. "The SBC has ended its affiliation with four churches in the past 10 years for affirming or endorsing homosexual behavior," the Chronicle notes. "The SBC governing documents ban gay or female pastors. They do not outlaw convicted sex offenders from working in churches." The inaction beyond prayers "is the greatest tragedy of all," David Pittman, whose abuser still works as a youth minister despite his warnings, told the Chronicle. "So many people's faith is murdered. I mean, their faith is slaughtered by these predators." Read more at the Houston Chronicle. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads