Sunday, 29 May 2022

Christian Child Abuse News - 700 Sexual Predators Found on a Secret SBC List

An annual meeting for the Southern Baptist Convention, which has almost 14 million members.

Photo: Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News, via Associated Press
Southern Baptist Sex Abuse Report Stuns, From Pulpit to Pews - The New York Times

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention in the USA have decided to release a formerly secret list of child abusers known to senior figures in the Convention. The list was originally started as a research project for an SBC committee in 2007 but was officially discontinued shortly after. However, a staffer continued to maintain it until 2022. It's existence was unknown until discovered by Guidepost Solutions, a firm employed as part of a multi-million dollar investigation into how the SBC handled abuse cases.

According to this report, the 205-page list contains details of cases involving "pastors, Sunday school teachers, camp counselors, music ministers, bus drivers and missionaries, with about 400 tied to SBC churches from Alaska to Alabama. In almost all of the cases, the abuse had led to arrests and jail time.". The compiler, whose name has been redacted from the released file, and who remains anonymous in the Guidepost Solutions report, has added the following disclaimer:
The information is largely pulled from news articles complied from 2007 until 2022. It is incomplete. It has not been proofed. It has not been adequately researched. It is not Southern Baptist specific.

This table was created as a research tool to discover the scope of sexual abuse of children within the Sothern Baptist Convention which was considered by the Bylaws Workgroup 2/2007 – 6/2008. In June 2008, the Executive Committee presented its report “Responding to the Evil of Sexual Abuse.” After June 2008, only alleged/convicted names of abusers and tiles[sic] of articles were cataloged. Following the Houston Chronicles release of its database in February 2019, it was determined that many of the articles on the table were dead. I merged the tables and updated where possible. I have not researched listed Individuals outside the stated parameters.
The 300 plus page report by Guidepost Solutions, covering a litany of sexual abuses over the past 30 years, is causing shockwaves at all levels ib the SBC community. In addition to revealing the existence of this list, it also revealed that SBC leaders knew of these abuses but tried to supress them and even belittled the victims.

Why SBC members would have expected SBC employees not to exploit their positions of power in the way senior figures in other religions abuse their position of trust is something of a mystery. Anyone taking an objective view of how religion is used by its senior clerics this way, could have told them to expect it.

In fact, the scandal has been swirling around SBC circles since an investigation by The Houston Chronicle and The San Antonio Express-News revealed that nearly 400 Southern Baptist leaders, from youth pastors to top ministers, had pleaded guilty or been convicted of sex crimes against more than 700 victims since 1998.

In the executive summary of their report, Guidepost Solutions say:
Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC leaders, along with outside counsel, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse. They closely guarded information about abuse allegations and lawsuits, which were not shared with EC Trustees, and were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations. In service of this goal, 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 polity regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.
They go on to say:
Over the years, the EC’s response to sexual abuse allegations was largely driven by senior EC staff members, particularly D. August “Augie” Boto, the EC General Counsel and later Interim EC President, as well as the SBC’s long-serving outside counsel – James Guenther, James Jordan, and the firm of Guenther, Jordan & Price (“GJP”). Their status and longevity in the SBC organization – Mr. Guenther had provided legal advice since 1966 and began in 1998 as Vice President for Convention Policy before becoming General Counsel in 2004 – enabled them to control decisions about how the SBC EC would deal with the increasing attention on church sexual abuse.

Their main concern was avoiding any potential liability for the SBC. As this report documents, those who reported abuse were often ignored or told that the SBC had no power to take action. Mr. Guenther advised that EC staff should not undertake to elicit further information or details about reports of abuse, so that the EC not assume a legal duty to take further action.

Over the years, the existence of these reports of abuse were not shared with EC Trustees. Nor was the fact that, since 2007, an EC staff member working for Mr. Boto was maintaining a list of accused ministers in Baptist churches, including the minister’s name, year reported, relevant news articles, state, and denomination. In a May 2019 email to Dr. Ronnie Floyd, the then-EC President, EC Vice President Dr. Roger “Sing” Oldham acknowledged that “[f]or the past decade, I have been regularly sending Augie news reports of Baptist ministers who are arrested for sexual abuse, for his awareness. It hasn't slowed down since the [Houston] Chronicle articles started on February 10.” Mr. Boto responded that: “Yes. We are collecting them, and may even post them in some way, but we’d have to really examine the potential liabilities that would stem therefrom.”

Despite collecting these reports for more than 10 years, there is no indication that Dr. Oldham, Mr. Boto, or anyone else, took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches. The most recent list prepared by the EC staff member contained the names of 703 abusers, with 409 believed to be SBC-affiliated at some point in time.

Our investigative team reviewed the list and conducted significant research to assess whether any of the alleged abusers were still associated with an SBC church. Based on these efforts, it appears that nine (9) people remain in active ministry or connected to ministry. Two (2) of those people appear to be associated with an SBC church. The remaining seven (7) appear to be associated with churches that are not SBC-affiliated. We will provide this information to the Credentials Committee for further review, including whether the seven additional churches mentioned above are in fact non-SBC affiliated. We will also continue to review the latter material to determine whether any referrals or other action needs to be taken.
The investigators found what they called a Pattern of Intimidation of Victims or Advocates, even, on one occasion, reminiscent of Pope Francis' blaming Satan for revealing the extent of the sexual abuses of Catholic priests, calling their complaints the work of Satan. On another occasion, an account of her abuse at the hands of her former seminary professor was altered to make it looks as though the assault was consensual and involved inappropriate behaviour on the part of the victim.

No compunctions about false witnessing there, then:
Rather than focusing on these accused ministers, some EC leaders turned against the very people trying to shine a light on sexual abuse. The survivors – those persons who actually suffered at the hands of SBC clergy or SBC church staff or volunteers – who spoke out the most, and who criticized the SBC’s inaction, were denigrated as “opportunistic,” having a “hidden agenda of lawsuits,” wanting to “burn things to the ground,” and acting as a “professional victim.” In an internal email, Mr. Boto even equated the focus on sexual abuse with the work of the devil.

This whole thing should be seen for what it is. It is a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism. It is not the gospel. It is not even a part of the gospel. It is a misdirection play. Yes, Christa Brown [a survivor] and Rachael Denhollander [a survivor advocate] have succumbed to an availability heuristic because of their victimizations. They have gone to the SBC looking for sexual abuse, and of course, they found it. Their outcries have certainly caused an availability cascade (just like Lois Gibbs did in the Love Canal example). But they are not to blame. This is the devil being temporarily successful.

Baptist Press (“BP”), the EC’s communications arm, was also used to portray survivors in an unflattering light and mischaracterize allegations of abuse. For example, in March 2019, Jennifer Lyell, a senior executive at an SBC entity, was asked by executives at Lifeway and SBC entity heads to disclose her sexual abuse at the hands of her former seminary professor through a first-person account to be published in BP. Rather than publishing Ms. Lyell’s corroborated account as BP staff had originally drafted it, the account was changed to read as if Ms. Lyell was consensually involved with her alleged abuser. The article as published reported that Ms. Lyell alleged that she had a “morally inappropriate relationship” with her former seminary professor, making it appear that she engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with him. Ms. Lyell was thereafter subject to vicious attacks, including harsh and hurtful comments on Baptist Press FaceBook – she was called a bitter jealous woman and an adulterer, and some suggested she should be fired. After Ms. Lyell expressed her grave concerns about the article, the story was removed on the advice of outside counsel but not corrected. Finally, after public recognition that the story was inaccurate, and months of pleas by Ms. Lyell, BP retracted the story in October 2019 and issued an apology.
Senior SBC leaders were even complicit in the abuses, protecting or supporting the abusers while vilifying the victims:
While stories of abuse were minimized, and survivors were ignored or even vilified, revelations came to light in recent years that some senior SBC leaders had protected or even supported abusers:
  • Former SBC President Steve Gaines admitted that, as senior pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church, he had delayed reporting a staff minister’s prior sexual abuse of a child of “heartfelt concern and compassion for th[e] minister,” while acknowledging that he should have “brought it to the attention of our church leadership immediately;”
  • Former SBC President Jack Graham, when he was pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church, allegedly allowed an accused abuser of young boys to be dismissed quietly in 1989 without reporting the abuse to police. The accused abuser, John Langworthy, later was charged with abusing young boys in Mississippi in 2011;
  • Former SBC President Paige Patterson was terminated from his position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2018 after it was revealed that he told a student not to report a rape in 2003 and, in 2015, emailed his intention to meet with another student who had reported an assault, with no other officials present, so he could “break her down;”
  • Former SBC Vice President Judge Paul Pressler is the defendant in a civil sexual abuse lawsuit alleging that he repeatedly sexually abused the plaintiff beginning when the plaintiff was 14 years old. Two other men submitted separate affidavits in the case also accusing Judge Pressler of sexual misconduct; and
  • Former EC Interim President and General Counsel Augie Boto testified as a character witness for Mark Schiefelbein, a gymnastics coach convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault against a minor. During his testimony at a post-conviction evidentiary hearing in September 2008, Mr. Boto identified himself as general trial counsel for the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The report also criticises senior SBC staff for actively opposing measures to reduce sexual abuses by church employees, usually to avoid tacitly admitting responsibility and making the SBC vulnerable to compensation claims. Abuses were allowed to continue rather than risk paying out compensation to victims by tacitly admitting responsibility for the safeguarding policies and practices of affiliated churches:
…although some proposals may not have been feasible, it is striking that many reform efforts were met with resistance, typically due to concerns over incurring legal liability:
  • A 2007 proposal for an SBC database of accused molesters was rejected in 2008 based on church autonomy, even though SBC outside counsel had submitted a memo to Mr. Boto discussing how it could be accomplished consistent with polity;
  • A 2014 proposal for the SBC to hold a sexual abuse education conference was opposed by Mr. Boto, delayed, and ultimately did not occur;
  • Some EC leaders and some EC Trustees criticized SBC President J.D. Greear for mentioning the names of churches cited in the Houston Chronicle’s series about sexual abuse, and outside counsel warned Dr. Greear that such actions could get the SBC sued for libel. Mr. Boto even called one of the churches to apologize for Dr. Greear’s actions – that church’s music minister later confessed to committing abuse and the church voluntarily disassociated from the SBC;
  • Mr. Boto was resistant to having a Credentials Committee because it might make the Convention vulnerable to liability claims;
  • Some EC leaders clashed with the ERLC over sexual abuse initiatives and some opposed funding the Caring Well conference. In addition, when the ERLC was putting together a report about sexual abuse, EC leaders and outside counsel suggested changes to the report to avoid potential liability, including removing the word “crisis” when referring to sexual abuse;
  • Dr. Floyd and Mr. Addison were opposed to a Task Force to investigate the EC’s response, and Dr. Floyd tried to prevent the Motion.
The real scandal here is not that employees of the SBC abused positions of trust but that the leadership knew of these abuses, did nothing to prevent them continuing and even victimised the victims further to prevent them seeking redress and bringing the abusers to justice, and were even complicit in allowing known abusers to continue to abuse.

Just as with the Catholic Church, the first priority of the leadership of the SBC was to defend the organization and safeguard its assets against claims for compensation. The welfare of the victims of employees of their affiliated churches were of little or no consequence.

The SBC is a loose federation of autonomous Protestant Christian churches which includes fundamentalist evangelical churches. The moral decadence of these pastors can be judged by their open supporters of Donald Trump and the Republican Party and the fact that they apparently see nothing wrong with Trump's history of boasting about his sexual assaults on women, his serial adultery and purchase of the services of prostitutes and call girls, or his and his associates' casual corruption, habitual disregard for truth, and criminal activities as head of the White House crime syndicate to which decent Americans put a stop in 2020.

The SBC frequently hides behind the autonomy of its constituent churches, claiming it is not responsible for allowing known abusers to continue to work in positions where they can commit further crimes.

The morally repugnant behaviour of the SBC's leadership and the lower echelons of Baptist preachers, pastors, youth leaders and missionaries shows the truth of the axiom:

Religion provides excuses for people who need excuses.


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