Southern Baptist Leaders Shut Down System-Wide Investigation Into Sexual Abuse June 15, 2021

Southern Baptist Leaders Shut Down System-Wide Investigation Into Sexual Abuse

This week marks the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting and the latest opportunity for its leaders to avoid taking strong positions against racism and sexual abuse, two problems that have long plagued the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

Yesterday, we got the first signs of how they hope to sweep their sexual abuse problems under the rug.

To make sense of it, you should know that a group called Guidepost Solutions has been hired by the SBC’s top leaders to investigate certain claims of malfeasance but it’s not comprehensive, nor is it clear that Guideposts will have unfettered access to all the information they might need. (It’s also a red flag that the Committee was in charge of hiring a group to investigate itself.)

A group of eight victims of sexual abuse, who have gone public with their stories, urged the Convention to do a
“comprehensive audit and assessment of the ways the SBC has handled sexual abuse claims.” They specifically backed a motion proposed by Indiana pastor Todd Benkert to “hire an outside organization” to do that investigation.

… [The motion would] provide a trusted and confidential way for victims, witnesses, and churches to voluntarily share their experiences of abuse and disclosure so we can learn from them and make the necessary changes. I believe this is a reasonable and necessary next step, one that fits within our polity and the principle of autonomy, and answers the call of survivors and advocates. We have much to learn from SBC survivors and we must take this next step.

What they were asking for makes a lot of sense. The SBC doesn’t even maintain a database of known predators within their ranks. But even that wouldn’t be enough because it doesn’t address how these problems were allowed to fester or whether allegations were mishandled by those in the SBC’s top leadership. Without doing an investigation of those leaders, what’s the point? And if that investigation isn’t made public, how can anyone have confidence in the SBC doing the right thing in the future?

The group [of abuse survivors] is also asking for a full release “without redaction” of an investigation by Guidepost Solutions into the Executive Committee staff and trustees — the group based in Nashville that runs the business of the denomination.

That suggestion for a more comprehensive investigation, however, was shut down yesterday. It didn’t have enough support among top leaders.

Here’s how one of those leaders urged everyone to reject the comprehensive investigation:

“In most cases, most of our churches are 100, 150 people; the children’s Sunday schools are run by the mothers of the children and their grandmothers,” said [Executive Committee member Joe] Knott, a Raleigh, North Carolina, lawyer. “There’s no safer place on earth than most Southern Baptist churches for children. If there is a problem, we can address it without hiring a third party and giving them unlimited access to our people.”

Bull. Shit. It’s been clear for years now that many churches are not safe. Trying to solve the problem in-house has never worked — it certainly didn’t help the Catholic Church. They need to allow outsiders with no prior allegiances to dig into whatever is necessary to uncover the roots of the problem.

Another Committee member offered a slippery slope argument against a full investigation:

Speaking against the motion, member Jim Gregory said [the] original proposal is comprehensive enough. Otherwise, he said, “This will never end. Monetarily, where does it end?”

If an investigation into sexual abuse never ends, maybe the Southern Baptists need to ask themselves what that says about them. And leave it to religious leaders to worry about money when it comes to investigating child rape…

Ultimately, that motion for a comprehensive investigation (that includes the SBC leadership) didn’t have the support it needed to be put in front of the voting members today.

And all that’s before we even get into the racial problems they’re dealing with, which could lead to an exodus of several Black pastors.

What a mess.

In case you’re wondering why any of this should matter to atheists, it’s because these issues dictate the future of the largest denomination of Christianity in the country. As much as I hate to admit it, their decisions and their leadership have a direct impact on what happens in our country socially and politically. It’s to everyone’s benefit, then, for these survivors and dissenters to make their voices heard and steer the SBC in a better direction.

For now, SBC leaders shut them down.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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