Southern Baptists to meet again under cloud of abuse scandals

When 16,000 Southern Baptists gather in Nashville on Tuesday, they will do so again amid a cloud of sexual abuse scandals, including allegations that key leaders have sought to silence survivors of abuse.

A series of leaked letters and audio recordings in June shed light on internal deliberations on the abuse and prompted calls for investigations into its top executives.

This is familiar territory for the country’s second-largest faith group: The SBC meeting in 2018 took place amid allegations of sexual misconduct or mismanagement of allegations of abuse by longtime faith leaders such as as Paige Patterson and former Texas Court of Appeals Judge Paul Pressler. And when the Southern Baptist Convention last convened, in 2019, it was on the heels of a Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News investigation, Abuse of Faith, which found that hundreds of children had been abused by leaders and volunteers of the SBC church.

The tension and infighting between SBC leaders has only increased since then. And now even senior officials recognize the denomination is at a crossroads ahead of an annual meeting that will also include a presidential election and votes on a variety of sexual abuse reforms.

“This is a crucial meeting,” said Rolland Slade, chairman of the SBC executive committee. “Either we will come out headed for revival, and we will have repentance and the people will lay down their swords. Or we’ll keep kicking the box on the road.

Slade was one of the SBC’s most vocal leaders on abuse following the Chronicle’s February 2019 report which found that more than 400 church leaders and SBC volunteers had been convicted or credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct over the past two decades.

They left behind more than 700 victims, almost all of them children.

In response, SBC church delegates empowered a committee to “investigate” churches that have been accused of mismanagement or cover-up of sexual abuse, and they proposed an amendment to their constitution that would allow them. to suppress churches that have mismanaged abuse or that have knowingly employed predators.

The SBC’s public policy arm, the Commission for Ethics and Religious Freedom, also revamped the theme of its three-day annual conference to deal solely with issues of abuse. ERLC has also developed and promoted a curriculum on how to “deal well” with abused people.

Survivors and advocates criticized the SBC’s response and called for more sweeping reforms.

Some of these proposals may be put to a vote at next week’s meeting. Any church delegate can make motions or recommendations during the meeting, making it impossible to predict what may happen.

Several pastors say they will push for tougher abuse reforms, including for the SBC to undergo a three-year third-party audit of abuse and responses to it.

The idea has long been requested by survivors and advocates who say SBC churches are neither sufficiently equipped nor impartial enough to investigate themselves. The SBC executive committee rejected a similar proposal in 2008, saying it could not compel any of the SBC’s 47,000 autonomous and autonomous churches to cooperate with the investigations.

Todd Benkert, the pastor from Indiana who proposed the idea, believes that “the autonomy of the local church” does not conflict with his proposal. He said many SBC pastors had opened their eyes to the large number of cases, but the results were likely only the tip of the iceberg.

“If the SBC is to be able to implement meaningful changes, it is essential to have better information to inform those changes,” he said. “This resolution is intended to provide a clearer picture of what is going on in the SBC.”

The old rulers are coming back

Benkert’s motion is one of the few aimed at educating members of the SBC church about the abuse and its potential mismanagement.

On Thursday, Phillip Bethancourt, former ERLC vice president and one of the denomination’s leaders on abuse reform, audio leak a series of meetings with other officials.

In one recording, executive committee chairman Ronnie Floyd was concerned that allowing survivors to criticize leadership could threaten the longevity of the SBC. His comments came just after the SBC held a three-day conference in response to the Chronicle’s reports, in which many speakers and survivors criticized current and former leaders.

“I’m not concerned about anything the survivors may say,” Floyd said on the tapes. “OK. I’m not worried about that. I’m thinking about the base. I just want to preserve the base.

In a statement from Thursday, Floyd accused Bethancourt of distorting their conversations. He said the executive committee remained committed to ending the abuse and was in the process of retaining the services of a third-party company to investigate the numerous charges against current and former members of the committee.

The day before, Wednesday, a 2019 email sent by longtime SBC frontman Augie Boto was leaked online. In correspondence, Boto – who was instrumental in the SBC’s 2008 decision not to implement anti-abuse reforms – questioned the motivations of leading abuse survivors and advocates, as well as the seriousness of the problem.

“All of this should be seen for what it is,” wrote Boto, who retired in 2019. “It’s a satanic ploy to completely distract us from evangelism.” He could not be reached for comment.

That was just the last leaked letter: Earlier this month, the Chronicle obtained a 2020 letter in which outgoing SBC frontman Russell Moore described what he said were numerous attempts by the SBC. SBC executive committee members share revenge on him for his work with survivors of abuse.

Moore objected to an investigation that was launched into him and his entity, the Commission for Ethics and Religious Freedom, by other SBC executives in early 2020. The investigation was designed as an investigation on Moore’s work and its effect on donations.

Moore alleged it was intended to intimidate her, one of many “tactics that have been used to create a culture where countless children have been torn apart, where women have been raped and then ‘broken’.”

One of the people behind that 2020 investigation was Mike Stone, who at the time chaired the SBC’s executive committee. Stone is a favorite to be elected president of the SBC when the group meets next week. Stone could not be reached for comment, but denied Moore’s accusations in a video message.

Stone and other members of the executive are aligned and supported by the Conservative Baptist Network, which was formed last year to fight what members say is a drift towards liberalism within the SBC. Earlier this month, disgraced ex-SBC leader Paige Patterson told Baptist Press he helped found the CBN, which had long been suspected by faith-based insiders.

In 2018, Patterson was removed from his post as director of a Fort Worth seminary for saying he wanted to meet a woman who said she was raped at gunpoint so he could “break it”.

The Chronicle has since released hours of video showing Patterson personally intervened when a protégé was confronted with dozens of allegations of misconduct in churches during the 1980s. The man, Darrell Gilyard, finally been jailed for sex crimes with children.

Although his stature and power have diminished, Patterson remains a popular hero in the eyes of many for his role in the so-called “Battle for the Bible,” the period of the 1980s when the SBC went to war with itself. for a literal interpretation. of Scripture.

Some members of the executive committee sought to censor President JD Greear for saying in an interview with The Chronicle that churches should consider Patterson’s story before welcoming him.

David Pittman is one of many abuse survivors who say it’s hard to believe that much has changed on the SBC while Patterson is still adopted. He is also not convinced that this year’s meeting will produce any substantive changes.

“Maybe one day they will act,” Pittman said. “Maybe not. At least when they stand before God, they won’t be able to say they didn’t know anymore.

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