Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have called the reports by two Texas newspapers of hundreds of sex abuse cases in affiliated churches evidence of “pure evil” and “satanic” behavior within their ranks.
Several vowed to improve the ways churches address such behavior.
The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News launched an “Abuse of Faith” investigative series over the weekend that reports about 220 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct in the last two decades. Overall, they found about 380 Southern Baptists who faced allegations from more than 700 victims in that time period.
“Nearly 100 are still held in prisons stretching from Sacramento County, Calif., to Hillsborough County, Fla., state and federal records show,” they reported. “Scores of others cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders. Some still work in Southern Baptist churches today.”
SBC President J.D. Greear said the news coverage of the abuse shows that churches connected to the nation’s largest Protestant denomination have failed the survivors of sex abuse.
“The abuses described in the Houston Chronicle article are pure evil,” he said in a Sunday (Feb. 10) statement. “We — leaders in the SBC — should have listened to the warnings of those who tried to call attention to this. I hope we listen now, and I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure we never make these mistakes again.”
At the SBC’s annual meeting in June, the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission announced that it would study the extent of abuse occurring in the convention’s churches. That research is part of a presidential task force that has met with leaders from churches, law enforcement, and anti-abuse advocacy groups to determine how congregations and other Baptist groups can work on the issue.
“The sexual abuse of the vulnerable is satanic at its very root,” said ERLC President Russell Moore in a Sunday statement. “If your understanding of the gospel means that rapists and sexual offenders still have access to those who can be harmed, you do not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Greear said that future approaches to abuse will need to include prevention, “full cooperation with legal authorities” and holistic care for victims.
“It’s time for pervasive change,” he said in his statement. “God demands it. Survivors deserve it.”
The newspapers’ investigation seemed to be something that Baptist leaders expected.
In a mid-January update on its sex abuse study, ERLC Vice President Phillip Betancourt noted earlier news accounts of religious groups’ handling of sex abuse, including the recent Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s investigation of independent fundamental Baptist churches, based on accounts of more than 200 former and current church members.
“It would not be surprising if journalists are working on a similar type of story focused on Southern Baptist churches as well,” he wrote.
Asked in January by Religion News Service if he was worried about such an investigation of Southern Baptist churches, Greear said, “what worries me, really, is the problem behind it.”
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Source: Religion News Service