Updated: May 25, 2022
The Sexual Abuse Internal Audit
At the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Nashville, TN, the messengers to the Convention overwhelmingly approved a third-party investigation of the Executive Committee’s (hereafter referred to as EC) handling of sexual abuse over the last twenty years. With one decisive vote, the messengers stripped the EC of the ability to investigate itself, and thank God they did.
A Special task force was appointed to oversee the investigation led by Pastor Bruce Franks. The task force hired Guideposts solutions to conduct an internal audit and produce a comprehensive report.
The report is incredibly sad. Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Seminary, calls the report the Judgment of the Lord. He is not wrong.
You can read the report for yourself here. It is 288 pages in length.
I have read the report in its entirety, and below is my attempt to summarize its findings.
I am greatly sobered, and even sickened by its contents. The report revealed far more wickedness than we might have imagined.
We must be fervently praying for the SBC, for the annual meeting in just a few weeks, and the many, many victims who have needlessly suffered under the sins of the SBC EC.
Here is my summary of the Report:
1 - A Catastrophic Failure of Leadership.
-This is, perhaps, the main point of the report. The executive leadership of the Southern Baptist convention has failed miserably.
Augie Boto (longtime EC VP) - Absolute failure on all accounts. Guilty of downplaying sexual abuse issues; failing to report pertinent information; serving as a character witness for convicted child molester.
Frank Page (EC President)- Engaged in affair; resigned EC; now pastoring in Taylors, SC.
Paige Patterson (SBC President)- Failure to protect victims; guilty of sexual abuse cover-ups; failure to take adequate action.
Judge Paul Pressler (longtime EC VP) - Current defendant in a sexual assault case against young males.
“Pressler agreed to pay $1,500 a month as “long as the confidentiality of this agreement is maintained.” 517” (Report, 183)
Bobby Welch (SBC President)- Failure to take adequate action.
Johnny Hunt (SBC President, current NAMB VP) - Sexual predator.
Jack Graham (SBC President) - Failure to report a verified sexual predator on church staff; sexual abuse cover-up.
Steve Gaines (SBC President) - Failure to report sexual predator on church staff; sexual abuse cover-up.
Guenther Law-firm (Longtime legal counsel to EC; resigned last year) - The report makes clear that the Guenther Law firm, in partnership with Augie Boto, have long silenced and intimidated survivors of abuse in favor of protecting the SBC institution.
Ronnie Floyd (SBC President; EC President) - Denied having knowledge of sexual-abuse cover-ups throughout his short tenure, which is demonstrably false. He had specific knowledge of the Baptist Press incident with Jennifer Lyell. (Report, numerous). Documented resistance to institutional change.
Baptist Press (SBC Media arm) - Libel against Jennifer Lyell. Sexual abuse cover-up.
-This amounts to absolute failure and there is but one word for it: Corruption.
2 - Sexual Predators in Leadership.
-While the report identifies that numerous sexual abusers exist within the Convention at large, the report also identifies that such abusers exist among the leadership itself.
-Former SBC President, and Current NAMB VP, Johnny Hunt, is credibly accused of sexually abusing another man’s wife in Florida condo while serving as SBC President. (Report, pg. 4, 149-161).
Johnny Hunt has been a major power-player in the SBC for a long time. He pastored FBC Woodstock, a mega-Church, in Woodstock Georgia for 33 years. He served as the SBC President from 2008-2010. He currently serves as Senior Vice President of Evangelism and Leadership at the North American Mission Board of the SBC.
“We included this sexual assault allegation in the report because the investigators found Pastor and Survivor to be credible; their report was corroborated in part by Mr. Blankenship and three other credible witnesses; and Dr. Hunt, while denying physical contact, does acknowledge that he had interactions with the Survivor, including on the condo balcony during the relevant time period. The investigators did not find Dr. Hunt to be credible in their interviews with him.” (Report, pg. 161).
-This will come as a devastating blow to many, as Hunt has long been a hero of the faith for thousands.
Update: Johnny Hunt abruptly resigned his VP position with NAMB the day the report was released. He did not cite any particular reason, but did deny the abuse outright. His abrupt resignation says otherwise.
-Judge Paul Pressler, a long-time SBC hero, is presently a defendant in a sexual abuse case. He is credibly accused of sexual assault of two young men.
-And while he is not accused of abuse himself, former EC VP Augie Boto serving as a character witness for a known sexual predator.
“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.” (Report, pg. 7)
3 - A Failure of Information.
The report makes clear that an overwhelming number of personal reports of sexual abuse among SBC ministers had come in to the EC since 2000. While Boto was dismissive of these reports, an EC staffer was also maintaining a record, and that list sits somewhere around 500-700 persons at present.
“Although many EC Trustees were not informed about sexual abuse allegations, there were those within EC leadership who were very aware. Dr. Oldham and Mr. Boto had been collecting information about these types of cases for years. Dr. Oldham acknowledged in an email to Dr. Floyd in May 2019, which was copied to Boto and others, that: For 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 Chronicle articles started on February 10. I sent him two more the past two days, one in Texas who was just sentenced and one in North Carolina who was just arrested on federal charges. 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.452” (Report, pg. 162)
“In over a decade of collecting this information, which amounted to around 585 possible abusers at the time of the email correspondence, no action was ever taken to share these materials outside a small cadre of people, or to take action to address the possibility that these accused individuals might continue in ministry in SBC churches.” (Report, 164)
“At the 2008 June Convention, the Dr. Chapman rejected the proposal [to form a sexual abuser database] based on SBC polity.”533” (Report, 186).
A 2014 conference on Sexual Abuse was prevented rom occuring by the secret actions of Boto and Page (Report, 186).
4 - A Failure of Official Process: EC Executives kept EC Trustees in the Dark, and in forced Submission.
The EC is staffed by some 30 people as full-time employees. The EC staffers are required to keep the EC Trustee board informed of its actions, and are to submit to the leadership of that board. It seems that just the opposite has been occurring.
“One EC Trustee said there was a pattern that officers and staff knew more than EC members.344 There was a perception that the EC Staff was in charge.345 Some EC Trustees felt that decisions were already made by EC leadership without including the EC Trustees, and that the EC Trustees were expected to be a “rubber stamp” for those decisions.346 As one person put it: officers expected the EC members to toe the line and not raise issues.347 One EC Trustee noted that even at the September 2021 meeting, much of the discussions took place in executive sessions.348 An EC Trustee who early on spoke in favor of a Task Force was accused of not trusting leadership.349 (Guidepost Report, 125).
5 - EC Culture has been Dismissive of Women.
“Many EC staff members said they do feel valued and appreciated by their leaders and colleagues and enjoy working at the EC. However, some female EC staff members felt women were underrepresented at leadership levels, though this has improved in the last three years, and that some male leaders could be dismissive of female opinions. Some female staff members said they did not speak up when disagreeing with a male leader and would let it go. Others said that they have been subjected to demeaning, objectifying comments or been patronized, dismissed, and disrespected.365” (Report, pg. 130)
6 - The Very Real Problem of Abuse.
“These histories underscore how sexual abuse within churches is a wide-ranging and long-standing problem that has a profound effect on survivors and their loved ones. During our investigation, many of the survivors we spoke with were sexually abused as children, both boys and girls, who were of varying ages at the time of their abuse. We also had adult survivors of clergy sexual abuse come forward to share their histories with us.” (Report, 135)
Coupled with this the fact that Boto, Page, and Floyd seemed to have extensive knowledge that such abuses were occurring and did nothing means that the problem is larger than we ever imagined.
As Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
These men are guilty of these sins for the absolute failure to take the necessary actions to prevent it.
7 - The Neglect of Abuse Survivors (to Protect the Institution?)
-The reports indicates an overwhelming neglect, and at times, an intentional shunning of sex abuse survivors by the leaders of the EC.
“One abuse survivor, reporting her abuse to the EC in person, received negative response and was even rebuffed. The report quotes her stating, “In February 2007, she shared her history and sought reforms at an EC meeting. According to Ms. Brown, during her speech an EC member turned his back to her and another chortled. She described her feelings: I ask you to try to imagine what it’s like to speak about something so painful to a room in which men disrespect you in such a way. And I hope that you will also try to imagine the long-lasting impact this had on me – to speak about this horrific trauma of having my pastor repeatedly rape me as a child, only to have religious leaders behave in this way and to have not a single other person who thought it mattered enough to speak up.399” (Report, 140)
Ms. Brown recounted that almost every SBC survivor she’s ever talked with – and there have been many – has said that the effort to report an abusive pastor caused even greater trauma than the sexual abuse itself.404 (Report, 140)
“The prevailing attitude of some EC leaders was that the SBC had no responsibility for addressing the sexual abuse crisis within member churches because, under SBC polity, those churches were autonomous, in charge of their own hiring, and not under the control 162 of the SBC. When abuse allegations were brought to the EC, including allegations that convicted sex offenders were still in ministry, EC leaders generally did not discuss this information outside of their inner circle, often did not respond to the survivor, and took no action to address these allegations so as to prevent ongoing abuse or such abuse in the future.” (Report, pg. 161-62).
“The treatment of survivors stands in stark contrast to how SBC churches were treated. For example, after Dr. Greear named 10 churches accused of mishandling abuse allegations, the Bylaws Work Group was pressured to clear the churches’ names quickly.494 Mr. Boto even called the pastor of one of the churches to apologize for the church being named by Dr. Greear.495 In the words of Dr. Greear, the SBC has a history of erring on the side of the institution, and needs to start erring on the side of the victim. 496” (Report, pg, 175)
Here are the recommended action steps from Guideposts.
1 - Recommendation EC-1: Establish an Independent Commission to Implement and Oversee Reforms
2 - Recommendation EC-2: Consider the Creation of an Administrative Entity to Provide a Permanent Resource for Prevention and Response Efforts related to Sexual Abuse
3 - Recommendation EC-3: Create and Maintain a Resource Toolbox for Prevention and Response
4 - Recommendation EC-4: Provide Support for Establishing Safe Spaces Through a Self-Certification Program
5 - Recommendation EC-5: Enhance Prevention Resources.
6 - Recommendation EC-6: Adopt a Declaration of Principles
7 - Recommendation EC-7: Devote Resources to Survivor Support
8 - Recommendation EC-8: Consider Prohibiting Confidentiality Agreements in Sexual Abuse Matters
9 - Recommendation EC-9: Provide Adequate Funding for Reforms
10 - Recommendation EC-10: Consider Further Defining Southern Baptist Beliefs Regarding Sexual Abuse
11 - Recommendation EC-11: Improve Governance at the SBC EC by Creating the Position of Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer
12 - Recommendation EC-12: Establish a Document Retention Policy
13 - Recommendation EC-13: Enhance SBC EC Compliance Policies
14 - Recommendation EC-14: Create a Media Plan to Bring Awareness to Issues of Sexual Abuse
15 - Recommendation EC-15: Acknowledge the Survivors of SBC Clergy Sexual Abuse
16 - Recommendation EC-16: Enhance Awareness of Sexual Abuse within SBC Entities
17 - Recommendation EC-17: Implement Principles for Baptist Press
What is Our Response?
It really is too early to formulate a proper response. As for right now, we must sit in this. We must own it as Southern Baptists. We must take responsibility for what our leaders have and have not done.
As Dr. Mohler said this morning, now is a time for sackcloth and ashes.
May God have mercy.
Pray for the Convention that is to meet in just a few weeks. It will be an historic convention.
Pray for Justice and Righteousness.