(HOUSTON) — An extensive newspaper investigation has revealed the seeming breadth and ubiquity of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist church community, and details allegations of how church officials failed to take action for years.
The investigation spanned 20 states, and involves numerous churches, which in the Southern Baptist faith generally operate with autonomy.
The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News published a six month investigation into allegations of widespread sex abuse, reporting that 380 church leaders and volunteers faced allegations of sexual misconduct.
The investigation was a joint effort between the two newspapers — both of which published the same, explosive report in their respective publications on Sunday.
Of the 380 individuals who have faced or are facing allegations of sexual misconduct, about 220 have either been convicted or accepted plea deals in connection to their misconduct, and dozens of pending cases remain unresolved, according to the investigation.
An unspecified number of those individuals still work in Southern Baptist churches, the newspapers reported, while nearly 100 are in prison, and others faced no time in jail.
The offenses include rape, sexual assault and pornography, the paper reports. Some of the abuse took place in pastors’ studies or in choral or Sunday school classrooms, the investigation found.
The current president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), J.D. Greear, turned to Twitter to respond to the “pure evil” described in the investigation’s conclusions.
The SBC is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., as well as the nation’s second largest Christian denomination, behind the Catholic Church. The SBC counts more than 50,000 churches and more than 15 million members among its congregation.
“The voices in this article should be heard as a warning sent from God, calling the church to repent,” Greear wrote in a Twitter thread on Sunday after the investigative reports were published.
“As Christians, we are called to expose everything sinful to the light. The survivors in this article have done that — at a personal cost few of us can fathom.”
“We — leaders in the SBC — should have listened to the warnings of those who tried to call attention to this,” he continued in the Twitter thread. “I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure we never make these mistakes again.”
Greear went on to note that “it’s time for pervasive change.”
“As a denomination, now is a time to mourn and repent,” Greear continued in the social media plea to his fellow Southern Baptists. “Changes are coming. They must. We cannot just promise to ‘do better’ and expect that to be enough. But today, change begins with feeling the full weight of the problem.”
Reports of SBC leaders either downplaying or ignoring earlier reports of abuse in numerous cases were included in the newspaper report.
The cases uncovered in the investigation span the past two decades, and one case from 2007 involved communication with SBC leaders and a set of proposed reforms that were rejected. The Houston Chronicle notes that the current interim president of the SBC’s executive committee August “Augie” Boto was involved in the creation of the rejection of the reforms in 2008, and they included quotes from an email he sent to a victim around that time.
“There is no question that some Southern Baptist ministers have done criminal things, including sexual abuse of children,” Boto wrote in a 2007 email, the newspaper reports.
“It is a sad and tragic truth. Hopefully, the harm emanating from such occurrences will cause the local churches to be more aggressively vigilant,” the 2007 email read, according to the investigation.
The investigation comes amid numerous ongoing investigations into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in at least 16 states.
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