According to a report released by Guidepost Solutions May 15, 2022, hundreds of clergy, volunteers and leaders in Southern Baptist Convention churches may have been involved in the sexual abuse of thousands of possible victims over a period of two decades. In some cases, high ranking officials within the church’s central leadership have been named in accusations.
People who experienced sexual abuse by a pastor, church official or employee in a Southern Baptist Church may be eligible for compensation.
The report was commissioned at the 2021 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention due to concerns over the handling of sexual abuse claims. The report also found that high-ranking officials ignored, shamed, and intimidated survivors and advocates who spoke up. Church officials also refused to consider proposals for reform or corrective action which may have protected children from future sexual abuse.
Reports of Sexual Abuse in Southern Baptist Churches
The Southern Baptist Convention represents the largest protestant denomination in the U.S., with an estimated 14 million members. Over at least two decades, church leaders have reportedly covered up reports of sexual abuse committed by pastors, church officials and employees within Southern Baptist churches. Church convention leaders’ failure to act may have left children and women at continued risk of future sexual abuse.
Southern Baptist Church Officials Suppressed Claims of Sexual Abuse
The Guidepost Solutions report concerning sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches details at least two decades of mishandling claims of sexual abuse. Possibly thousands of women and children are said to have been abused by male pastors, employees, volunteers, and high-ranking officials of the Southern Baptist Convention, the church’s central organization.
The report also examines actions taken and not taken by the leadership of SBC and its member churches. The report details years of cover up of events and documents which indicate leaders believed if abuse events and scandals were addressed, the church’s reputation and financial status would have been damaged.
Church officials may have:
- Suppressed reports of sexual abuse
- Silenced victims and advocates with personal attacks
- Prevented reforms
- Failed to ensure accountability
- Failed to prevent future abuse
Church leaders are said to have denigrated victims by accusing them of being “opportunists” and “professional victims” and advocates as part of a “satanic scheme” or wanting to “burn things to the ground”. Victims have been bullied, paid off, shunned, and simply ignored while officials refused to implement corrective action or even keep track of abusers.
Even when lists of abusers were secretly maintained, SBC leaders refused to prevent future occurrences. In some cases, alleged abusers were allowed to resign or move to another position or individual church. In other cases, the accused were allowed to leave the Southern Baptist church but are still continuing in the ministry for another denomination.
In a few instances, churches have employed ministers, pastors and volunteers who have already been charged with sex offenses, including those with revoked teaching licenses or who were listed on sexual offender registries.
For events that occurred within the churches, official reports were never filed with authorities. SBC’s actions, or its failure to act, left children and church members at risk of future abuse for at least 20 years.
Survivors of Southern Baptist Church Sexual Abuse
Survivors of sexual abuse often face feelings of guilt, anxiety, and depression, and in some cases may develop substance abuse, attempt suicide, or develop other harmful conditions related to traumatic experiences. These challenges may persist for long periods of time and be severe and life-threatening.
Sexual abuse is not just limited to rape, it may also include:
- Sexual harassment
- Unwanted physical touching with or without clothes
- Lewd gestures or comments
- Provision of drugs or alcohol to encourage trust and sexual behavior
- Exposure to pornographic images or videos
- Statutory rape
- Sexual assault
- Threats of harm to demand compliance
- Threats of harm to hide abuse
Survivors of sexual abuse may find it difficult to come forward, particularly when the abuser has been a trusted clergy member, leader, or advisor. When victims are subsequently ignored, shamed, or denigrated, reporting becomes more difficult and complex. This environment may leave others at risk of future abuse.
Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse Survivor Rights
Reports of sexual abuse in churches like the Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Church of Scientology and other settings including Boy Scouts of America and Boys & Girls Club have recently exploded and are finally being addressed.
Recently, some states have passed new laws which give survivors of church and other sexual abuse the right to file lawsuits against their abuser. Though laws vary by state, the have extended the statutes of limitations or lengthened the time in which a victim can sue the abuser.
Like other victims of sexual abuse in churches, schools, and community settings, who have recently been given new rights to seek justice, survivors of Southern Baptist Convention church sexual abuse have a right to seek justice. Sexual abuse lawsuits may seek compensation for medical and counselling costs, lost wages, and for pain and suffering and should seek legal assistance.