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Explosive report on Southern Baptist sex abuse expected to be released on Sunday

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Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are set to release the findings of a major third-party investigation on Sunday into how sexual abuse cases were handled by prominent leaders within the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

The report – the first investigation of its kind in a massive denomination like the SBC – is expected to send shockwaves through a conservative Christian community that has had explosive internal battles over how to handle sexual abuse. Insiders say the investigation will reveal shocking details about specific abuse cases, but will also shed light on how the cases were handled by national leaders.

A nearly 300-page report, due out Sunday at 4 p.m. Eastern Time, has been eagerly awaited for a year since Southern Baptists called for an investigation at their 2021 annual meeting in Nashville.

Since decades of sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic Church were reported by the Boston Globe in 2002, some US dioceses have published lists of priests they believe have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. , in order to prevent the transfer of abusers to other churches. Southern Baptist leaders resisted the creation of a national database because of how the denomination works.

Unlike the Catholic Church, the SBC has a non-hierarchical structure that allows churches to operate independently while pooling their financial resources to fund seminaries and missions. This structure prompted Southern Baptist leaders must tell members in 2007 that the convention could not develop a database of perpetrators of sexual abuse.

Jules Woodson, a sexual abuse victim who helped spark a recent abuse judgment in the Southern Baptist Convention, said Saturday she expects the report to be historic for the denomination.

“It’s going to have to be a cultural shift,” said Woodson, whose 2018 allegation that her young Southern Baptist pastor sexually assaulted her was seen as a tipping point in getting the denomination to address sexual abuse. . “You don’t change a culture overnight. The first part is acknowledging what happened. No one can deny or deny or act in ignorance anymore.

The third-party survey of shares between 2000 and 2021, which was conducted by a group called Guidepost Solutions, focused narrowly on the actions of the SBC’s executive committee, which handles financial and administrative duties. Although Southern Baptist churches operate independently of each other, the Nashville-based executive committee distributes the $121 million cooperative program budget that funds its missions, seminaries and ministries.

The issue of sexual abuse within SBC churches has troubled the denomination for the past few years and was a major topic at its annual meeting in 2019, just months after the Houston Chronicle published a investigation series.

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With 13 million members, the SBC has seen a steady decline in membership over the past few years. The report comes just weeks before its next big gathering, June 12-15 in Anaheim, Calif., where several thousand members are expected to discuss next steps.

At executive committee meetings in 2021, some members objected to waiving solicitor-client privilege, which would give investigators access to recordings of conversations on legal matters between committee members and staff. They said it went against the advice of the convention lawyers and could put the SBC out of business by exposing it to lawsuits.

The waiver of privilege debate has upset many Southern Baptists, leading some to believe that the Executive Committee is not doing the “will of the messengers” or following the example of lay leaders who had already voted in favour. to do. It also led to the resignation of the head of the executive committee, Ronnie Floyd, who also served as chairman of the SBC and was on Donald Trump’s advisory board before his election in 2016.

The issue of sexual abuse was a prominent theme in private letters written by Russell Moore, who left his post in 2021 as head of the SBC’s policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission. The letters were made public after he left and included allegations about the mishandling of sexual abuse complaints at the highest levels of the SBC.

One of Moore’s letters was aimed at the executive committee. He described “the spiritual and psychological abuse of victims of sexual abuse by the Executive Committee itself”, as well as “a pattern of attempted intimidation of those speaking out on these issues”.

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Grant Gaines, a Southern Baptist pastor in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, said Saturday he expects the Guidepost report to show a pattern of neglect among church leaders.

“I think one of the most important things the report could give us is just to show negligence on the part of a lot of people, not just a few bad apples,” he said. “Pastors everywhere and denominational workers at all levels who, due to bad practices, didn’t have a plan if something was reported.”

Gaines said her own Belle Aire Baptist Church had policies in place such as having at least two adults in a child’s room and background checks on volunteers, but she went the extra mile. last year to work with a group called GRACE to add more training and awareness on sexual abuse for his entire congregation. He thinks the report will show the denomination what preventative steps it could take.

“As painful as it may be, it has nothing to do with the pain survivors felt, the resistance they felt to make things change,” he said. “I think we have to let him expose what needs to be exposed.”