Seventeen men with Alabama connections are listed in a database of sex offenders published along with a series of articles by two Texas newspapers detailing sexual abuse in churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
And SBC President J.D. Greear planned to roll out his recommendations on how the convention should respond to the nationwide concern during the Feb. 18 Executive Committee meeting in Nashville.
A three-part investigative series by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News revealed approximately 380 instances of sexual abuse by pastors, ministers, youth pastors, Sunday School teachers, deacons and church volunteers at SBC churches nationwide since 1998 — including more than 250 since 2008.
The instances of abuse reported include “those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned.”
Of the 17 Alabama men listed in the database, eight are currently incarcerated in Alabama prisons for their crimes. Eight live in Alabama or another state as registered sex offenders. One is deceased.
The database includes 220 individuals convicted of sexual abuse crimes. It is available online at the Chronicle’s website.
The crimes have left more than 700 victims, the newspaper stated.
Greear said he is “broken” over the revelations. “I join with countless others who are currently ‘weeping with those who weep,’” Greear stated, voicing resolve to mobilize the SBC in “stopping predators in our midst.”
Change must come
“The voices in this article should be heard as a warning sent from God, calling the church to repent,” Greear tweeted. “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.”
Greear also tweeted:
- “There can simply be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable. The safety of the victims matters more than the reputation of Southern Baptists.”
- “We — leaders in the SBC — should have listened to the warnings of those who tried to call attention to this. I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure we never make these mistakes again. … We must admit that our failures, as churches, put these survivors in a position where they were forced to stand alone and speak, when we should have been fighting for them. Their courage is exemplary and prophetic.”
- “The Baptist doctrine of church autonomy should never be a religious cover for passivity towards abuse. Church autonomy is about freeing the church to do the right thing — to obey Christ — in every situation. It is a heinous error to apply autonomy in a way that enables abuse.”
D. August Boto, interim president of the SBC Executive Committee, said in an interview with the Chronicle the newspaper is “not the opponent of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“You’re helping us. I’m all for shining the light of day upon crime,” Boto said.
‘Bring truth to light’
Speaking to members (including The Alabama Baptist) of the Association of State Baptist Publications on Feb. 12, Greear echoed those thoughts, saying now is a time for Southern Baptists “to lament and to grieve” but not to blame the newspapers that reported the story.
“I do not believe you can … push this aside as an agenda-driven thing put out by the secular media to try to destroy us,” Greear said.
And even if that were the case Greear said it doesn’t allow Southern Baptists to ignore the damage.
“There’s a problem. … If there is a time and a place to defend ourselves, maybe that will come later, but it is not now. We’ll trust God to defend us; we’ll trust God to bring truth to light.”
Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote a commentary after the report was published: “No church should be frustrated by the Houston Chronicle’s reporting, but should thank God for it. The judgment seat of Christ will be far less reticent than a newspaper series to uncover what should never have been hidden.”
Moore referred to the Sexual Abuse Presidential Study initiated by Greear last year, which is investigating how to best handle sexual abuse allegations within the SBC.
“Our approach is seeking to encourage policies and practices that protect children and the vulnerable from sexual abuse … all the while promoting compliance with laws and providing compassionate care for those who have survived trauma,” Moore wrote.
“We have a priesthood of believers. And a key task of that priesthood is maintaining the witness of Christ in the holiness and safety of His Church. That means training churches to recognize sexual predation … and equipping churches to stop the pattern.” (BP, TAB contributed)
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