By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
May 26, 2022
“Resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility” — that’s the response some victims of alleged clergy sex abuse got from the South Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee when they reported the crimes, according to Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted to investigate the convention’s handling of sex abuse over the last 20 years.
“Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC leaders, along with outside counsel, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse … and were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC,” the 288-page report reads in part, going further to allege that, “Survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.”
Among the cases noted in the report are that of a former executive at Lifeway who was sexually abused by a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and new allegations against Johnny Hunt, who had formerly been president of the SBC and a senior vice president at the North American Mission Board, and who reportedly groped and kissed another pastor’s wife during a 2010 beach vacation. Hunt has resigned from his NAMB position and has denied the abuse.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said if the report is shown to be true, then Southern Baptists are experiencing a purging of sin.
“We better repent, lest the Lord’s glory depart from us,” Creech said. “Sexual assault or abuse is no small matter, especially if it is found among those who are supposed to be models for morality. People who are victims of sexual abuse at the hands of very powerful and influential people are most often scarred for life.”
He said the victims, left with profound feelings of fear, humiliation, grief, anger, and insecurity, often, understandably, find it hard to trust others, especially those affiliated with religion.
“When it’s clergy who’s the perpetrator, the victim’s ability to give love and receive it from those in the church is significantly damaged, and sometimes destroyed,” he said. “Sexual abuse is not something to be coddled or facilitated, but disciplined with the goal of redeeming all the actors involved.”
According to the Guidepost report, it appears that the EC’s response to sexual abuse allegations hinged mainly on the actions of D. August “Augie” Boto, who served as EC general counsel, and lawyers with the firm of Guenther, Jordan & Price, who served as outside counsel.
“Their status and longevity in the SBC organization — Mr. [James] Guenther had provided legal advice since 1966 and began in 1998 as Vice President for Convention Policy before becoming General Counsel in 2004 — enabled them to control decisions about how the SBC EC would deal with the increasing attention on church sexual abuse,” investigators reported.
In an apparent effort to ensure that the EC avoided any legal duty to take action against alleged abusers, Guenther regularly urged EC staff not to follow up or ask for details on claims of sexual abuse. The EC leaders did however keep a list of Baptist ministers who were accused of abuse, which includes 703 names, 409 of which are believed to have been affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention at some point. The report shows that no one in EC leadership appears to have done anything to make sure that accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches.
A number of Executive Committee leaders have stepped down in the wake of the release of the report, which will, without a doubt, be discussed at the SBC’s 2022 national meeting, set for June 12-15, in Anaheim, California.
Guidepost’s seven-month investigation that led to the report stemmed from 2019 reporting in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News revealing hundreds of abuse cases in Southern Baptist churches, after which SBC delegates voted to create a task force to oversee a third-party review.
This week, members of the Sexual Abuse Task Force and the SBC’s Executive Committee, told the media they were grieving over the report.
“We receive this report with open minds and heavy hearts. We grieve for those impacted by abuse, and we are prepared to repent for anything the Credentials Committee inadvertently failed to do to alleviate the suffering of survivors,” said a statement issued by the task force. “We are committed to listening and learning from this extensive report and its recommendations. We look forward to implementing recommendations ….”
The task force, which had a week to review the report before its release, will present recommendations at the meeting in Anaheim. Among recommendations in the Guidepost report are the establishment of an administrative entity to oversee reforms, a voluntary self-certification program for churches and provision of comprehensive resources.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that a secret list of 703 Southern Baptists pastors and other church personnel accused of sexual abuse will be released to the public.