…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. They closely guarded information about abuse allegations and lawsuits, which were not shared with EC Trustees, and were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations. In service of this goal, 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.
…Over the years, the existence of these reports of abuse were not shared with EC Trustees. Nor was the fact that, since 2007, an EC staff member working for Mr. Boto was maintaining a list of accused ministers in Baptist churches, including the minister’s name, year reported, relevant news articles, state, and denomination. In a May 2019 email to Dr. Ronnie Floyd, the then-EC President, EC Vice President Dr. Roger “Sing” Oldham acknowledged that “[f]or the past decade, I have been regularly sending Augie news reports of Baptist ministers who are arrested for sexual abuse, for his awareness. It hasn’t slowed down since the [Houston] Chronicle articles started on February 10.” Mr. Boto responded that: “Yes. We are collecting them, and may even post them in some way, but we’d have to really examine the potential liabilities that would stem therefrom.”
Despite collecting these reports for more than 10 years, there is no indication that Dr. Oldham, Mr. Boto, or anyone else, took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches. The most recent list prepared by the EC staff member contained the names of 703 abusers, with 409 believed to be SBC- affiliated at some point in time.
Rather than focusing on these accused ministers, some EC leaders turned against the very people trying to shine a light on sexual abuse. The survivors – those persons who actually suffered at the hands of SBC clergy or SBC church staff or volunteers – who spoke out the most, and who criticized the SBC’s inaction, were denigrated as “opportunistic,” having a “hidden agenda of lawsuits,” wanting to “burn things to the ground,” and acting as a “professional victim.” In an internal email, Mr. Boto even equated the focus on sexual abuse with the work of the devil:
This whole thing should be seen for what it is. It is a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism. It is not the gospel. It is not even a part of the gospel. It is a misdirection play. Yes, Christa Brown [a survivor] and Rachael Denhollander [a survivor advocate] have succumbed to an availability heuristic because of their victimizations. They have gone to the SBC looking for sexual abuse, and of course, they found it. Their outcries have certainly caused an availability cascade (just like Lois Gibbs did in the Love Canal example). But they are not to blame. This is the devil being temporarily successful.
Baptist Press (“BP”), the EC’s communications arm, was also used to portray survivors in an unflattering light and mischaracterize allegations of abuse. For example, in March 2019, Jennifer Lyell, a senior executive at an SBC entity, was asked by executives at Lifeway and SBC entity heads to disclose her sexual abuse at the hands of her former seminary professor through a first-person account to be published in BP. Rather than publishing Ms. Lyell’s corroborated account as BP staff had originally drafted it, the account was changed to read as if Ms. Lyell was consensually involved with her alleged abuser. The article as published reported that Ms. Lyell alleged that she had a “morally inappropriate relationship” with her former seminary professor, making it appear that she engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with him. Ms. Lyell was thereafter subject to vicious attacks, including harsh and hurtful comments on Baptist Press FaceBook – she was called a bitter jealous woman and an adulterer, and some suggested she should be fired. After Ms. Lyell expressed her grave concerns about the article, the story was removed on the advice of outside counsel but not corrected. Finally, after public recognition that the story was inaccurate, and months of pleas by Ms. Lyell, BP retracted the story in October 2019 and issued an apology. Read more»
Guidepost Solutions | “Report of the Independent Investigation” | May 15, 2022
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