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Southern Baptist leaders covered up clergy sexual abuse and stonewalled victims for decades, a bombshell report finds

Business Insider logo Business Insider 5/22/2022 kvlamis@insider.com (Kelsey Vlamis)
This Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 file photo shows the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn. Mark Humphrey, File/Associated Press © Mark Humphrey, File/Associated Press This Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 file photo shows the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn. Mark Humphrey, File/Associated Press
  • A new report details decades of sexual abuse cover up by the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • The report found SBC leaders kept a secret list of sex offenders and dismissed victims.
  • With 13 million members, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the US.

An independent investigation released by the Southern Baptist Convention on Sunday found leaders covered up or ignored sexual abuse allegations and treated victims with hostility for decades.

The nearly 300-page bombshell report, which was ordered by the 13-million-member SBC, sent shockwaves through the largest Protestant denomination in the US.

The investigation found survivors and other Southern Baptists reported child molesters and abusers who were in the pulpit or church employees to SBC leadership "only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility."

The report outlined specific sexual abuse allegations and the response of leaders, finding that a few senior leaders on the SBC Executive Committee and outside counsel determined how reports of abuse were handled. The report said they were "singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC."

"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," the report said.

The report also found that SBC leaders lied about a database of offenders. They had said the church could not maintain such a database due to how the SBC operated, despite calls for one to prevent future abuse. However, SBC leaders secretly kept their own list, according to the report.

Russell Moore, a prominent evangelical and former president of the SBC's policy arm, wrote in Christianity Today on Sunday that "the investigation uncovers a reality far more evil and systemic than I imagined it could be."

Moore, who departed the SBC last year, wrote that even though he had called for such an investigation the extent of the report's findings shook him.

The third-party firm that conducted the investigation, Guidepost Solutions, recommended that SBC create an online database of abusers, establish a unit focused on sexual abuse, compensate survivors, and limit non-disclosure agreements.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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