Shocking reports of systemic sexual abuse within religious institutions have been heavily reported over the past decade. Recently, an egregious, years-long pattern of sexual abuse and broad efforts by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to cover up incidents has been exposed. Guidepost Solutions released a disturbing report about sexual abuse and the SBC’s efforts to hide incidents in churches within the SBC. Rather than reporting sexual abusers to law enforcement authorities, the SBC instead covered up the abuse and took steps to avoid potential liability.
The report was released on May 15, 2022, after the SBC commissioned Guidepost Solutions to conduct an independent investigation of sexual abuse within the denomination. The investigation followed an explosive exposé published by the Houston Chronicle that led to widespread pressure for the SBC to act. The Houston Chronicle found that an estimated 380 perpetrators victimized more than 700 people in Southern Baptist churches. The SBC did not do anything to change its culture until after the Houston Chronicle’s 2019 investigation. If you have been the victim of sexual abuse while attending a Southern Baptist church, you should talk to the attorneys at the Lovely Law Firm for help with holding those responsible accountable for their actions and trying to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
Widespread Pattern of Sexual Abuse Within the Southern Baptist Convention
The Guidepost Solutions report found that the Executive Committee of the SBC received reports of sexual abuse from victims for decades. The organization maintained a secret list of church leaders who had been alleged to have sexually abused children and adults within their churches but did nothing to ensure the perpetrators were brought to justice. The list included 703 church leaders who had allegedly committed sexual abuse. Out of those on the list, 409 were affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention at some point in time.
The SBC’s Executive Committee tried to cover up sexual abuse within its denomination and tried to avoid potential liability. the SBC also engaged in efforts to stop whistleblowers from coming forward. The allegations in the report include sexual abuse of both adults and children by church officials, employees, and pastors from 2000 to the present. It also describes actions senior SBC leaders have taken to protect the abusers from justice instead of protecting the victims.
What Is the Southern Baptist Convention?
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest protestant denomination in the United States and is a fellowship that includes nearly 48,000 baptist churches. There are an estimated 14 million members of the SBC. It was formed in 1845 and believes in individual conversion instead of infant baptism.
Because of its size, the SBC is a powerful organization. When it received reports of sexual abuse from victims, it did not act to protect them. Instead, many victims reported being told to keep quiet, and many perpetrators were simply moved to new churches instead of being reported to the police.
The SBC claims that it is not liable for incidents of sexual abuse that occurred in the individual churches and argues it does not have any authority over them. However, the SBC should have taken steps to act upon learning about allegations of sexual abuse, and it failed to do so. Because of that reason, it should be held responsible for failing to protect victims who suffered sexual abuse by Baptist pastors, ministers, and other church employees.
Guidepost Solutions Report About Sexual Abuse Within the Southern Baptist Convention
Following the investigatory report by the Houston Chronicle, the Southern Baptist Convention contracted Guidepost Solutions to conduct an independent investigation. The investigation lasted seven months and resulted in the May 2022 report. According to the investigation, sexual abuse survivors have been reporting abusers to the SBC for decades. However, the Executive Committee ignored their reports. Senior SBC leaders instead hired outside counsel to help guard information about reports of sexual abuse and lawsuits with a focus on reducing or avoiding liability.
As reported by NPR, Christa Brown, an abuse victim who is now advocating for reform within the church, was sexually abused by her youth minister at age 16. When she reported the abuse to the music minister, she was told to keep quiet about what happened. The youth minister who abused her was allowed to move on to other churches and worked in baptist churches in several states after she reported her abuse.
Multiple leaders on the Executive Committee of the SBC worked to keep sexual abuse reports from being leaked out and attempted to stop victims from reporting what happened to the police. Multiple survivors were reportedly intimidated by church leaders and disparaged as simply being opportunistic instead of being protected.
If you reported being sexually abused to the SBC and were ignored or intimidated, you might have legal rights to pursue compensation through a civil lawsuit. Our attorneys can review what happened in your case and work to hold your abuser and those who covered up what happened accountable for their egregious actions.
Release of List of Abusers
On May 26, 2022, the Southern Baptist Convention released the list of abusers that it had been secretly keeping following the report from Guidepost Solutions. The list includes the names of hundreds of alleged abusers and was kept by a former Executive Committee employee. The list includes youth ministers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and music directors who allegedly abused members of their churches and can be searched by state.
The list of abusers includes several decades of sexual abuse reports the SBC received with details of the incidents. Some of the alleged perpetrators on the list are prominent within the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has resisted reforms needed to prevent sexual abuse for years and has mishandled abuse allegations. The list includes multiple redactions.
In a statement the Executive Committee released with the list, it stated that the reason for redactions was because conviction and sentencing information had not been received or the entries referred to victims or others unrelated to the abuser. The Executive Committee did state that some of the redactions will be removed once it can investigate the entries and confirm guilty pleas, convictions, and other information.
SBC Argues Against Responsibility
The Guidepost Solutions report revealed that the SBC’s Executive Committee has argued that it is not responsible for what has occurred in individual churches since each member church operates autonomously. It has stated that it can’t be liable for the sexual misconduct committed by ministers and other church employees within individual churches.
Sexual abuse survivors are not accepting this argument, however. Some are starting to investigate filing claims against the SBC for its actions with the help of attorneys. It is anticipated that hundreds of cases could be filed as multi-district litigation aimed at holding the SBC accountable for its actions in intimidating victims and covering up their abuse.
While the SBC has resisted accepting responsibility in the past, it recently set up a hotline for sexual abuse survivors and issued a formal apology. However, many survivors have argued that is not enough and are demanding additional action.
Potential Damages in a Claim Against the Southern Baptist Convention
Sexual abuse survivors who reported their abuse only to have the SBC and its member churches cover it up might be entitled to recover compensation. Some of the types of compensation you might be able to recover include the following:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Past and future medical bills and psychological counseling costs
- Wage losses if related to the abuse
Your attorney might also be able to recover punitive damages against the SBC. These are damages that are designed to punish defendants that have engaged in particularly egregious conduct. Punitive damages might be available in a sexual abuse claim against the SBC because of the actions it took to try to conceal the abuse and how it failed to protect victims from abuse.
Talk to the Attorneys at the Lovely Law Firm
If you were sexually abused by a church employee while attending a member church of the Southern Baptist Convention, you might have legal rights to pursue compensation if your abuse report was covered up. The attorneys at the Lovely Law Firm have years of experience and are currently accepting cases for evaluation. Contact us today for a free consultation at (843) 281-7452.