20 years, 700 victims: Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse

This collection of mug shots includes a portion of the 220 people who, since 1998, worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches and were convicted of or pleaded guilty to sex crimes.

Last Sunday 10th Feb 2019 the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News dropped a bombshell. They have published a very comprehensive report into the sexual abuse within the congregations of the Southern baptist convention.

Brief Summary

The shocking Revelation

… In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.

They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions.

About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers….

The Investigation

Journalists in the two newsrooms spent more than six months reviewing thousands of pages of court, prison and police records and conducting hundreds of interviews. They built a database of former leaders in Southern Baptist churches who have been convicted of sex crimes.

Reactions To This story

Various other media outlets are reporting on this bombshell report and also include some reactions to it by the Southern baptist leadership. For example the Washington Post reposts this …

“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,” J.D. Greear, who was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention last summer, said on Twitter. “Their courage is exemplary and prophetic. But I grieve that their courage was necessary.”

How very Catholic of him. Sorry Mr Greear, but the sackcloth and ashes simply don’t cut it. Both you and your predecessors are revealed to have known about all of this and did nothing of substance.

In anticipation of the “We are so sorry, if only we had known” PR shuffle by the leadership, the report published by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News opened with this …

Thirty-five years later, Debbie Vasquez’s voice trembled as she described her trauma to a group of Southern Baptist leaders.

She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas. It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.

In June 2008, she paid her way to Indianapolis, where she and others asked leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and its 47,000 churches to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers. Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to consider prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.

“Listen to what God has to say,” she said, according to audio of the meeting, which she recorded. “… All that evil needs is for good to do nothing. … Please help me and others that will be hurt.”

Days later, Southern Baptist leaders rejected nearly every proposed reform.

The abusers haven’t stopped. They’ve hurt hundreds more.

Neither is this latest story the first time this has all surfaced. Back on 17th January 2019, just a few weeks ago, Baptist News Global published this …

This is not a New Revelation

Another alarm sounds on clergy sex abuse: Will Southern Baptist leaders just hit snooze again?

An exposé by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on clergy sex abuse in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches blared yet another wake-up call to America’s religious leaders, including those of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Baptist News Global columnist Bill Leonard rightly observed that the IFB cases “sound strikingly like predatory acts committed against children by Catholic priests.” They also sound a lot like clergy sex abuse and church cover-up cases in the SBC.

I know because between 2006 and 2012 I maintained a website on which I logged hundreds of news articles about sexual abuse in all types of Baptist churches. The articles implicated 167 pastors, deacons, denominational officials and missionaries affiliated with the SBC.

Similarities to Catholicism

One of the major criticisms directed against the Catholic church is that they knowingly facilitated the abuse by simply covering it all up and then moving the abusers on so that they could start all over again.

This follows a very similar pattern.

… Many of these ministers were able to move on to new settings even when others in leadership knew about abuse allegations. A single clergy-perpetrator could have multiple victims in multiple churches in multiple states.

Even with ministers criminally convicted on child sex charges, SBC-affiliated churches invited offenders to their pulpits. One church retained a pastor even after he admitted to having sex with a teen.

As with the victims in IFB churches, victims in SBC churches were intimidated into remaining silent, told to forgive their abusers and sometimes paid hush money.

So determined were some Southern Baptist leaders to cover up these crimes that they chastised news reporters for hurting “the cause of Christ” and threatened one newspaper with legal action to try to deter publication of the stories. A denominationally-employed journalist was fired for daring to report on child sex charges against a pastor.

The claim that the leadership is “Shocked and so Sorry”, simply does not cut it. They knew, they have always known, and simply opted to cover it up.

One Further Observation

The full report published by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News is just the start, there is more, lots more revelations to come. It has been published as the first of three parts.

Further Reading

Houston Chronicle (10th Feb 2019 – 1st of 3 parts) – Abuse of Faith 20 years, 700 victims: Southern Baptist sexual abuse spreads as leaders resist reforms

Right at the end then ask their readership this …

Tell us your story
Do you have information about sexual misconduct in Southern Baptist churches? Help us investigate by telling us your story. Fill out our confidential questionnaire here.

Baptist News Global (17th January 2019) – Another alarm sounds on clergy sex abuse: Will Southern Baptist leaders just hit snooze again?

…No longer can anyone reasonably say that SBC officials don’t know the extent of the problem. They know. The question is what they will do about it.

So far, the answer has been “not much” as year after year SBC leaders have prioritized institutional protection over child protection.

Nice-sounding resolutions, ineffectual platitudesand in-house studies won’t suffice…

Washington Post (10th Feb 2019) – ‘Pure evil’: Southern Baptist leaders condemn decades of sexual abuse revealed in investigation

“Better training and protection policies can help address that,” Jacob Denhollander tweeted. “The bigger issue is that there is a pattern of leaders, who knew of the abuse, protecting the perpetrator and shaming the victims.”

Star Telegram (18th December 2018) – Hundreds of sex abuse allegations found in fundamental Baptist churches across U.S.

These ‘men of God’ sexually abused children. Then they found refuge at other churches


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