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Why calm down when you can sprint? The Department of Justice, in a surprisingly busy week, is currently investigating the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, for sexual abuse. That’s according to the SBC leaders themselves, who announced on Friday that an investigation was underway and that they would cooperate fully.

If you’re wondering what’s going on, it helps to go back to 2019, when the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News published their first article resulting from a six-month survey of Southern Baptist churches. They found that over the previous decade, more than 250 staff or volunteers had been “charged with sex crimes” against more than 700 victims.

This included misdeeds with the International Mission Board, the mission arm of the SBC with an annual budget of over $158 million (the result of tithe money from SBC member churches) and 3,600 members. The journalists discovered that several members of the CSI were credibly accused of abuse and that several other IMB members helped cover it all up.

Unlike the Catholic Church, which has a hierarchy that is always Vatican-oriented, Southern Baptists have self-governing churches that act independently in many ways. It is much more difficult to control what everyone does. This is above all difficult to force them to report problematic staff members to a central office. Not only does this make predatory pastors harder to track down, but it makes these churches magnets for abusers who know they can get away with their crimes.

It took journalists creating a database of bad actors since church leaders themselves avoided doing such a thing. Or so we were told.

Under immense pressure, SBC leaders eventually agreed to hire an outside group, Guidepost Solutions, to conduct its own investigation into the denomination. They released their findings last May and the results were devastating. The report revealed a tendency to cover up or minimize abuse and an environment where victims could not obtain justice. We learned that SBC leaders were actively avoiding calls for reform. We also discovered that, yes, the SBC maintained a private list of alleged sex offenders. They knew who were the bad apples but said nothing publicly. The report states, “The latest iteration of the table contains the names of 703 attackers, of which 409 are believed to be affiliated with SBC.”

In short, the Southern Baptist Convention mishandled allegations of abuse, mistreated victims, intimidated victims or their advocates, and resisted attempts at reform. All the while, SBC leaders have ignored the crisis, with one saying the focus on sexual abuse was “a satanic ploy to completely distract us from evangelism.” The report summed up the response more honestly: “Survivors were always viewed through the lens of potential plaintiffs threatening legal action, rather than as individuals who had been injured and needed treatment.

In response to the report, the SBC promised that it would take the recommendations seriously and start implementing them as soon as possible. They passed some reforms in June, including creating a system to track problem pastors and staff. But the victims were demanding much more— and with good reason.

That’s where we were until Friday’s explosive announcement that the Justice Department is investigating “several SBC entities,” but not specific individuals, following the report that found mismanagement of cases of sexual abuse:

“The SBC Executive Committee recently learned that the Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention, and that the survey will include several SBC entitiessaid the statement issued Friday by 14 SBC executives from several high-profile entities. “Individually and collectively, each SBC entity is committed to cooperating fully and completely with the investigation.”

“As we continue to mourn and mourn past mistakes related to sexual abuse, current SBC leaders have demonstrated a strong belief in resolving these past issues and are implementing measures to ensure they do not happen again. never in the future. The fact that the SBC Executive Committee recently completed a fully transparent investigation is proof of this commitment,” the statement read. “We recognize that our reform efforts are not over.”

As far as a statement goes, it’s fine. He acknowledges the DoJ’s investigation and promises to cooperate. (Unlike many Tories this week, they are not treating the investigation as a “witch hunt” or acting like they are being persecuted.)

Keep in mind that an investigation here would have nothing to do with the religious beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention, but rather the possibility that sexual abuse was ignored or improperly addressed. The SBC could not be trusted to investigate on their own, so they eventually hired an outside firm to look into their issues and make recommendations. A federal investigation could dig even deeper and possibly lead to criminal charges if they apply.

Christianity Today explains why the DoJ’s involvement could be significant:

It is unclear what potential or alleged crimes they are investigating. The Department of Justice (DOJ) writes on its website, “Child sexual abuse cases are generally handled by local and state authorities, not the federal government.”

But the DOJ has already looked into church abuse. He began investigating abusive Catholic priests in Pennsylvania in 2018, following a state grand jury. At the time, the Washington Post wrote that “the decision to launch such an investigation, even limited to a single state, is remarkable because the federal government has long been reluctant” to address the church cover-up allegations.

May the SBC follow the path of the Catholic Church, at least as far as public perception is concerned. A full report is long overdue.

(Parts of this article were published earlier)



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