Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention publicly apologized to victims of sexual abuse within the denomination and vowed to make public a private database of offenders in response to an explosive report detailing allegations of sexual misconduct and cover-up.
On Tuesday, SBC leaders gathered to discuss a historic investigation report from Guidepost Solutions that found that the denomination's leadership mishandled widespread sexual abuse allegations, ignored and silenced victims and engaged in an abusive pattern of intimidation largely to avoid liability.
Released Sunday, the nearly 300-page report covered a period from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021. The report was promised to be delivered ahead of the denomination's annual meeting set for Anaheim, California, in June. With 13 million members, SBC is the largest Protestant body in the United States.
SBC Executive Committee Chairman Roland Slade began Tuesday's meeting by stressing that while SBC leadership is "lamenting" the findings, it's not a time for "inaction."
"Now that we know, we need to do better," he said. "The first thing that we need to do is turn to God. … We need to express to God our frustration, our anger, our hurt, our disdain for what has happened, what we have found out; God's big enough to handle it."
Willie McLaurin, interim president of the Executive Committee, apologized to survivors.
"Now is the time to change the culture," McLaurin said. "We need to be proactive in our openness, in our transparency from this moment forward. That's the absolute bare minimum we must do."
As the SBC moves forward, Slade stressed the need for the convention to "fall back on God."
"We only have this opportunity, and we've got to get it right. We can't rush into it. We can't come up with half-baked solutions," Slade, the pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, said.
"We have to know that God will work this out for the good of His glory. This is a time when we turn to God. … We are not done. We have work to do, but we are changing direction, and today is the first step in what will be more steps and more action that we're going to take."
SBC President Ed Litton said the Executive Committee must respond promptly to the report, reminding attendees that "we need to be mindful that the world is watching." He emphasized that "a great wrong has taken place."
"They don't need to see business as usual," he said. "We're not going to get another opportunity to do this right."
In a non-binding vote and after a brief discussion, nearly all executive committee members said they would support a statement repudiating statements that denigrated survivors, including a Sept. 29, 2006 statement by then-SBC Executive Committee Vice President and General Counsel, D. August Boto.
At the time, Boto concluded that a "continued discourse between us [the Executive Committee and survivor advocates] will not be positive or fruitful."
In its statement, the SBC Executive Committee said it "rejects this sentiment in its entirety and seeks to publicly repent for its failure to rectify this position and wholeheartedly listen to survivors."
"Today, in the immediate aftermath of the report's release, the SBC Executive Committee seeks to make clear that it views engaging with survivors as a critical step toward healing our Convention from the scourge of sexual abuse and working to avoid its continued impact on our loved ones, their families, and our network of churches," the statement reads.
Among other misdeeds, the Guidepost report found that since 2007, an Executive Committee staff member working for Boto had been collecting a private list of accused ministers in Baptist churches, including the ministers' names, years reported and relevant news articles, states and denominations.
On Tuesday, Executive Committee leaders said they would make public that private database of offenders after redacting "all survivor names, confidential witness names and any unsubstantiated allegations."
“The SBC Executive Committee is diligently reviewing the list of offenders and abusers referenced in the Guidepost report with the goal of making as much of the report public as quickly as possible," McLaurin said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
"As mentioned during the meeting on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, names of survivors, any confidential witnesses, and details regarding any unsubstantiated allegations will be redacted before the document is published. That work is being done carefully and as quickly as possible, with an anticipated release date of Thursday, May 26, 2022. Additional information will be provided with the release of the list."
The committee is also reviewing the possibility of revoking Boto's retirement benefits and those of others named in the report.
"The path that led us to this moment was ugly. There was lots of bad judgment and poor leadership that brought us here," one SBC leader commented.
Reflecting on how the SBC can come alongside survivors in the coming months, Scarlett Nokes, a counsel with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, the legal firm assisting in document curation and collection related to Guidepost investigation, stressed the importance of "gentleness."
"We need to be gentle with survivors," she said. "We need to be engaging. We need to be authentic. And we also need to be gentle with one another. … Being gentle with those around us allows God's love to shine through us. And I think that's especially important when dealing with the survivor community."
According to McLaurin, the Executive Committee is working to "enter into an agreement with Guidepost Solutions to provide and operate a hotline number to answer and care for all the individuals calling various Baptist entities and Guidepost to report abuse."
"The SBC Executive Committee is committed to ensuring each and every individual impacted by sexual abuse within the SBC has a place to process their story, report their abuse, and have access to care and caring resources," McLaurin said. "We are working as quickly as possible to set up this hotline. As soon as it is live we will advertise this number as broadly and loudly as we are able.”
Last summer, SBC messengers voted for Litton to appoint a task force to oversee a third-party investigation of allegations leaders mishandled a "crisis of sexual abuse" in the SBC.
Guidepost Solutions was commissioned to "review and enhance training provided to SBC Executive Committee staff and its board of trustees" related to sex abuse and the organization's "communications to cooperating churches and congregants in cooperating churches."
Last October, the Executive Committee subsequently voted to waive attorney-client privilege for the investigation, prompted by a 2019 report from The Houston Chronicle that documented hundreds of abuse cases in Southern Baptist churches over decades.
After the vote to waive the attorney-client privilege, several committee members resigned, including the committee's head Ronnie Floyd. Additionally, the longtime lawyers for the convention, James Guenther and James Jordan of Guenther, also resigned.
Concluding Tuesday's meeting, SBC leaders prayed for survivors and thanked those who have been "wounded and injured" by sexual misconduct for "their willingness to continue to stay in the fight."
"Heavenly Father, we come to you now and our hearts are broken," prayed Executive Committee Vice-Chair Stacy Bramlett. "There are things that you have allowed to be brought into the light. Lord, we know you're the great Healer; you're the Great comforter, Father."
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org