Southern Baptist leaders speak out on sexual abuse report, plan next steps
A report released Sunday argues that leadership within the Southern Baptist Convention ignored victims and covered up abuse
In their first meeting since the public release of a shocking report on sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, the church’s top leaders prayed for survivors and promised to do better.
“This is a new day in the Executive Committee of (the Southern Baptist Convention) and our commitment is to be different and do different. Now that we know, we need to do better,” said the Rev. Rolland Slade, the committee’s chairman.
The Rev. Willie McLauren, interim president of the committee, issued a formal apology to survivors of sexual abuse and urged church leaders to focus on transparency in the difficult days ahead.
“Care for the vulnerable should be our most important concern,” he said.
In the past, church leadership was more concerned with protecting the Southern Baptist Convention’s reputation, according to the report on sexual abuse, which was released Sunday. It argued that SBC leadership knew specific perpetrators and chose not to act.
“While stories of abuse were minimized, and survivors were ignored or even vilified, revelations came to light in recent years that some SBC leaders had protected or even supported abusers,” said the report, which is nearly 300 pages long.
An unnamed Executive Committee staff member told investigators that Southern Baptist leaders protected authority figures at the expense of their victims.
“In nearly every instance in the past when victims have come to those in power in the SBC, they have been shunned, shamed, and vilified. At the (Executive Committee), we have inherited a culture of rejecting those who question power or who accuse leaders,” the staff member said, according to Christianity Today.
Moving forward, the Executive Committee must be focused on listening to and serving victims of sexual abuse, Southern Baptist leaders said during the Tuesday meeting. They voted to release a formal statement expressing their commitment to this approach.
“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 said.
The Rev. Slade asked members of the survivor community to be patient as current church leadership tries to atone for the harms of the past.
“I can’t imagine the pain that you’re going through and pain that you have endured for decades but I ask you to please be patient with us as we try to grasp what’s going on,” he said.
The report includes a list of recommendations for the Executive Committee, which will be considered in the weeks ahead. Suggestions included:
- Creating a permanent entity to oversee sexual abuse response and prevention.
- Prohibiting nondisclosure agreements, except when requested by victims.
- Requiring a code of conduct for entity employment or attending a seminary.
- Hiring a chief compliance officer or ethics and compliance officer to Executive Committee staff.
During Tuesday’s meeting, legal counsel for the Executive Committee said the committee plans to, in the near future, release a list of church leaders who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. The committee will also consider revoking retirement benefits from former officials who ignored or tried to bury reports of abuse.
The Rev. Slade told members of the Executive Committee to turn to God for support during this time of “lamenting, listening and learning” and to continue working to absorb the report’s findings in service of finding the best solutions.
“We can’t rush into it. We can’t come up with half-baked solutions,” the Rev. Slade said.