Southern Baptist leaders refused to act on sexual abuse despite a secret list of 700 pastors



Excerpts from:

Southern Baptists Refused to Act on Abuse, Despite Secret List of Pastors

Investigation: SBC Executive Committee staff saw advocates’ cries for help as a distraction from evangelism and a legal liability, stonewalling their reports and resisting calls for reform.

Kate Shellnutt |May 22, 2022 03:00 PM

Armed with a secret list of more than 700 abusive pastors, Southern Baptist leaders chose to protect the denomination from lawsuits rather than protect the people in their churches from further abuse.

Survivors, advocates, and some Southern Baptists themselves spent more than 15 years calling for ways to keep sexual predators from moving quietly from one flock to another. The men who controlled the Executive Committee (EC)—which runs day-to-day operations of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)—knew the scope of the problem. But, working closely with their lawyers, they maligned the people who wanted to do something about abuse and repeatedly rejected pleas for help and reform.

“Behind the curtain, the lawyers were advising to say nothing and do nothing, even when the callers were identifying predators still in SBC pulpits,” according to a massive third-party investigative report released Sunday.

The investigation centers responsibility on members of the EC staff and their attorneys and says the hundreds of elected EC trustees were largely kept in the dark. EC general counsel Augie Boto and longtime attorney Jim Guenther advised the past three EC presidents—Ronnie Floyd, Frank Page, and Morris Chapman—that taking action on abuse would pose a risk to SBC liability and polity, leading the presidents to challenge proposed abuse reforms.

As renewed calls for action emerged with the #ChurchToo and #SBCToo movements, Boto referred to advocacy for abuse survivors as “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”

Survivors, in turn, described the soul-crushing effects of not only their abuse, but the stonewalling, insulting responses from leaders at the EC for 15-plus years.

Over the past 20 years, meanwhile, a string of SBC presidents failed to appropriately respond to abuse in their own churches and seminaries. In several instances, leaders sided with individuals and churches that had been credibly accused of abuse or cover-up. One former president—pastor Johnny Hunt—sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife in 2010, investigators found.

At the annual meeting in Anaheim, California, next month, one year after they voted to launch the investigation, thousands of Southern Baptists will decide if they are ready to make the dramatic and costly changes the report recommends for the sake of survivors and church safety.

Largest investigation in SBC history

The report represents a $2 million undertaking, involving 330 interviews and five terabytes of documents collected over eight months. The EC also committed another $2 million toward legal costs around the investigation—making it a total investment of $4 million, funded by churches and conventions giving to the Cooperative Program.

Advocate Rachael Denhollander, who advised the SBC task force that coordinated the investigation, tweeted that “the level of transparency is … unparalleled.” It’s the largest investigation in SBC history; it’s already changed the makeup of the EC and stands to determine the trajectory of the 177-year-old denomination.

The Guidepost inquiry included privileged legal communications on abuse over the past 20 years, a provision that led EC president Ronnie Floyd to resign in October and the law firm of Guenther, Jordan & Price to withdraw their services after 60 years.

According to the report, the law firm actively advised the EC against taking responsibility for abuse. Guenther worked alongside Boto, an attorney who was involved in the EC from the 1990s to 2019, serving as a trustee, vice president, general counsel, and interim president. He was an ally of Paige Patterson during the Conservative Resurgence. (Last year, Boto was barred from holding any positions with Southern Baptist entities as a result of a legal settlement involving financial moves after Patterson was fired from an SBC seminary over mishandling a rape allegation.)

Boto and Guenther turned every discussion of abuse to a discussion of protecting the EC from legal liability, making that the highest priority, the report said.

“When abuse allegations were brought to the EC, including allegations that convicted sex offenders were still in ministry, EC leaders generally did not discuss this information outside of their inner circle, often did not respond to the survivor, and took no action to address these allegations so as to prevent ongoing abuse or such abuse in the future,” the report said. “Almost always the internal focus was on protecting the SBC from legal liability and not on caring for survivors or creating any plan to prevent sexual abuse within SBC churches.”

A watershed 2019 Houston Chronicle series, which spurred new attention around abuse response and prevention, uncovered 380 SBC-affiliated pastors accused of sexual abuse.

Even as the secret list of abusive ministers grew, however, the EC leaders focused their criticism on survivors and advocates. They complained the survivors didn’t understand the polity of the SBC and were out to get the denomination. Patterson called the advocacy group SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) “just as reprehensible as sex criminals.” An EC member said Brown, who ran, where she featured survivor stories and posted public reports on abusive ministers, was a “person of no integrity.”

Boto saw the Devil at work in their efforts. According to an email obtained by Guidepost, he wrote:

This whole thing should be seen for what it is. It is a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism. It is not the gospel. It is not even a part of the gospel. It is a misdirection play. Yes, Christa Brown and Rachael Denhollander have succumbed to an availability heuristic because of their victimizations. They have gone to the SBC looking for sexual abuse, and of course, they found it. Their outcries have certainly caused an availability cascade. … But they are not to blame. This is the devil being temporarily successful.

According to an unnamed EC staff member, “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 EC, we have inherited a culture of rejecting those who question power or who accuse leaders.”

Key Southern Baptist leaders didn’t just disbelieve and insult survivors, though. In some cases, they aligned themselves with convicted or confessed perpetrators and helped them personally.

New entity and other recommendations

The task force that oversaw and released the EC investigation sees public lament as a first step in responding to the investigation. They’ve also asked that Southern Baptists vote to establish a new task force that can evaluate how to implement the recommended changes in accordance with Baptist polity.

The report offers 30 pages of recommendations for the EC and the credentials committee, including:

  • Creating a permanent entity to oversee sexual abuse response and prevention
  • Launching an “offender information system,” an online database churches can voluntarily participate in to report substantiated abuse or coverup
  • Publishing a list of disfellowshipped churches and individuals whose ordinations or degrees were revoked
  • Facilitating programs to assist survivors and provide compensation from SBC giving to cover medical and psychological help
  • Issuing an apology to survivors and erecting a memorial, adding a Survivor Sunday to the SBC calendar
  • 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 EC staff

“We must resolve to give of our time and resources to not only care well for survivors of sexual abuse, but to provide a culture of accountability, transparency, and safety as we move forward,” the task force said in a statement released with the report. “We acknowledge that any act of repentance requires ongoing, deliberate, dedicated obedience and sacrifice. This is the calling of our Savior to unite as a body in following after him.”

Christa Brown, the abuse survivor and advocate, said in her submission to Guidepost that she had not held out hope for meaningful change, but still prayed that the report “may bring forth a small measure of justice.”

“The Southern Baptist Convention has a moral obligation to protect the lives, bodies and humanity of kids and congregants in its affiliated churches, to provide care and validation for ALL who have been sexually abused by Southern Baptist clergy,” she wrote, “to ensure accountability for abusers and enablers, and to create systems that will ensure these inhumane and unconscionable travesties do not persist into future generations.”


“Meanwhile, leaders spoke poorly about abuse survivors behind their backs and downplayed the extent of the crisis.” Because THAT’S WHAT SOUTHERN BAPTISTS DO. A more back-stabbing hypocritical group doesn’t exist.


“The findings of nearly 300 pages include shocking new details about abuse cases and shine a light on how leaders for decades resisted calls for abuse prevention. They also lied to members over whether they could maintain a list of offenders, to prevent more abuse.”


Catholic Church hid abuse of 100,000s of kids & protected rapists. Southern Baptists, “routinely silenced and disparaged sexual abuse survivors, ignored calls for policies to stop predators.” Yet, in Europe/US we’re told it’s “Other” religions that have a problem w/sexual abuse.


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