MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 25th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: dealing with abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention.
A quick warning to families listening with small children. You may want to hit the pause button and come back to this story later.
REICHARD: This past Sunday, investigators at the independent consulting firm Guidepost Solutions released their 288-page report. It looks in to how leaders of the SBC, the Southern Baptist Convention, handled sexual abuse allegations. The team of investigators spoke with more than 300 people, collecting the stories of about two dozen survivors of sexual abuse over the last two decades.
EICHER: WORLD Digital Editor Lynde Langdon has been following this story for months and brings our story.
LYNDE LANGDON, NEWS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: On May 10th, Pastor Mike Keahbone gathered with a select group of Southern Baptist Convention leaders for a highly sensitive mission. In a private room at SBC headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, under the supervision of Guidepost attorneys, they reviewed and fact-checked parts of the investigation’s draft report.
In the process, Mike Keahbone got a first look at some of the devastating findings.
KEAHBONE: This is just a different ballgame. With what we knew, or with the information that we had, we just didn't think it was that big a deal. And the reality was, it was way bigger than anybody knew.
Most Southern Baptists did not know the extent of the abuse crisis until a 2018 report in the Houston Chronicle brought hundreds of allegations to light. That led more survivors to speak up, and eventually to Southern Baptists demanding this outside investigation.
The investigation found evidence that top leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention ignored abuse and mistreated survivors who came forward with their stories. Adam Blosser is pastor of Goshen Baptist Church in Spotsylvania, Virginia, and a messenger—or delegate—at SBC annual meetings.
BLOSSER: It's traumatic enough that they had these experiences to begin with, but then the way that they've been, in some instances vilified, is it's heartbreaking, it's, it's infuriating. It's something that has to stop.
Because of their involvement in SBC policymaking, Keahbone and Blosser have paid close attention to the sexual abuse crisis. Their challenge—and the challenge of many pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention—how to convey to ordinary Baptists the significance of this bombshell report. Also, to wrestle with what it means for their local churches. And what God might be calling them to do as a result.
CRINER: There's been a sense where we’ve been trying to be engaged and informed of all these things since it’s begun….
Pastor Michael Criner leads Rock Hill Baptist Church in Brownsboro, Texas. He too is an SBC pastor. He’s followed the developments in the denomination’s sexual abuse scandal for more than a decade. But many of the folks in his flock have not.
CRINER: There's varying degrees of engagement. And I think that's true in a lot of churches.
With this week’s top-to-bottom coverage of the SBC investigation in every major news outlet, more Southern Baptists are paying attention. The headlines are sensational and the facts are distressing.
They include a new accusation of sexual assault against a former president of the denomination, Johnny Hunt. He’s denied all allegations of abuse. The report also says SBC lawyers kept a secret list of 585 suspected abusers. But they never shared that information with congregations or even members of the denomination’s own elected Executive Committee. Even though that committee is charged with managing SBC business.
CRINER: Anybody who reads this report or sees this news, they should be asking themselves at their church, what is my church doing to protect the vulnerable?
Pastor Mike Keahbone has issued the same challenge to his congregation.
KEAHBONE: As a pastor, that's a primary job for me is to make sure that my congregation is protected and make sure that I protect my staff and make sure that we've got policies in place and those kinds of things. So, so we're reevaluating everything.
In its report, Guidepost recommended changes the SBC could make to better prevent sexual abuse in churches. That includes providing local churches with sample policies, protocols and training, setting up a code of conduct for ministers, and keeping a database of people credibly accused of abuse in churches.
Then there’s the matter of getting justice for survivors. What that looks like, and how it will affect the SBC, will be a major focus of the denomination’s upcoming annual meeting. Thousands of delegates are gathering in Anaheim, California from June 12th through the 15th. Pastors Keahbone, Blosser, and Criner will be there. Criner believes this report will give the messengers the resolve they need to not just hold the Executive Committee accountable—but to promote healing for victims.
CRINER: I should treat a survivor and want justice for that survivor just like if they were my sister, or even my daughter, that's the level of which I think we need to to take action. And so I think there's a lot of listening that needs to be done. But we're at a point now also, there's there's going to be some there needs to be some action.
The Executive Committee met Tuesday to discuss the report. Its members approved an official apology for past statements made by an Executive Committee staff member who said he didn’t want to hear any more from abuse survivors. And they agreed to release its list of names of known abusers.
Christa Brown is a survivor and advocate who has called for reforms in the SBC for more than a decade. On Tuesday, she praised the Executive Committee for its initial steps, saying, “It is one very small step, and so much more is needed, but I hope that this may be the start of a new era in how the [committee] relates to SBC clergy sex abuse survivors.”
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Lynde Langdon.
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