Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention announced on Friday that the Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into sexual abuse within the denomination.
“Individually and collectively, each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation,” a statement released by the SBC said. “While we continue to grieve and lament past mistakes related to sexual abuse, current leaders across the SBC have demonstrated a firm conviction to address those issues of the past and are implementing measures to ensure they are never repeated in the future.”
According to Religion News Service, the statement was signed by the SBC’s newly elected president, Texas pastor Bart Barber, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler and other seminary presidents, the Executive Committee, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and leaders of the SBC’s International Mission Board and North American Mission Board. Additionally, executives at Lifeway, the SBC’s publishing arm; the Women’s Missionary Union; and GuideStone, also signed the statement.
“Our commitment to cooperate with the Department of Justice is born from our demonstrated commitment to transparently address the scourge of sexual abuse,” it added.
The SBC, the world’s largest Baptist denomination, has faced controversy over sexual abuse since a 2019 Houston Chronicle investigation revealed that several church leaders had abused members in their congregations. In May 2022, a Guidepost Solutions report revealed that hundreds of cases of sexual misconduct took place within SBC churches between 2000 and 2019.
“In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its policy regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” Guidepost Solutions investigators wrote.
Guidepost Solutions also revealed that former SBC president Johnny Hunt had sexually assaulted a younger pastor’s wife in the past decade. In response, Hunt said the encounter was consensual, and no abuse occurred. His church, First Baptist Church Woodstock in Woodstock, Georgia, formally suspended Hunt as pastor emeritus after the report’s release.
During the SBC annual meeting in June, Southern Baptists voted in favor of reforms to address abuse, including making a website to track abusive pastors. As reported by Baptist Press, Barber recently named a nine-member task force to enforce the reforms.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.