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Investigation finds decades of abuse in Southern Baptist Convention  3 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Top leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention promised to encourage reforms that protect children and women after a sweeping investigation published Sunday found more than 700 victims of sexual misconduct by church leaders or volunteers.

In total, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News compiled more than 380 cases over the last 20 years of church leaders and volunteers who have been charged with sex crimes. Most are now in prison or are registered sex offenders, according to the report.

And the investigation found over 700 victims.

J.D. Greear, president of the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, said in a statement posted on Twitter that the abuse described in the reporting is "pure evil." He vowed reforms. 

"I will pursue every possible avenue to bring the vast spiritual, financial, and organizational resources of the Southern Baptist Convention to bear on stopping predators in our midst," said Greear, who took over as president last year. 

Russell Moore, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president of the Southern Baptist Convention, commended the work by the publications.

"The report is alarming and scandalous, the courage and grace of these survivors is contrasted with the horrific depravity of those who would use the name of Jesus to prey on them," Moore said in a Sunday blog post.

Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. They believe in local control of the church.

The investigation was spurred on by Southern Baptist Convention leaders' unwillingness for more than a decade to create a list of sexual predators from affiliated churches, the news outlets said. Together, the news outlets created their own.

Greear said the voices in the report "should be heard as a warning sent from God, calling the church to repent.

"As Christians, we are called to expose everything sinful to the light," he said. "The survivors in this article have done that — at a personal cost few of us can fathom."

"We must admit that our failures, as churches, put these survivors in a position where they were forced to stand alone and speak, when we should have been fighting for them," Greear said. "Their courage is exemplary and prophetic. But I grieve that their courage was necessary."

Greear said Southern Baptist leaders should have listened to warnings, vowed to ensure "we never make these mistakes again" and called on "pervasive change."

"God demands it," Greear. "Survivors deserve it." 

Southern Baptist churches are autonomous, but Greear said that should not be used as cover to hide abuse. 

"Church autonomy is about freeing the church to do the right thing — to obey Christ — in every situation," he said. "It is a heinous error to apply autonomy in a way that enables abuse."

In a separate statement on his website Monday, Greear, along with fellow Pastor Brad Hambrick apologized. 

"We are profoundly sorry," they said. "It is an unjust tragedy that you experienced abuse in the past. And it is unjust and tragic that you feel fear in the present.

"We, the church, have failed you."

Greear and Hambrick told victims that they did nothing wrong and it is understandable to be afraid. To church leaders, they wrote that it would be easy to become "self-centered and self-protective when news of churches’ failures come to light."

"But it would be another tragedy and a reinforcement of the problem if we allow that to happen," they wrote. 

In Moore's blog about the investigation, he did not call for mandatory reforms at every church. He said that the convention would work with cooperating churches and the scandal should be handled as a flock, not as a corporation.

"Our approach is seeking to encourage policies and practices that protect children and the vulnerable from sexual abuse in autonomous but cooperating churches, all the while promoting compliance with laws and providing compassionate care for those who have survived trauma," Moore said in the blog post. "True, we have no bishops. But we have a priesthood of believers. And a key task of that priesthood is maintaining the witness of Christ in the holiness and safety of his church. That means training churches to recognize sexual predation and how to deal with charges or suspicions when they emerge, and equipping churches to stop the pattern, in their church or from their church to others."

Several past presidents and prominent Southern Baptist Convention leaders have been accused by victims of concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their churches or seminaries, the newspapers reported.

"No church should be frustrated by the Houston Chronicle’s reporting, but should thank God for it," Moore said. "The Judgment Seat of Christ will be far less reticent than a newspaper series to uncover what should never have been hidden."

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