Guidepost Report on the Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s Response to Sexual Abuse Allegations and an Audit of the Procedures and Actions of the Credentials Committee
Well, I read the report, all 288 pages of it. I am not doing a complete or deep analysis, but these are just some notes I took. The main findings, as I see it, are:
- EC mistreated several victims who came to the SBC EC
- EC employees dismissed reports of sexual abuse out of fear of legal liability
- Chief among them: Augie Boto
- On the other hand, I'm sympathetic to the fact that Augie Boto was the General Counsel and therefore it was literally his job to think about the legal implications of any actions
- On the other other hand, this is still not excusable: Boto and others hid the reports from the Executive Committee trustees. Boto wasn't just offering his professional opinion, he (along with a few others) should have made the EC aware of what was going on.
- Resisted efforts to help prevent sexual abuse out of fear of legal liability
- Resisted efforts to help prevent sexual abuse out of respect for SBC polity
- One case of sexual abuse by an SBC EC member
- Internally, one EC employee kept a list (spreadsheet? Database?) of sex offenders in ministry, which eventually had about 700 names (400 of which were in the SBC, 300 were presumably in other church organizations). This was based mostly on public information, so this wasn't a secret list of sex offenders that the SBC EC was protecting. It was more of a collection of publicly available information. No action was ever taken to protect those accused of abuse.
- Credentials Committee--to investigate and kick churches out of the SBC for harboring sex offenders (and for other unrelated theological reasons too)--was a start, but underfunded, understaffed, poorly defined, and minimally effective. They did genuinely try, though.
The report made a lot of recommendations, but the chief one (from my perspective) is they recommended the SBC create an Offender Information System (OIS) and make it available to member churches upon request, as a way to help SBC churches avoid employing sex offenders.
The "Secret" List of Offenders
Much of the news coverage is focusing on the fact that the SBC was internally keeping a secret list of sex offenders while publicly claiming they could not create a database of sex offenders. The reporting on this is muddled at best, and at times misinformed and untrue.
No authority, not lack of ability
First, the SBC didn't claim it didn't know how to keep a list, as some reporters have said. What the SBC claimed (or rather, the SBC Executive Committee claimed) is that, because every Baptist church is autonomous and independent, the SBC has no authority over hiring decisions at individual churches. In fact, the SBC has no authority whatsoever about anything at any individual church. This is true.
At best, even if the SBC did create a database, it would be informational only--the SBC would not be able to force churches to use the database or prevent them from hiring people listed in the database. Furthermore, the EC claimed it could not establish even an informational-only database of sex offenders because the SBC had not given it that authority. But that is a poor excuse. If the leaders at the Exective Committee had informed the SBC that it was receiving complaints and reports of sexual abuse in SBC churches, and asked for the authority to establish such a database, there's a fair chance the SBC would have voted in favor of it.
Secret list of publicly known offenders, not a secret list of secret offenders
The Guidepost investigation revealed that one employee of the SBC Executive Committee (EC) kept a list of Baptist ministers acused of sexual abuse. He created the list by collecting links to public news reports.
From the information in the Guidepost report and from the list itself which has now been made public (with some redactions) it's clear this is not a list of secret abusers. I.e., the SBC Executive Committee was not concealing the fact that Baptist ministers had been accused of sexual abuse. This is not like the scandal in the Catholic Church where the church leadership knew about pedophile priests, kept that information from the public, and transferred the priests around and let them continue to abuse children. The list compiled by the SBC EC employee was taken from public sources. That is, the reports of the abusing ministers were public, in the news. The only thing secret is the fact that one employee of the EC was collecting public news articles about ministers arrested for sexual abuse.
To reiterate: Catholic bishops concealed the fact that priests were molesting children. The SBC had one guy in an office collecting public news reports of ministers who had been arrested for sexual abuse.
It's reprehensible that nobody at the Executive Committee was willing to do something. They were too concerned about covering their legal asses. But it's nowhere near the level of guilt of the Catholic bishops. Apples and oranges.
Quotes from the Guidepost report about the list:
"EC Vice President Dr. Roger “Sing” Oldham acknowledged that “[f]or the past decade, I have been regularly sending Augie [August Boto] news reports of Baptist ministers who are arrested for sexual abuse, for his awareness."
Mr. Boto responded that: “Yes. We are collecting them, and may even post them in some way, but we’d have to really examine the potential liabilities that would stem therefrom.”
The most recent list prepared by the EC staff member contained the names of 703 abusers, with 409 believed to be SBCaffiliated at some point in time.
Our investigative team reviewed the list and conducted significant research to assess whether any of the alleged abusers were still associated with an SBC church. Based on these efforts, it appears that nine (9) people remain in active ministry or connected to ministry. Two (2) of those people appear to be associated with an SBC church. The remaining seven (7) appear to be associated with churches that are not SBC-affiliated.
On January 21, 2007, the same EC staff member provided Mr. Boto with detailed data and information regarding SBC clergy who may have been involved in sexual abuse from approximately 1960 to the present time.116 According to the email, the EC staff member had conducted internet searches about pastors, youth ministers, and deacons of Baptist churches who had been arrested or the subject of a civil suit regarding sexual crimes with minors, and identified 66 accused individuals who were believed to be Southern Baptist. There is no documentary evidence that Mr. Boto took any action at that time to ascertain whether these accused abusers were still in ministry. The EC staff member continued to research and maintain this list through approximately 2022.
In August 2013, Mr. Boto instructed an EC staff member, who had been assembling lists of ministers accused of sexual abuse, to send those lists to Mr. Guenther as they may need to be produced in litigation. The EC staff member emailed them to Mr. Guenther and copied Mr. Boto. The EC staff member noted that the more recent list was a “rough draft” and that the incidents had not yet been confirmed as Southern Baptist. The older list contained incidents from before 2008, although the EC staff member stated that: “I am sure there were incidents that I haven’t caught yet.”
As of August 2018, there were 585 possible abusers on the list
At Mr. Boto’s behest, in 2007 an EC staff member started compiling a table of sexual abuse reports using public sources, including the abuser’s name, year reported, relevant news articles, state, and denomination. The latest iteration of the table contains the name of 703 abusers, with believed to be SBC-affiliated.
Page 134 footnote:
As discussed in Section IV of this report, the existence of the list was disclosed to EC leadership in May 2019, when Dr. Oldham noted that, for the past decade, he had been sending Mr. Boto news reports of Baptist Ministers arrested for sexual abuse.
As of August 2018, an EC staff member, who had been collecting news reports and other information about accused Southern Baptist ministers, had provided Mr. Boto with the following information:
Since I started keeping the lists, I have at least 585 possible abusers.
We have 3 different lists.
Prior to 2008 – 233 names (143 confirmed SBC)
2009 - 8/2013 – 290 names (only confirmed 43 SBC, I didn’t check others per your instruction because we needed the material for EC mtg. and afterward you told me I didn’t need to go back and check them. I would love to check them now. So we could really get an idea of the numbers of SBC offenders. It is difficult for me to verify if a church is SBC affiliated. It is hard on SBC.net and when I just google it. I see that Sing uses Workspace. I don’t know how to access that.)
3rd list 9/2013-8/2018 – 66 names (51 confirmed SBC) – Not necessarily child sexual abuse (sex crimes against adults and pornography included).
In over a decade of collecting this information, which amounted to around 585 possible abusers at the time of the email correspondence, no action was ever taken to share these materials outside a small cadre of people, or to take action to address the possibility that these accused individuals might continue in ministry in SBC churches.