Nearly 400 Southern Baptist leaders, volunteers accused of sexual abuse, report says

An investigative report reveals more than 300 Southern Baptist Convention leaders and volunteers have been accused of sexual assault for more than 20 years.

The San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that a six-month investigation found more than 700 victims were affected by sexual abuse by volunteers and leaders at the SBC.

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According to the Chronicle, 220 leaders -- ministers, pastor, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, Christian school teachers and church program volunteers -- were convicted of or pleaded guilty to sex crimes. The newspaper reported that others were civilly sued or credibly accused, and of those, some returned to positions in the church after imprisonment.

The report says that SBC leaders rejected proposals from victims to create a predator registry in 2008. Some victims said the church hid complaints from the public.

The Washington Post reported a number victims were raped and molested repeatedly and some were as young as 3 at the time of abuse, according to the investigation.

"I am broken over what was revealed today. The abuses described in this @HoustonChron article are pure evil," J.D. Greear, SBC president, said Sunday on Twitter. "I join with countless others who are currently 'weeping with those who weep.'"

The tweet was one of nine in a lengthy thread.

“The voices in this article should be heard as a warning sent from God, calling the church to repent,” Greear wrote. “As Christians, we are called to expose everything sinful to the light. 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. Their courage is exemplary and prophetic. But I grieve that their courage was necessary.”

According to the Chronicle and Express-News report, leaders turned down a proposal for a registry because they said the SBC couldn't tell its 47,000 member churches who to staff.

"The Baptist doctrine of church autonomy should never be a religious cover for passivity towards abuse," Greear said. "Church autonomy is about freeing the church to do the right thing -- to obey Christ -- in every situation. It is a heinous error to apply autonomy in a way that enables abuse."

In addition to the alleged inaction of leaders to respond to victims, the report said the second-largest faith group ended its affiliation with four churches in the last decade for endorsing homosexuality. Documents for the group ban gay or female pastors, but no documents ban convicted sex offenders from working in churches.

"As a denomination, now is a time to mourn and repent," Greear said. "Changes are coming. They must. We cannot just promise to 'do better' and expect that to be enough. But today, change begins with feeling the full weight of the problem."

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