Southern Baptist leaders act to address news of sex abuse in churches

At least 40 Georgia cases listed on Southern Baptist Convention’s secret sex abuser database

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At least 40 Georgia cases listed on Southern Baptist Convention’s secret sex abuser database

Former SBC President Johnny Hunt’s emeritus status suspended by First Baptist Church Woodstock

The Southern Baptist Convention has taken a series of first steps to address the issue of sex abuse and misconduct within the denomination.

A third party investigation, spanning two decades, has rocked the powerful and influential denomination, which has nearly 14 million members.

Last week, the SBC released a list of alleged abusers that includes roughly 750 names with details of abuses they are alleged to have committed and links to news stories covering some of the cases.

Nearly 40 were in Georgia and included pastors, youth ministers, deacons, Sunday school teachers, a former choir director and a volunteer. Most were named but for a handful, their information was redacted. In Georgia, there are more than 3,370 Southern Baptist churches.

Soon after the report was released last month, the SBC Executive Committee, the denomination’s governing body, has entered into an agreement for Guidepost to maintain a confidential hotline for survivors or their representatives to submit allegations of abuse within the SBC.

Survivors will be notified of options for care and will be put in touch with an advocate. (The hotline is 202-864-5578 or SBChotline@guidepostsolutions.com).

The issue of sexual abuse will be further addressed next week during the SBC’s 2022 annual meeting and pastor’s conference in Anaheim, Calif. The Executive Committee recently approved several recommendations for messengers to vote on at the annual meeting.

The SBC recommendations a reallocation of monies to fund specific programs.

Other steps include:

  • The Executive Committee hire a designated, trained staff person or independent contractor to receive reports of abuse to determine the appropriate church, entity, or association to respond to those allegations, and to assist the Credentials Committee as needed.
  • All boards and standing committees have training regarding sexual abuse prevention and survivor care as part of their orientation and selection and that the Committee on Nominations complete background checks for every trustee nominated to entity boards and standing committees.
  • All denominational workers, volunteers, and students in all entities are given training on sexual abuse prevention and survivor care.

“Caring for the vulnerable should be our most important concern when dealing with sexual abuse, not the protection of the institution,” the Rev. Willie McLaurin, Executive Committee’s interim president and CEO, said in a videotaped message.

He continued that “now is the time for a cultural shift in the Southern Baptist Convention so things like this never happen again. Let us work cooperatively to make our churches safe places for all.”

The fallout is also being felt in Georgia.

First Baptist Church Woodstock Lead Pastor Jeremy Morton told the Cherokee County congregation that honorary title of pastor emeritus for Johnny Hunt has been suspended. Hunt, who spent three decades as senior pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock, is a former president of the powerful Southern Baptist Convention and a prominent evangelical leader,

That and other steps were announced in a June 3 letter posted on the church’s website.

Hunt has denied allegations of sexual abuse or assault on social media and apologized for what he calls “a brief, but improper encounter.”

ExploreGeorgia pastors, others on SBC's list of alleged abusers

Other steps taken by the Woodstock church include the expansion of training related to abuse prevention and reporting, which several staffers went through earlier this year, to include all staffers.

The church has also hired an outside legal firm to review current policies. Before the report of the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force, First Baptist had already signed on to become a Ministry Safe Campus. a program for staff and lay volunteers that provides a complete child safety approach and reduces the risk of child sexual abuse.

ExploreSurvivor of sexual abuse in SBC church wants action over words

Zach Hiner, executive director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), said the most important step that the SBC can take is to “realize that internal steps are not what survivors and advocates want to see right now. They want them to show true penance and understanding.”

That means, he said, turning over all records to the district attorney and to ask for an independent investigation.

“There’s only so much we can really trust when church leaders say we’re doing this, we’ve done that or we promise to do this in the future. “

Institutions are not fully open and transparent, ”until someone gets involved from the outside.”