Southern Baptists hold annual convention under sex abuse cloud

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Birmingham, Alabama, hosts the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a gathering of church leaders who must tackle a sex abuse scandal they can no longer ignore. Victims blame the resistance of church leaders to reforms, a charge the denomination shares with the Catholic Church, for much of the problem.

A Christian denomination based in the United States, SBC counts more than 15 million members in some 50,000 cooperating churches and missions. It is second in size in the United States to the Catholic Church, which has been mired in its own sex abuse scandal.

A comprehensive investigation by two Texas newspapers, The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, found a long list of sexual predators affiliated with the SBC. In February the Chronicle published the mug shots of some of the 220 people who, since 1998, worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches and were convicted of or had pleaded guilty to sex crimes. It revealed that at least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches, and some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit. The cases tracked by the newspapers affected more than 700 victims over the period.

The investigation revealed that victims of sexual abuse, who argued that the church was allowing predators to move from church to church, pleaded with church leaders over the years for a registry of offenders. In 2008 the SBC denied the request, saying the organization could not tell its 47,000 member churches whom to hire or ordain. Several past SBC presidents and prominent leaders are among the individuals criticized by victims for concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their own churches or seminaries.

The complaints of victims prompted the newspapers to launch their own investigation and database.

Southern Baptist Convention web

Abuse of Faith (Houston Chronicle Feb 2019)

Why Does the Catholic Church Keep Failing on Sexual Abuse? (The Atlantic Feb 2019)

Date written/update: 2019-02-21