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Southern Baptists are facing pressure to create a public list of sex offenders

A controversial report of the Southern Baptist Convention’s abuse of sex abuse allegations suggests that the denomination will, for the first time, create a publicly available database of pastors and other church workers known to be abusers.

Establishing a “offender information system” was one of the key recommendations in a report released Sunday by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted by the SBC’s executive committee, after delegates at last year’s national meeting pushed for an outsider investigation .

The proposed database is expected to be one of several recommendations to be presented to thousands of delegates attending this year’s national conference, scheduled for June 14-15 in Anaheim, California.

“These recommendations will be open to session-level questions, debate and comment,” said SBC President Ed Litton.

He expressed hope that the shocking findings of the Guidepost report will bring “lasting change” to the SBC, America’s largest Protestant denomination. It has steadily lost members in recent years while being rocked by internal divisions over race and gender roles.

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The Guidepost report states that survivors of abuse by SBC ministers repeatedly shared allegations with the Executive Committee “only to be met time and again by resistance, walls and even open hostility from some within the EC”.

“Our investigation found that for many years, some senior EC executives, along with outside counsel, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse… and focused solely on avoiding liability,” the report reads.

The request for an independent investigation was tabled at last year’s national convention by Rev. Grant Gaines, senior pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

In reading the Guidepost report, Gaines said he was struck by repeated examples of callous disregard for survivors, as well as by leaders who prioritized protecting the SBC from liability over preventing abuse.

“We’re at a fork in the road,” Gaines said. “I think this report provided the information we needed for there to be a surge of support to take the right action.”

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Specifically, Gaines said he supports the proposal to create a system that would alert communities to known criminals.

“I think that’s one of the first things we should do,” he said.

Attorney and writer Christa Brown, who says she was sexually abused as a teenager by her SBC church’s youth minister, has been urging SBC since 2006 to create a publicly available database of known abusers. She was encouraged that Guidepost recommended such a system, but said questions remain about its implementation.

“Absolutely critical is that the local church cannot act as a standard or putative starting point for a survivor to attempt to secure a clergy sex abuse investigation,” she said via email. “If the local church is viewed as a necessary first stop for survivors to take action, then the voices of many survivors will choke in their throats before a sound is even uttered.”

Final decisions on recommendations to present to the Anaheim delegates are made by the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Task Force, which consists of seven members and two advisors. Their work over the past year has been an emotional journey, said Pastor Bruce Frank, who led the group.

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“We saw patterns and things that were deeply concerning,” he said. “Our primary mission has been to enable Guidepost to do its job and they have done a truly remarkable job over the past nine months examining events that have transpired over 20 years.”

In the next week or so, the task force will present formal motions in “specific language” that will be published and put to the vote of delegates in Anaheim, said Frank, senior pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, North Carolina.

Frank said the core of the task force’s recommendations based on Guidepost’s report can be summed up in two words – prevention and care.

“Our main goal should be to prevent sexual abuse,” he said. “And when abuse does occur, how do we take much better care of the survivors? How can we communicate better to make sure (abusers) don’t go from one church to another?”

He hopes this report will serve as a “catalyst for change”.

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“Anyone who is sincere will look at the report and demand that things get better,” Frank said. “SBC is a big family with 48,000 churches. There might be some disagreements about how to make things better. But I am confident that we will overcome the difficulties.”

In addition to sexual abuse, the agenda for the Anaheim meeting includes the election of a new SBC president to succeed Litton.

One of the leading contenders is Bart Barber, a pastor from Farmersville, Texas, who expressed dismay at the mean behavior attributed to some SBC officials in the Guidepost report.

If elected, Barber said in a radio interview Monday, “I pray that God will give me the wisdom to know what to do… We are sailing into uncharted waters.”

“The work is not done yet,” he added. “We got the report, but I think everyone in the survivor community that I’ve heard from has said reports are one thing, but we’ll see if this family of churches has the courage and determination to take action.” seize.”

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The sex abuse scandal was brought into the spotlight in 2019 by a landmark report by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News that documented hundreds of cases in Southern Baptist churches, including several in which alleged abusers remained on duty.

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https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/05/23/southern-baptists-face-push-for-public-list-of-sex-abusers/ Southern Baptists are facing pressure to create a public list of sex offenders

Sarah Y. Kim

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