At the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, a motion passed overwhelmingly to have the president of the convention name a task force to employ a professional firm to investigate claims of sexual abuse, mistreatment of sexual abuse survivors, and mishandling of abuse allegations by members or staff of the SBC Executive Committee.
The task force is made up of nine people from around the country, four pastors, two attorneys, and three counselors. The attorneys and counselors are subject matter experts. I was named as one of the pastors.
The task force selected Guidepost Solutions for the investigation, an international firm that has expertise in these kinds of corporate evaluations and studies. Since October of 2021, Guidepost has been conducting a careful review and painstaking investigation covering the past 20 years to determine the facts surrounding the patterns of treatment of sexual abuse victims and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives. The Guidepost report has been released to the public as of May 22 and can be found at sataskforce.net.
The report offers a well-researched and documented account of the action and inaction of the Executive Committee regarding sexual abuse, with the report inclusive of both individuals who served on the committee and who worked on staff. The first 12 pages give the Executive Summary and will not take long to read. If you want the whole report with the appendices, you will be reading well over 300 pages.
Guidepost documented every interview and vetted every statement. The report includes emails and other written communication along with data provided by witnesses. There is no guesswork, no spinning the facts; it’s a dispassionate report of what Guidepost found through hundreds of interviews and tens of thousands of documents.
As a member of the task force, allow me to recommend you to read it, starting with the summary. This overview gives you the basic findings of the report. Then read the recommendations summary to learn what the SBC can do to better minister to survivors of abuse and to prevent it in the first place. The task force has a set of recommendations to be acted upon at the SBC annual meeting in Anaheim June 14-15.
The main finding of the report is that allegations of abuse actually were mishandled, victims of abuse were mistreated and grossly misunderstood, and the Executive Committee was not forthcoming on this subject. The Task Force was shocked to learn the Executive Committee hid the fact that they kept a secret database on offenders while publicly saying that it was impossible to establish under SBC polity.
One of the main motions before the convention in June will be a vote to establish a database to give churches information so that perpetrators will be unable to move quietly from church to church.
Reading the report will also reveal some extremely sad realities. I had been unaware of how survivors of sexual abuse were misunderstood and mistreated. In some cases, ignorance was the issue. Well-intended, but uninformed, actions were just as dangerous and in some ways more hurtful to victims. Survivors were re-victimized by folks who were without a clue to the devastation they were causing.
In some cases, it was neither ignorant nor well-intended. My heart broke to see how leaders spoke about abuse survivors. The report makes clear that public and private statements often conflicted. Concerns for potential liability were a trump card to cancel any consideration of abuse. Sins against innocent people were ignored and efforts to stop abuse were discouraged or disallowed.
What transpired was devastating to survivors; reading the report is heartbreaking. Being concerned is not enough, however. We must lead a change to a biblical approach to sexual abuse, one that is honest, just, and compassionate.
Where do we go from here? My prayer is that the report leads Baptists to have godly grief over the deep wounds caused by the evil sin of sexual abuse, to lament over the pain caused to survivors because of mistreatment by those who were entrusted to care for them, and to seek the leadership of Christ in how we receive and act on this report.
The official statement of the task force reads:
“We implore our Southern Baptist family to respond to this report with deep repentance and a commitment to the ongoing moral demands of the gospel as it relates to sexual abuse. We must resolve to give of our time and resources to not only care well for survivors of sexual abuse, but to provide a culture of accountability, transparency, and safety as we move forward. We acknowledge that any act of repentance requires ongoing, deliberate, dedicated obedience and sacrifice. This is the calling of our Savior to unite as a body in following after Him.”
— Marshall Blalock is pastor of First Baptist Church, Charleston, and vice chairman of the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force.