The Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention, according to leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
In an emailed statement to The Christian Post on Friday, the SBC Executive Committee said that the DOJ “has initiated an investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention, and that the investigation will include multiple SBC entities.”
The SBC leadership said they were “resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation,” implying that the investigation is tied to a May 22 report by Guidepost Solutions and commissioned by the SBC's Executive Committee detailing how some leaders mishandled allegations of abuse and mistreated victims of abuse.
“While we continue to grieve and lament past mistakes related to sexual abuse, current leaders across the SBC have demonstrated a firm conviction to address those issues of the past and are implementing measures to ensure they are never repeated in the future,” the Great Commission Council said in the statement.
“The fact that the SBC Executive Committee recently completed a fully transparent investigation is evidence of this commitment.”
The SBC leadership went on to note that “our reform efforts are not finished” and said their “commitment to cooperate with the Department of Justice is born from our demonstrated commitment to transparently address the scourge of sexual abuse.”
“While so many things in the world are uncertain, we can be certain that we serve a mighty God. Nothing, including this investigation, takes Him by surprise,” continued the SBC leaders.
“We take comfort in that and humbly ask you be in prayer in the days and weeks ahead. Specifically, we ask God to grant wisdom and discernment to each person dealing with the investigation.”
In May, Guidepost Solutions released a report on how SBC leaders intimidated whistleblowers and exonerated churches with credible claims of negligence toward sexual abuse victims.
“For almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists have been contacting the [SBC EC] to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff,” read the executive summary, in part.
“They made phone calls, mailed letters, sent emails, appeared at SBC and EC meetings, held rallies, and contacted the press…only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC.”
In response, the SBC passed a series of abuse reform recommendations at its Annual Meeting in June, which included creating a task force to better combat abuse and creating a “ministry check” database to keep track of church leaders accused of sexual abuse.
SBC President Bart Barber, who was elected at the June meeting, said that “our problem is not with our theology or our polity; indeed these things are among our strengths” and that “it is because we are convinced that our theology is right that we are convinced that our actions have been wrong.”
Barber said that while “sexual predators have used our decentralized polity to try to turn our churches into a hunting ground,” he also believed that the same decentralized polity can be used against predators.
“Where there is no diocesan bishop to fire a local pastor, there is also no diocesan bishop to protect him. Where there is no regional presbytery to defrock a pastor, there is also no presbytery to reassign him while covering up his villainy,” said Barber.
“Predators have realized the vulnerabilities of our system; it is time for Southern Baptists to realize how nimble and resilient our Baptist polity can be to put sexual predators on notice that Southern Baptist churches are a dangerous place for them.”