In May 2022, Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm, released a report detailing sexual abuse by the Southern Baptist Church (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. The SBC became aware of widespread sexual abuse that took place over two decades following reports in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonino Express-News. The independent report details the SBC’s failure to take action and their participation in an extensive cover-up that led to years of sexual abuse of hundreds of adult and adolescent church members.
Reports of Sexual Abuse in 2019
The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published investigative reports in 2019 finding that Southern Baptist church leaders sexually abused members of the church. According to the reporting, 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers faced allegations of sexual abuse of more than 700 victims. At the time, leaders of the Southern Baptist church promised to address the behavior and to develop procedures to prevent abuse within its institution.
SBC Independent Investigation
In 2021, the SBC solicited a third-party investigation into allegations of abuse in its church. The report found that victims of sexual abuse reported the abuse to SBC’s Executive Committee and were stonewalled by senior leaders and outside counsel. SBC claimed that the church was an autonomous body and that it could not take action. The perpetrators of the abuse continued to interact with church members and kept their positions despite the allegations. In addition, the SBC refused to take any action to implement reforms to prevent abuse.
The report includes interviews with both adult and child survivors. Victims recounted the trauma of the initial abuse and the subsequent trauma of being disparaged and ignored by the church when the abuse was finally reported. In one case, church member Dave Pittman made multiple phone calls and sent dozens of emails and letters to the SBC and the Georgia Baptist Convention Board accusing Frank Wiley, a youth pastor, of sexually abusing him when he was between 12 and 15 years old. Other church members also accused Wiley of rape and sexual abuse. The report states that Pittman was told that the church had no authority to take action against Wiley. Other victims who reported abuse were warned not to discuss the incidents of abuse with anyone else. The perpetrators were permitted to continue working with the church.
Executive Committee Aware of Sexual Abuse
According to the report, the Executive Committee secretly kept a list of Baptist ministers who were accused of sexual abuse. The list, which includes the names of hundreds of abusers that were affiliated with SBC at some time over the last two decades, was never disclosed to avoid liability. The accused ministers on the list were never reprimanded or demoted. The report found that Southern Baptists were told that that church could not create a registry of sex offenders because it would violate church policy. Church members continued to advocate for a database and suggested ways to implement a database consistent with church policy. These efforts were repeatedly dismissed and rejected by SBC leadership despite their knowledge of abusers within their ranks.