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Hiding Behind Issues of Polity, SBC Leaders Ignored, Silenced, Ostracized Sexual Abuse Victims for Years, Report Says

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Left: photo taken at 2021 annual meeting of the SBC (courtesy of Baptist Press); Right: front page of Guidepost Solution report (courtesy of SBC Sexual Abuse Taskforce)

The much anticipated Guidepost Solutions report investigating how the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) has handled sexual abuse allegations was released on Sunday, revealing that over the course of two decades, the SBC systematically and consistently ignored, silenced, and at times even ostracized survivors of sexual abuse

According to the 288-page report, a desire to mitigate legal risk, not protect victims and support survivors of sexual abuse, was the guiding principle behind the decision-making process when it came to addressing allegations of abuse, as well as the systemic inadequacies that allowed abuse to occur. The report further demonstrates that if prospective reforms and safeguards did not make sense from a risk management perspective, even if they were clearly the moral thing to do, they were met with staunch opposition from EC legal counsel.

The scope of the report was to investigate the EC staff with regard to “allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, patterns of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives” from January 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021. 

During that time, the main justification for inaction toward and, at times, suppression of sexual abuse claims revolved around the SBC’s polity, which recognizes the autonomy of local churches that come together in friendly cooperation to form the Convention. As such, the EC maintained an ethic of disengagement, most often under the stern advice of legal counsel.

“From 1966 to 2021, the SBC has been advised in its legal affairs by external counsel [Jim] Guenther, and later GJP. The key attorneys handling SBC EC matters were Mr. Guenther and Mr. [Jaime] Jordan,” the report says. “They provided counsel on everything from estate grants to the SBC to general litigation support and responding to sexual abuse survivors.”

“Even as SBC Presidents changed and EC staff retired, Mr. Guenther and Mr. Jordan remained an institutional source of knowledge in terms of Baptist polity, risk management and counsel,” the report continues. 

Later, the report remarks, “Although Mr. Guenther and Mr. Jordan acknowledged that they were not experts in sexual abuse or clergy abuse, that did not stop them from advising the SBC on how to answer inquiries or whether to respond at all.”

Also influential in the decision making process was D. August “Augie” Boto, who served the EC from 1995 to 2019 as vice president for convention policy, executive vice president, and general inside counsel.

“In his position as General Counsel, Mr. Boto guided the EC’s response to sexual abuse allegations, advising the various EC Presidents under whom he served – Dr. Morris Chapman, Dr. Frank Page, and Dr. Ronnie Floyd,” the report says. 

During the investigation, Guidepost Solutions collected and reviewed documents and other evidentiary items, totaling five terabytes of data. That evidence included but was not limited to “court filings, sex offender records, social media postings, and news reports related to how certain sexual abuse allegations were addressed and handled by the EC.” 

Guidepost also submitted a detailed document request to the EC and the EC’s outside legal counsel, Guenther, Jordan, and Price (GJP).

Furthermore, Guidepost conducted approximately 330 interviews with “EC staff, EC Trustees, other members of the SBC community, witnesses, and survivors.”