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

“In our interview with Mr. Boto in May 2022, he said he was against an SBC database because the EC could not be involved in making judgments about who should be on the list, which could create a risk of false accusations and liability,” the report says. 

Nevertheless, in 2013, Boto and Guenther began compiling an internal list of clergy abuse cases in the event of litigation against the EC. They did not act upon information they discovered regarding whether offenders were still serving in ministerial roles. That list now contains the names of 703 abusers, with 409 believed to be SBC-affiliated at some point.

“Yes. We are collecting them, and may even post them in some way, but we’d have to really examine the potential liabilities that would stem therefrom,” Boto said of the list in 2019.

Across several years, the EC’s legal counsel developed a consistent ethic of resistance toward any suggestion to implement robust systems of abuse reporting or prevention. In 2018, when then SBC president J.D. Greear sought to implement background checks for all trustee and committee appointments, he was blocked from doing so and instead implemented a less robust vetting measure.

In 2019, when Greear publicly called upon the EC to investigate 10 SBC churches named by the Houston Chronicle to be involved in alleged abuse, he was sharply criticized for opening up the SBC to litigation. 

Also in 2019, Baptist Press (BP) ran a story of abuse involving a Lifeway employee who was sexually abused by a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Despite her clear indication that what happened was abuse, which was corroborated by others, BP altered the story in a way that seemed to indicate the relationship was consensual, resulting in public vitriol toward the survivor. The survivor was constantly harassed, personally and professionally, following the article’s publishing, including repeatedly being referred to as a “whore.”

BP later retracted the story and apologized. Nevertheless, the survivor, named Jennifer Lyell, eventually resigned from Lifeway due to the fallout of the article.

That same year, Boto publicly criticized abuse advocates Christa Brown and Rachael Denhollander, calling them a distraction from missions and their advocacy the result of a “satanic scheme.” Then EC president and CEO Ronnie Floyd expressed sympathy for the idea that the recent emphasis on sexual abuse was  going “down a side street to take care of an immediate need.” Boto retired in 2019. 

Meanwhile, dissent about how (and whether) to address the sexual abuse crisis in the SBC continued to swell among EC and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) staff members. Floyd and others within the EC began to grow publicly critical of the survivor community, which Floyd felt was going “over the top” in their advocacy. Meanwhile, the ERLC was ramping up support for such voices. 

Friction between the EC and the ERLC increased when then ERLC president Russell Moore, hosted an event where Rachael Denhollander publicly criticized BP and the EC’s treatment of Jennifer Lyell. BP declined to run a report of the event written by an ERLC staffer.

The EC, whose budget partially funded that event, later launched an investigation into the ERLC and Moore amid “ongoing concerns.” 

As the June 2021 meeting of the SBC drew near, multiple leaks of private conversation within SBC leadership escalated tension, ultimately resulting in the SBC messengers’ call for an independent investigation.