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

In October 2021, the EC waived attorney-client privilege, resulting in a wave of resignations, including the EC’s longtime counsel, James Guenther and GJP

According to Guidepost’s interviews, a number of EC trustees felt they were routinely and intentionally kept in the dark on matters of sexual abuse, and EC staffers felt consistently discouraged from addressing sexual abuse issues, due to the EC’s value of limiting legal exposure and mitigating “ascending liability.”

“Many EC Trustees told us that they were unaware that survivors and others had been reporting abuse to the EC for years, or that lawsuits had been filed,” the report said. “A common concern was that EC officers and staff members knew more than the EC Trustees, who were not provided with enough time or materials to be thoroughly informed about EC issues.”

“The EC Trustees with whom we spoke were sympathetic to survivors and believed that they should have been met with greater compassion,” the report added. 

Guidepost Solutions’ Recommendations

In light of the SBC’s failure to adequately address sexual abuse allegations and protect survivors over the past two decades, Guidepost Solutions provided a number of recommendations.

Guidepost’s recommendations include the creation of a permanent administrative entity to implement long-term reforms regarding sexual abuse, creating and maintaining an “Offender Information System” that will be made available to churches, providing training and resources to churches, local associations, and state conventions regarding “best practices” in responding to allegations of abuse, and improving implementation of enhanced background checks, letters of good standing, and codes of conduct. 

Further, Guidepost recommends that the SBC restrict its use of nondisclosure agreements, which tend to protect the institution rather than the survivor, and adopt a “Declaration of Principles” to set fundamental standards in responding to abuse allegations.

Finally, Guidepost encourages the SBC to “[a]cknowledge those who have been affected by SBC clergy sexual abuse, through both a sincere apology and a tangible gesture, and prioritize the provision of compassionate care to survivors through providing dedicated survivor advocacy support and a survivor compensation fund.” Further, the report suggests some sort of physical memorialization of abuse survivors at the SBC headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, as a tangible symbol of the denomination’s commitment to reform.

With respect to the Credential Committee (CC), which has been tasked with evaluating whether an SBC church remains in “friendly cooperation,” while Guidepost Solutions commends the members of that committee and their commitment to disfellowshipping churches that are apathetic toward sexual abuse, the report points out the need for a formalization of processes, procedures, timelines, as well as improved systems for online reporting. 

Commissioned in 2019, the Credential Committee is characterized in the report as under-resourced and in need of training. Thus, the report recommends an increased budget for the committee in future years.  

“A former CC Chair and EC Staff Member Liaisons all similarly described the process as ‘building a plane while flying’ and another CC member added that ‘they were not given the parts to build the plane,’” the report says.

The report calls upon the SBC to empower the Credential Committee to “better communicate with survivors and churches by providing trauma and sexual abuse training,” as well as expert assistance from survivor care specialists when corresponding with survivors or investigating an inquiry.

Read the full Guidepost Solutions report here.